Concerts in the Time of COVID-19

The cultural and financial ramifications of social distance

City governments and health departments are calling for the postponement of “non-essential” public gatherings. Festivals are being cancelled left and right. Even if the current COVID-19 health alerts come to an end along one of the less dire projected timelines, the toll has already begun to hit numerous musicians. And not just musicians, but those who work in their proximity — promoters, publicists, roadies, techs, vendors, venue employees, and on and on. To discuss the arts isn’t to look askance at the death, grief, and discomfort of those directly affected by this year’s coronavirus. It’s simply to consider and brace for broader consequences.

Buying an album here and there will be a nice gesture, but even if you spend the equivalent of a festival pass on Bandcamp or Bleep, you won’t — short of some unprecedented groundswell of mass communal action — begin to have the same economic impact you’d have had were the cancelled events to occur. Festivals and concerts are scaled in a way that digital media, online merchandise, and, of course, streaming can’t begin to compare with financially. This is a calamity a decade or more in the making; as the perceived monetary value of recorded music has dropped, the importance of live performances has become all the more central not just to musicians’ income but to their promotional efforts. There is, it’s worth noting, a particular irony here for electronic music, which was born of the idea of the studio as a musical instrument — for as deep and rewarding as that may be as an artistic pursuit, you generally have to leave the studio these days to afford it in the first place.

All of which is to say, this is a good time to pay attention to the musicians whose work you admire and want to support. Check out the Patreon and equivalent of the ones who have such accounts, and keep an eye out for what others do to try to fill the void left by diminishing concert performance opportunities. I’m hopeful that the moment’s necessity will mother innovative alternatives. A suite of pay-per-view variants feels more than a little dystopian, so if you do come across creative means by which musicians reach across enforced “social distance,” please do let me know.

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