The Wins and Losses of the Music Industry in 2020

Picture this: It’s October 2019. The lights go down, and cheers erupt from every inch of the concert venue as the performer enters the stage. Clapping, hollers, whistling all jumbled together into a buzz, and anticipation for the performance to begin. Every free space in the venue is filled with people nearly on top of each other, close enough to feel someone’s breath on your neck, to overhear conversations, to feel the heat forming from the crowd. For a sold-out show, this environment is normal, expected even.

But that was in 2019. 2020 is a whole different animal. And every genre of music has suddenly faced the shocking shutdown of events they used to not only make money but to build connections. All of that has been snatched away due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While it most certainly was for good reason, many musicians have had to wonder, what comes next for us? How do we adapt and survive?

Here are a few ways we’ve found that musicians have been surviving.

crowd in face masks

Going Live – From Home

Unless you’ve been avoiding social media during the pandemic, you’ve probably seen artists going live. Whether it’s on Instagram, Facebook, Twitch, or another streaming service, musicians have been interacting with their fans more than ever. Spring and summer are the biggest seasons for concerts, especially festivals. To have all of it put on hold, some artists have felt lost.

Tours have been canceled/postponed, festivals like Pitchfork and Bunbury have been moved to 2021, and pretty much any in-person live shows aren’t possible. For musicians who rely on touring to make most of their revenue, they’re put in a very difficult spot.

But we are a resilient species. Musicians have made the best of their situations and began taking to the internet to continue sharing their music. Artists need their spirits lifted just as much as viewers, and the new intimate live streaming is the closest thing both sides have to the real thing right now. It gives fans a window into the artists they know and love in an environment they may not have ever gotten to see, and the artists are given a chance to continue their livelihood from home for others to appreciate.

While some are just doing it to keep a close bond with their fans, others are doing it for great causes. Elton John, for example, hosted a benefit concert with iHeart Radio along with other artists like Billie Joe Armstrong and Dave Grohl performing from their respective homes to raise money for coronavirus relief. Pop-punk band, All Time Low hosted an online benefit concert where all the proceeds went to their touring crew who are out of work since touring has come to a halt in the last three months. Even if the artists aren’t making money, they’re still encouraging fans to donate to relief efforts if they can, using their platforms for good like Ben Gabbard from Death Cab for Cutie.

“I think we’re learning, while people might not have a lot of money right now, if you have 10,000 people watching a livestream and everybody gives an average of one dollar, that’s $10,000,” Gibbard said. Even when musicians are struggling, they’re showing just how big their hearts are in these uncertain times.

Exclusive Live Streams

To help generate an income in a time where publicity like interviews and nationwide touring are off the table, some artists have taken to streaming platforms to make back some of the money they’ve lost. Platforms like Twitch and StageIt have seen a spike in their numbers since stay-at-home orders were issued. These sites support subscriptions and donations, two things that aren’t offered or carry less meaning on conventional social media apps like Instagram and Facebook. While more fans may be on the latter, musicians have a better chance of monetizing their performances on the streaming sites. According to a study by the Music Industry Research Association, the average US musician has three sources of income, the highest source being live performances. Some artists have gone as far as creating live stream schedules for people to tune into. While it may not make them as money as ticket sales for live shows, it’s a cushion to help them survive until live shows are safe again.

Merchandise Sales

In a time where people are barely leaving the house and some people, like musicians, are out of work, this form of survival isn’t the strongest. However, something is better than nothing. Bands like post-hardcore band Secrets have started to create merchandise that is only available in a limited amount to create a sense of exclusivity while still making some profit. Even more so than that, this business model is smart because it keeps them from making too many shirts that just sit in a warehouse. Only what is needed is made. It looks like