Whether it’s shuffling through songs on their iTunes playlist, discovering new beats on Spotify, or tuning into Instagram Live to see their favorite musicians perform—music plays a significant role in our lives. Amid the Coronavirus pandemic, fans of music are turning to their favorite artists as a form of escapism and catharsis to help them brave these difficult times. The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported on the impact of COVID-19, including loss of family members, unemployment and labor issues, malnutrition, higher instances of domestic abuse, and mental health problems. At the same time, issues of race and criminal justice are at the forefront of our minds following the death of George Floyd and many other Black individuals in the United States. With more people experiencing stress and trauma, it’s no wonder that people are relying on music as a type of release. As noted in Psychology Today, “Music helps to channel one’s frustration or purge negative emotions in a harmless way…when we listen to sad music, we are disconnected from any real threat or danger that the music represents.” Consequently, while artists pen music as a form of escapism, listeners escape by consuming those same melodies.
“Despite the continued devotion towards music, the industry is still suffering,” says Lindsay Guion, an entrepreneur with more than 20 years of experience in the music landscape. Guion is the Founder, CEO, and Chairman of Guion Partners, a management-consulting firm with a roster of high-profile clients in the areas of entertainment, media, technology, and sports. Throughout his career, he has had the pleasure of working with big names in the industry, like Rich Harrison, D’Angelo, Ginuwine, and Mya—to name a few. Appreciating the influence that musically gifted individuals have on revolutionizing the industry, Guion gives back to the community by awarding deserving students with financial aid through the Bessie Smith Scholarship Program. Today, he discusses the music landscape during these unprecedented times and what we can expect from the industry moving forward.
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Live performances come to a halt
Everything started to come crashing down on the music industry in March, according to an in-depth report by Rolling Stone Magazine. Don Smiley, the Chief Executive Officer of the “world’s largest music festival,” Summerfest, was confronted with a $186 million question: whether or not to forgo this year’s live performances. At the time, shows in both Europe and Asia were getting canceled due to a surge in cases. Meanwhile, in the United States, the WHO confirmed 100 Coronavirus cases on March 4th, but by the 11th, the virus was present in at least 35 states with roughly 1,039 people affected. Following these reports, some of the biggest live shows in the country began canceling or rescheduling their events, including South by Southwest (SXSW), Ultra Music Festival, and Coachella. Similarly, North America’s largest concert promoters, Live Nation and AEG, made the responsible decision to postpone all musicians’ tours under their scope until April. “We [Guion and Partners, Inc.] started to realize that live performances could be closed for a long time,” says Lindsay Guion, “no one wants to be responsible for spreading the virus and putting peoples’ lives at risk, not for any sum of money.” Ultimately, Summerfest chose to reschedule, with public safety at the center of their decision.
Artists embrace streaming platforms
The COVID-19 outbreak has forced us to comply with strict social-distancing regulations, crowd controls, travel, and border restrictions—and these are just a few of the factors—that make it impossible for artists to resume touring. However, some musicians remain adamant about connecting with their adoring fans through live music, especially during isolation. As such, several artists have taken to platforms like Instagram Live and YouTube to put on small concerts, where viewers have front-row seats to their favorite musicians as they serenade fans from the comfort of their home. “The experience is more personal than going to a physical concert,” says Guion, “artists can speak directly to fans, answer questions, and take song requests.” Musicians, including Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Pink, Keith Urban, and Diplo, have been active on social media with the purpose of uplifting fans and creating a sense of community. Many artists and famous faces have also been using the hashtag #TogetherAtHome, a message of solidarity during isolation as we attempt to curb the virus. “While virtual concerts may not be as good as the real thing, they help to keep music alive while the promise of physical concerts seems to be on hold,” explains Guion.
The struggle to make a living
In the beginning, live streams were free and unfiltered with the sole intention of inspiriting fans. Musicians would choose a random location in their home, hardly taking into consideration production values, like lighting or scenery. As time went on, with no end to the pandemic insight, record labels began providing live streaming equipment to performers, as artists placed greater emphasis on camera angles and pleasing backdrops. While free concerts are beneficial for recipients, they do little to help the industry stay afloat. “The longer venues stay closed, the harder it is for artists to earn money,” explains Lindsay Guion. According to the World Economic Forum, the global music industry is valued at $50 billion, with two primary sources of income: live music and recorded music. Live music accounts for 50% of total revenues and is collected mainly from concert sales, while recorded music encompasses streaming revenue, digital downloads, licensing fees, and advertising. Fortunately, streaming platforms are now offering new monetization methods to help artists get paid for their passion. For instance, StageIt is an “online concert venue” with artists deciding “when to play, what to play, and how much they want to charge,” as specified on their site. In addition to setting their ticket prices, a virtual tip jar allows musicians to earn extra cash and identify their generous tippers. “Platforms like StageIt mean that artists get paid for their time—and time is precious,” says Guion.
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The rise of drive-in concerts
After four months without in-person performances, the unexpected happened. “Who would have thought that drive-in concerts would be the answer to our musical prayers,” teases Guion, “of course, it’s not an ideal situation, but it’s something to help those concert-starved fans get through the summer and allow musicians to promote their new music.” In June, Live Nation announced its brand-new drive-in concert series launching the following month, which featured musical performers Brad Paisley, Darius, Rucker, and Jon Pardi. The event took place in the amphitheater parking lots with two parking spaces between each car, making sure to abide by social-distancing guidelines. Likewise, in the wake of his new song, “We Belong To Each other,” Garth Brooks announced a similar endeavor. His exclusive drive-in experience would be a rain or shine event with tickets going for $100 per car. Broadcasted to an estimated 300 outdoor theatres in North America, it was deemed the biggest ever one-night show to play at outdoor venues across the U.S. and Canada. “The response has been positive, with several more artists participating in drive-in events throughout the summer,” reveals Guion, “it’s been nice to see people coming together in a safe and secure environment.”
What will happen next?
During Coronavirus times, Millennials no longer need to worry about the “fear of missing out,” a feeling of unease that washes over individuals who forgo exciting events that later turn up on social media. “With all types of events canceled, there’s nothing much to miss out on,” Lindsay Guion exclaims. However, artists and private venue owners are afraid that even after the COVID-19 dust settles, individuals may be reluctant to purchase concert tickets. In an email to BNN Bloomberg, the talented soul-singer Tanika Charles reveals her concerns for the industry. In addition to hesitant ticket buyers, she fears “there will also be significant competition to book venues once they’re back online, and that’s assuming venues can survive the downtime.” In support of her suspicions, a recent survey indicates that without a proven vaccine, less than 50% of U.S. consumers plan to return to concerts, movies, and other related events once they’ve reopened. As a result, it’s become clear that instilling confidence in consumers will not come easy after several months of lockdown. Lindsay Guion’s final statement on the subject: “All I can hope for is that fans will continue to support small artists through these tough times because we truly are in this together.”
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