We’re deep into quarantine now, with lives at stake and the vast majority of our summer plans on hold. Glastonbury, the biggest date in the music industry calendar, has been cancelled. It’s not just the big names though; the cancellations of major events in the music industry’s calendar mark the beginning of a trickle-down effect. CoVID19 is causing unalterable Richter-scale shakes throughout the entirety of the music industry, which are likely to have a long term lasting impact.
SXSW was the first major festival to be cancelled, just days before the virus was declared to be of “pandemic” status. South by SouthWest (SXSW) draws 400,000 people and was scheduled for 13th-22nd March. The festival was cancelled by officials in the City of Austin, who declared a “local disaster” in the city, before issuing the order which would prevent the festival from proceeding. This news was followed by the postponement of Coachella, worth over $1bn worldwide. Based on sales from last year, the loss of SXSW is estimated at $356m. These cancellations and postponements are likely to be the first of many essential changes and adaptations in the wake of the outbreak. But it’s not just financial loss impacting the music industry – it’s the loss of crucial exposure to up-and-coming acts which will have lasting effects on the industry, far into the future.
Cut off in the middle of their upwards trajectory, Bang Bang Romeo (fronted by the fabulous and outspoken Stars) posted a comment via Instagram that they “have spent every last penny made throughout 2019 to fund the extremely beneficial trip, which is now, of course, all gone,” before saying that they “understand the public’s health and safety must come first.” A heartbreaking and career-altering piece of news for any band hoping that 2020 would be the year to propel them into the mainstream, we must now look towards online streaming to help these artists maintain their momentum.
The loss of an entire season of festivals and live shows (which is looking to be increasingly likely) will severely alter the industry’s income. Spotify’s stated payout range is between $0.006 and $0.0084, which means that it takes millions of streams to even begin to make a difference to artists’ lives and pockets. It has to be live shows where they bring in the most money. The coronavirus outbreak and the resultant cancellation of tours and shows, from individual gigs to massive music festivals, are going to put a lot of artists out of pocket. SXSW in particular launched the careers of bands such as the White Stripes and Alabama Shakes, both of whom went on to write and record some of the most iconic music of our time. Increasingly, with the advent of digital streams and music piracy, live shows are the only way artists can make a significant amount of money in the music industry today. But with live shows gone (for now), streams are all we have.
Bands like Bang Bang Romeo are in a somewhat better position (with the whole of their debut album, A HEARTBREAKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY available to stream on Spotify), but how about bands who are literally just starting out and have limited music available to stream? Los Bitchos are one such band. Set to release their debut album later this year, they were hoping to use SXSW to promote their upcoming releases and headline tour (still scheduled to begin in April, with any luck). They are looking at it positively though, saying that, “there’s talks of an official SXSW showcase being held in London next week for all the bands and industry that couldn’t travel, which would of course not be the same, but will definitely help keep the ball rolling.” It’s this act of keeping the ball rolling which will really make or break those smaller acts who must now hold out another 12 months to get the chance to showcase their talents.
With an entire season of live shows loss, the impact will surely be felt for years to come. As the shows begin to pick up again at the end of the quarantine, it’s the biggest names which will get booked first, leaving smaller and newer bands struggling. Those festivals where they were set to have their big break must now make the decision as to whether to honour the previously planned line-up, and risk being out of date, or screw over smaller bands in order to maintain their relevance. It is smaller venues, as well, who will suffer and potentially face closure in the wake of this period of financial difficulty, leaving no space for local bands to hone their talents. With even the smallest aspects of the industry impacted by this situation, the health of the entire ‘ecosystem’ of the industry is at risk. Without smaller venues and musicians, how do we cultivate new talent? How many opportunities and voices will be lost because of this?
Keyboard warrior/internet troll @l_I_I_I_I_I_I (“floppy birds”) replied to Amanda Palmer’s tweet about musicians and artists being unable to make rent whilst coronavirus prevents them from playing live that “maybe they should’ve gotten real jobs [sic]”. Amanda Palmer responded in due course, saying, “no. Being an artist is a real job. Our sick culture pays artists poorly and generally takes terrible f*cking care of us. We get poorly treated for the important and irreplaceable work we do for this society. Do not forget what a world without art would feel like to you.”
If the COVID-19 outbreak continues to result in cancellations of music events, gatherings, festivals and tours, we may all just see a glimpse of what that world may begin to look like.
(credit to @coal_poet_photography for the sick photo of me at a Nova Twins gig)