Musical Ramblings

Music On The Move: The Pandemic Push

Are we about to see a change in how the music industry promotes itself to the public? Will performers also need to rethink how and where they present their music? Paul Rigby ponders about the Pandemic

Now musicians and the music industry are struggling, as we know. Many artists see live work as their principle source of income. Record sales and streaming and the like don’t pay the bills so much as serve as marketing for live performances and, just as important, that’s where the merchandising table(s) is located where more cash is brought in.

Yet, because of the Pandemic, some people in the music business predict changes to  the traditional structures of music and how it’s promoted. Some see an upcoming shift in how the industry will move forward. There are those who view the changes as seismic in proportion. 

Some are considering that things will never be the same. Apparently, a portion of that change was evolutionary and was already on the way but other factors have been accelerated because of the Pandemic. 

Industry figures are wondering if we’re about to come full circle with the situation that artists found themselves in during the early 60s.

To give you an example of what I mean, let’s look at The Beatles in 1963. They toured the UK with Helen Shapiro along with other luminaries such as Kenny Lynch and The Honeys.

Which is a fun fact but get this, this bunch of creatives turned up, not only in the larger population venues but also in smaller places places like Bradford, Doncaster, Southport, Romford, Croydon, Slough and even Kirkcaldy.

Why did they do this? Why did these big names travel and seek out ‘the people’? After all, we are so used to the public trekking for many miles, sometimes from other countries, heading for a massive single Mecca-like venue, holding many thousands. 

That is, to this point, artists have expected us to go to them. Back in 1963 and 1964 and even 1965, the artists came to us. They turned up at halls and cinemas and any public space they could find. Why?

Firstly, because there was less cash about to spend on travel. A basic but important fact. Cars were expensive to buy back then. Not everyone had one.

There was also relatively less transport infrastructure out there. Motorways had only been around for a few years. Around 1960, there were just over five million cars on the UK roads (now there’s over 28 million). The UK’s public transport was not the best either, in those days. The government-backed Chairman of the British Railways Board, Richard Beeching was closing down swathes of the rail network and passenger numbers fell off a cliff. 

So to make sure that they would secure consistent and high audience numbers, musicians would seek out audiences. 

And it’s that situation that we might be revisiting. 

Helen Shapiro

The theory is that London is about to be decentralised in concert terms. That is, its importance is apparently about to be diluted. What we may very well see is the re-emergence of concert venues who fell off the touring circuit in the 60s and 70s re-emerging once more, as viable and important places for artists to do business.

Why? Because young people can’t afford to live in London anymore. Also students leave University with around £32,000 of student loan debt which doesn’t help matters.

Next? The one thing that this Pandemic has shown us all is that working from home is at least viable for many of us. It’s been tried and for a host of workers, it works. Many people who would never have dreamed of doing such a thing are now thinking to themselves, “Hmm, you know what? This is pretty good. It works for me.” 

Remember? It wasn’t long ago when the government was begging people to leave their homes and go back to their offices. Many home workers refused. They liked the improvements that home working brought to the quality of their life. Pandemic excused, of course.

These days, you can work for a London company and remain in your home a 100 miles away. So more people will stay in their homes, in their villages and towns and the musicians are going to have to come to them.

More so when you think that people now think twice about using public transport, especially if that use is non-essential. Are you going to accompany hundreds of other concert goers and get on a super-packed train, late at night, with the possibility of infection swilling around the carriage? More so if a few late-night revellers have well, had a few?

Also, pre-Covid, some users would leave their offices in the City, go to the pub and then go straight to a gig from there. If you’re not working from your office, you won’t be going to that pub and won’t be going to that concert venue, either. There won’t be time to get there if you work from home.

Being local may become more of a ‘thing’ in the future. You stay local. You shop local. You socialise, locally. You see concerts, locally.

The concept of The Commute is under threat. Entertainment may very well have to change with it.

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  • Reply
    Ian Barber
    16th March 2021 at 3:58 pm

    Food for thought Paul Rigby. We have a situation where the public are not supporting live music in pubs, generally, so landlords do not pay, or do not pay the the ‘going rate’, which makes it all but impossible for musicians to earn a living playing live music. It would be good if local clubs and specialist local music venues could be better supported by both local and nationally known artistes. It would be a bit like the high street shop chains falling out of favour and closing down as a result. Also, smaller audiences in smaller venues, makes the musical experience more intimate for both artist and fan, which has got to be good news for both. The real danger, as I see it, is that music will just be on-line only, if we carry-on like this pandemic. Cheers

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      16th March 2021 at 4:15 pm

      Interesting points, Ian. Thanks for that.

  • Reply
    Simon Henstock
    16th March 2021 at 7:34 pm

    One artist that seems to have adapted well to the pandemic is Sophie Ellis-Bextor. She does something called The Kitchen Disco on Instagram where she performs old favourites and has her kids dancing around (she even changed the lyrics from Take Me Home to Stay at Home). I actually had the pleasure of seeing her in concert about five months before the pandemic started and as a natural live performer I think she’s up there with Freddie Mercury.

    I also noticed the BBC’s Alicia Keys concert from New Year’s Eve had a certain dimension added to it. It felt like a concert intended for a live audience in the home rather than a live audience in a venue. Maybe that’s the future for live performance?

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      17th March 2021 at 9:12 am

      Thanks for your thoughts, Simon. Much appreciated.

  • Reply
    Paul Reichel
    17th March 2021 at 11:16 am

    Hi Paul – bit of rather profound lateral thinking you did here – and much appreciated. The way we listen to music, has it changed or have the ways simply multiplied? And are the important changes in the music or in the distribution channels? I want to listen to new music; I heard I’m Mandy, Fly Me on Radio 2 today – this was startlingly new in its day – form and content. I WANT to be astounded again; the only thing that has done this to me in the last 12 months is Aisha Devi (her stuff on Spotify) .
    So are we living in a Poor Period for new music? Are conversations about distribution partly an excuse?

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      17th March 2021 at 1:02 pm

      Indeed Paul, those points might dovetail with the ‘evolutionary’ changes I mentioned at the start of the piece. We need a new John Peel to show us the way 🙂

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