A new normal? Music in and after lock-down…

A new normal? Music in and after lock-down…

I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that over the last two-and-a-half months, something has fundamentally changed.

Sure, lots of things feel different right now. Some of it is no doubt temporary and will probably fade as soon as we re-emerge. I wonder though, whether some changes may be more permanent.

One thing that’s struck me over this period is how it’s affected music. Both for the artists involved in its creation and for those who consume it.

For many artists, it’s prompted a move towards self-production and exclusively online delivery of their art. It’s not like these capabilities weren’t available before lock-down; live streaming has been accessible for a number of years. So has the relative affordability of Logic Pro and a decent microphone. Admittedly some artists were already streaming gigs, but I didn’t see it being used as much as it is now, particularly in our little corner of the music world.

Lock-down, of course, forced the issue. Out of necessity and in a matter of weeks, artists have figured out OBS. Figured out how to stream with reasonable audio quality. Figured out how to create and edit multi-part videos. Figured out how to present and promote this material to their target audience. And for some, it’s generating a level of online engagement they’ve never had before.

The extent to which any of this translates into a viable on-going revenue stream of course depends on the audience. The critical thing is, I think the audience (of which I’m a part) has changed too.

Stripped of both future certainty and social contact, music has taken on a different kind of importance. Would I have attended an online festival or gig prior to lock-down? Probably not to be honest. “It’s the not the same as a live gig” (yeah obvs Rob, yawn), but to be honest I wouldn’t have had the attention span.

Put me in the middle of lock-down however and it’s a different kettle of fish. I need to listen to music. I need to see someone performing music and interacting with me. Most of all (and this is really critical), I need to feel like I’m sharing the experience with other people.

So my experience of attending live-stream gigs? It’s actually ok.

No correction Rob…it’s actually really good. I’ve attended live-stream gigs over the last few weeks that I’ve really enjoyed (in fact the CCC Festival that I was involved with was a bloody triumph and it wasn’t even live, but I’ll blog about that separately). When the hardest challenge to overcome with an audience is just getting them to show up, live-streaming makes total sense. It also breaks down some communication barriers that exist at a live event; I don’t think I’ve seen people chatting and interacting to the same extent at live events compared to streaming gigs.

I’m not suggesting for a minute that any of this replaces live events. But now that artists and audiences have together overcome the acceptance barrier, does this all present another viable source of income and audience engagement? I really think it could…and it wouldn’t have happened without lock-down.

I sense that right now, some artists may be wrestling with how they recover from their initial lock-down urge to stay ‘relevant and present’ by sharing all their content for free (or a most a voluntary donation). The principle that this type of content can generate an audience has been proven. The challenge now might be how to reduce the volume, increase the quality and increase the exclusivity. This in turn could increase its perceived value (i.e. how much people are prepared to pay). The alternative is to continue testing the voluntary donation model; it remains to be seen how that works in a post-lock-down world…

Maybe twenty years from now we’ll look back on the 2020 lock-down as an event like Woodstock; something that symbolised a shift in culture and how music was perceived. In reality, of course, Woodstock was just a catalyst for changes that were already in flight long before those few days in a muddy field. I suspect the same may be true for what we’re going through now. We’re just too close to it all to see it…

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