What Happens Now? Live Music in 2021 and Beyond

10 Min Read

M U S I C – G L O B A L

Arwin Shams Siddiquee

2020 was an interesting year for the music industry, to say the least. Covid-19 and the lockdowns, following its pandemic status, took a toll on music all over the world. For obvious reasons, live music was the aspect of the industry that was hit the worst. However, artists pushed beyond lockdowns and the limitations imposed by Covid-19 around the world to collaborate, create new music, and reach out to their fans in these difficult times. Despite the barriers, live music flourished. We’ve stepped into the new year, but the pandemic rages on. So what can we expect from our favourite artists in 2021, and could live music evolve permanently?

What happened in 2020?

For musicians — especially local acts — live music is often the lifeblood of what they do. YouTuber Adam Neely, in his video “How live music works during Covid-19”, shares a view of smaller artists’ lives and careers during the lockdown. In that video, he shows clips of an event with the Brooklyn-based progressive jazz/rock orchestra the NYChillharmonic, which was the first time the group had performed live together since February. Further, he interviews fellow artists like guitarist and composer Shubh Saran and members of the NYChillharmonic on their experiences with live music during lockdown. Most accounts were of a total lack of work and very few reported to have played shows and weddings during the six-month period between global lockdown and the filming of the video. Adam also talks about how live music is often the primary, if not only source of income (from playing music) for artists like him. So in absence of in-person live music, how did these musicians make do?


Virtual concerts and online live performances saw an explosion of popularity in 2020 as a great way for artists to connect with their fans and to keep doing what they love. Many established platforms, such as Sofar Sounds and NPR organised virtual live and/or recorded performances by various artists during the Covid-induced lockdown. Sofar created their “Listening Room”, where one can listen to live performances from featured artists for free with optional donations. NPR moved their Tiny Desk series to artists’ local settings with their Tiny Desk Home Concerts. The creation of these online platforms for live music led to many artists having the chance to make music like they did pre Covid-19 for the first time since lockdown, such as Dua Lipa’s performance for NPR’s Tiny Desk Home Concerts, which was the first time she had performed with her band since her album tour was cancelled in March. Large platforms like these kept the music scene vibrant and audiences happy.


However, it wasn’t just well-known concert management companies and radio channels that hosted live music. Social media sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitch became hotspots for live music streams. Perhaps the most notable source of free live music during lockdown was Twitch. The streaming platform, famous for hosting gaming streams, became the platform-of-choice for playing live music for a number of artists in 2020, from creators with smaller dedicated communities like Marc Rebillet to globally recognised icons like Dragonforce’s Herman Li. For a lot of smaller artists, taking to Facebook Live, YouTube, Twitch, etc has been a lifesaver, providing a source of limited but necessary income through music. For audiences, they’ve introduced a new way to experience their favourite artists’ work.

So… what does that mean for the future?

For one, expect to keep seeing a lot more virtual live music in 2021; and not just because of lockdown. Gigging (playing live music in different local venues generally) is largely the primary source of income for a lot of local acts. Or at least, it was before lockdown. However, getting gigs that pay well, or even getting gigs at all is no easy feat — especially when you’re just starting out — and even then it’s tough to do regularly enough to make it a stable source of income. Streaming takes away a lot of the pains involved, and they may well be the perfect place for new artists to start their musical careers. Sure, live streams might be tough to set up at first, but it’s usually a one-time investment of the necessary hardware and software (made even easier if you’re a solo act). Much like other creators on these platforms, musicians are likely to garner dedicated audiences — and therefore, moderately stable income — over time. So, while a lot of artists will likely go back to in-person live events and gigging once the situation improves, many who have found a dedicated audience on these platforms might just stay. 


But what if you’re not a small local artist?

What if you’re, say Taylor Swift? Can livestreams replace concerts? The short answer is — nope, don’t think so. Concerts were the most popular and widespread option for live music before the pandemic. Even with the growing popularity of music live streams, that probably won’t change. While virtual shows take away the organisational costs of concerts, they can’t achieve the same atmosphere. The feeling of experiencing live music being surrounded by fellow fans in a massive venue versus that of watching the same artists perform on a screen from your living room are very different. Further, concerts make for more income. You can’t sell tickets, merchandise, backstage passes, and food and drinks virtually. At least not in the way you can in an in-person concert. A lot of the money artists (and venue owners and record labels) make from concerts come from these sources. If you’re someone like Post Malone or a band as big as Metallica, livestreams just won’t cut it. In the early post-Covid-19 days, concerts may well be limited, both in scope and attendance. But all evidence points to the return of large scale live music, slowly but surely.


However, that doesn’t necessarily mean livestreams will be relegated to smaller artists only.

Billboard’s Senior Director of Touring and Live Dave Brooks says,

“I don’t think streaming will replace concerts. I think streaming performances will become their own category of what artists offer their fans.”

The next few years could very well see livestreams and personal virtual concerts become an industry staple. James Moody, founder of Transmission Events, a well-known venue booking and concert management company in the US, believes livestreams and virtual concerts may become an adjunct or digital add-on to one’s purchase of concert tickets or similar packages, much like VIP backstage passes. It seems, therefore, that moving forward, private virtual concerts and live streams may become another feature of the musical experience offered by larger artists.

So what will Live Music look like in 2021?

2021 will likely see virtual live music performances being perfected from a technological standpoint. Already a lot of artists have high quality streams and even collaborations with other artists. As performers get used to this setting, the quality of their streams will improve drastically, providing audiences with an experience closer to that of in-person concerts and shows. Further, following the easy-to-use nature of the various online platforms featuring these live performances, live music is likely to become accessible to listeners like never before. Technology is set to pave the way for a possible revolution in the way we experience live music.


A lot of possibilities have been discussed in this article and frankly, a lot of it will likely take a while to be realised. But much of it is already real and available to you right at this moment. The scope for experiencing live music is growing and, with luck, will continue to do so. So, in 2021, expect to see more live music from artists small and large — on different platforms, reaching wider audiences, beyond borders — all around the world.


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