It’s Thursday. I have to keep reminding myself of what day it is, because like everyone else currently in residence on the globe, I find it difficult to keep track.
The one thing – and it is a very small thing – I do know, is that I miss events. Getting together with friends, going to dinner, having drinks, leaving my front gate, the live gig. My fear of the virus (I’m not going to lie – I have zero fear of this virus itself, but I recognize many of you out there might.) isn’t about my family becoming ill or dying, it is about the effects it has had on our lives going forward.
In my state of California, we’re getting quite a bit of news about how the state is beginning to plan for what comes next. How will we “reopen”? What will or will not be allowed? The discussion is not an assertion that the state is opening today or tomorrow, but is more of a broad discussion of a roadmap of what will be done when the right time arrives, and what that moment will look like. So, along with that has been talk about large events such as concerts, trade shows, festivals right on down to summer community events like Concerts in the Park, or Fourth of July picnics. State, county and city officials have been noted as saying that they don’t expect concerts to be back in the picture until at least 2021, and if there’s no working and readily available vaccine by then – not even at that time.
Clearly, this is the time for creativity and innovation. I try to remind myself of this every single day. We may very well have our lives changed in this moment (although right now, “this moment” doesn’t feel at all brief), but there have been great signs of adaptation and innovation along the way. People are “meeting” virtually, classes are being wholly taught online, graduations and other ceremonies are being rethought and reconfigured, and yes – many artists are buying into this challenge with gusto. Rather than simply waiting for things to return to normal, which could be years away at this point – thus outliving the shelf span for many – they’re taking to the ’net, and connecting with fans in new ways.
Live events, and/or event planning on the backend, is an enormous industry. Innovations absolutely must be made. Who is up for the challenge and how will it all pan out? Interestingly enough, this morning, as I continued on my daily quest of staying out of politically motivated conversations about the virus and so forth, I stumbled across an online panel on SBC regarding the very subject.
Oisin Lunny (technology and music journalist) hosted the panel and was joined by Ted Cohen (technology consultant and former music executive), Muki Kulhan (Executive Digital Producer), John Textor (CEO of Facebank Group), Scott Cohen (CIO of Warner Music Group- you may have heard of them??) and Nathan Newman (Creative Marketing and Media Consultant for the Social Broadcasting Network).
Notably, the challenge isn’t IF live music will survive, but rather, how? What form will it take? Nearly one of the first questions posed by Scott Cohen (again, you all should recognize the company he works for – it’s Warner Music!) is whether or not this is the “Napster” moment for the live music industry in the same way there was a “Napster” moment for recorded music.
The answer comes back to artists being innovative and able to improvise during this time in order to connect with their audience in new ways. Those that adapt quickly will survive. Those who choose to wait it out may not find a space for them once this pandemic is over. 2021 is a long time to wait. (and remember, if there is no vaccine, there are likely not to be concerts!)
Scott gave a couple of examples of artists who are already excitedly embracing this revolution. Dua Lipa appeared on the “Late Late Show” recently, and I have to say – I was very, very impressed. Not only did she show up, she did it with style and grace, alongside her band AND her dancers. You’ve got to see it to believe it:
As Muki Kalhan aptly put it, there is a challenge to “stay on air”. We’ve all seen it – shows such as the Late Late Show with James Cordon, Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show, or even Ellen – have all moved from the studio into the home. They’re figuring out how to create entertainment with whatever they’ve got, and what they’ve “got” is themselves. Sure, this wasn’t all done in a single live chat, video latency and lag would have been a mess. Each participant likely sent their own video and it was all synced together for broadcast. Watch for yourself, but I thought the performance was great.
The performances I have seen as of late have relied on acoustics. Artists play the music for what it is. Their voices are as nature intended, so to speak. Somehow, that near nakedness connects with fans. Their willingness to show up without hair, makeup, lights and sound techs and just be themselves speaks volumes. Turns out, smoke, mirrors and all of the character in the world isn’t quite enough right now. In the end, talent matters. Slick styling and glossy images aren’t going to sell nearly as much as the ability to find and sell your authentic self through a webcam. Content regains it’s rightful position as king. For some, like Dua Lipa, it looks easy. Others who may not have grown up in the age of Instagram or YouTube might not find it quite so.
The same questions matter now as they did in the 80s. Scott Cohen asked, “How did Madonna reach and connect with so many utilizing video?” I’d ask the same about Duran Duran. (shame that Cohen forgot the true Video Vanguards…) All of that innovation they, and others like them had back then, needs to come out in blazes right now.
Sure, there’s a real worry that live events will not return. “Death by Zoom” is a authentic, primal, fear, and not just in the music industry. Even so, there are still questions like “How do we “enjoy” each other? Meeting up online for drinks is obviously not the same as meeting in person and grabbing coffee. Just as a review, many of things we once eschewed and balked, from MP3s to streaming, cable TV to YouTube, have not only been made readily available, but are now embraced by the general public and beyond.
Virtual meetings are meant as an enhancement to real life, but during months of a pandemic, those that are able to be open minded, rise to the challenge and figure out how to use it best will be the winners during the years to come.