Show must go on: Bringing live music back to life
With a live entertainment industry at a standstill for 15 months and counting, artists have not been able to play on stage, venues and festivals have been struggling to remain operational and audiences have had no other choice but to watch shows on-screen from the comfort of their own home. While the pandemic seems to be slowly waning, audiences, artists and the industry believe it's time to move on and get back on stage. Unsurprisingly, this feeling is growing stronger and stronger.
The first positive signal was given last May by Vax Live: "The Concert to Reunite the World". Held at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles last May, the show was hosted by Selena Gomez and featured musical performances by Jennifer Lopez, Eddie Vedder, The Foo Fighters, J Balvin, H.E.R, as well as speeches from political figures including Pope François, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Emmanuel Macron, broadcasted all other the world on many TV channels and internet platforms.
More importantly, this charity concert has been the first large-scale music event for a Covid-compliant audience (the crowd was comprised of fully vaccinated frontline workers). A concert to help the fight against Covid-19 when concerts are banned because of the very same virus sounds ironic. Furthermore, this paradox clearly marked the beginning of a new era for live music worldwide after 15 months of lockdowns, curfews and other social distancing measures.
“The return to live performances means that artists and technicians can return to their work and missions, venues can reopen, touring teams can go back on the roads again"
Looking for the perfect Covid-free show formula
As the pandemic slowed down in Europe, several experiments took place to re-ignite the machine. On March 27, medical researchers in Catalonia carried out an experiment by letting 5,000 people attend a rock concert at the Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona. One month later, the results were in: no proven cases of Covid-19 transmission among the attendees. This demonstrated a way forward to a return to normality, social life and the organization of large-scale events in a safe manner.
One month later in France, the Ambition Live Again show was held in the Paris Accor Arena. More than just a concert, this event allowed French hospital institution AP-HP research teams to conduct a scientific study by comparing the risk of contamination between 2 groups of “randomized” people: an “experimental” group of 5,000 people attending Indochine’s show and a “control” group of 2,500 people not attending.
The main hypothesis for this research was that a negative test for SARS-CoV-2 prior to the concert can significantly limit the risk of generating infectious outbreaks of transmission. "This project brings hope for a sector that really needs it and has been at a standstill for 15 months now” says Olivier Darbois, president of French live music association Prodiss. “The return to live performances means that artists and technicians can return to their work and missions, venues can reopen, touring teams can go back on the roads again, producers can launch new creative projects, festivals can reopen their doors, and a whole chain of service providers will restart their activity,” he adds.
Regardless, relaunching concerts and festivals still require an incompressible amount of preparation and start-up time, from 3 months to 2 years for the very big international tours.
The music industry coming up with DIY solutions
In France, the first big events are resuming their activity, starting with the iconic Printemps de Bourges. “We're doing a special edition a little later after spring but it's the symbol of a new start for all the artists, the industry and the public” says Boris Vedel, the general manager of this historical event traditionally launching the festival season in April.
Vedel acknowledges that it is difficult to gather people when there are still social distancing measures limiting audience capacity on top of curfews. "It's not easy to run a festival under these conditions but we want to lead the way to the end of the tunnel and we're happy about that," he says, adding "people want to go back to the shows and festivals, that's great news”. He couldn’t be more right: All the tickets were sold out in just 5 minutes.
At Believe Live, these 15 months of concerts interruption did not prevent the teams and the artists from working. “We never stopped preparing for the return, depending on the evolution of the epidemic and government announcements, and clearly now is the time”. says Stéphane Wehrlé, General Manager of Believe Live.
He gives us the example of emblematic artist Yseult, who was recently crowned Female Revelation of the Year at Les Victoires de la Musique, a French award ceremony. ”We had to cancel the tour planned last year but instead of postponing it again, we opted for another format, a reduced formula with simply a piano and voice duet, tailored for smaller venues of 200 to 300 people. The artist liked this formula and today, we have a big demand starting in June with nearly 70 dates until February 2022”.
Besides, Yseult will do some concerts with the “full band” formula for festivals, like Les Vieilles Charrues and at the Pleyel Hall in Paris at the end of 2021. “This complicates things, double rehearsals, double logistics, but it's up to us to adapt to this situation and to be flexible,” explains Wehrlé.
But even if live business gradually restarts, the industry will have to face a major bottleneck in the upcoming months. “Obviously, there is a traffic jam for confirmed artists. All the Parisian venues are booked until the end of 2022 as well as the big venues in France like the Zeniths. It becomes very difficult for developing artists whose first tour was a way to guarantee exposure”, states Wehrlé.“ Emerging artists who released a record in 2020 or early 2021 are probably the ones who will suffer the most because they won’t be able to go on stage. They will have to give it up to those who arrive with new projects after summer”, he adds.
Emerging artists who released a record in 2020 or early 2021 are probably the ones who will suffer the most because they won’t be able to go on stage. They will have to give it up to those who arrive with new projects after summer
Livestream bringing added value to the live shows
Livestream has become a staple nowadays. “For Jul's concert at the Velodrome in Marseilles on June 4, 2022, obviously there will be a livestream”, he adds. “We are still building the solutions, free and sponsored or paid, but it is clear that Covid has put livestream at the center of the game: it is now inevitable”.
This Covid crisis has also forced entertainment professionals to rethink their business. “We have learned to spread risks, not to pay large advances without being certain that the dates will take place, to control our marketing investments upstream and also to take guarantees on new rights, such as livestream,” explains Stéphane Wehrlé.
After a pandemic that have stopped the scene for more than a year, the professionals seem to be confident. Optimistic about the future, Live Nation’s President and CEO Michael Rapino expressed his hope for redemption for 2022 mentioning in a letter to his shareholders that festivals such as Bonnaroo, Electric Daisy and Rolling Loud in the US all sold out in record time at full capacity.
No doubt: live music is back in business.