The future of livestreams after the pandemic

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We evaluate the role that livestreams played in the past year and discuss their long-term impact on the music.

The fallout from venues closing during the Covid-19 pandemic has been immense. Financially, the music industry has been decimated - according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, live music was anticipated to generate $30.4 billion globally in 2020. Instead, it was closer to $10 billion. Also, as we reported back in August, live music was the sole source of income for many artists and DJs.

Fans are also an essential part of the equation. A worldwide survey conducted by Live Nation and Ticketmaster found that live music is the number one event people are most likely to return to post-pandemic. However, everyone surveyed typically attended at least one concert or festival a year. 85% of those surveyed also felt that livestreams were an insufficient replacement for in-person shows. 

This begs the question, is there any future for livestreams? With venues closed, the communities that evolve around them need somewhere else to gather. For local scenes and communities, the venue is the epicentre; it is the space where people go to feel accepted and excited. As valuable as streams are for allowing an artist to showcase their live show, it is still impossible to replicate the sound and atmosphere of a packed dancefloor, as the DJ and Kiosk Radio resident Lefto told us.

While it is exciting to see venues and promoters push the limits of streaming, the technological capacity doesn't yet match what we demand from live music.

But some people are trying to offer more than just the music. The Brussels club C12, alongside Kiosk, has announced a weekly online show, on Saturdays from midnight until 4 AM, the club's previous opening hours. Visually, it's a departure from other streams, bringing onboard sound and visual designer Daya Halle to put together old footage from the club. C12 promoter Tom Brus hopes that through showing old footage, it will help viewers access cherished dancefloor memories. The overall aim is “to give people the closest thing to a real club experience”, he says.

Ancienne Belgique recently unveiled their own virtual venue in which the audience members and the performer are computer avatars. Attendees are free to roam the venue as they please and can even message other audience members. An awesome concept, but equally challenging of course. 

There are many things about a nightclub that can't be represented on a screen - the sound, the heat, the anticipation - but perhaps live streams will become good enough to allow people to stay home. If there are no limits on indoor gatherings, will people dance at home with friends where they don't have to worry about entrance fees, drink prices and taxis? Where they can get a pizza delivered to their makeshift 'club' and crawl to bed in an instant? Lefto isn’t convinced, “Humans are social beings; it is total nonsense to think people would prefer to stay inside". However, there are indeed 18-20-year-olds who have missed a full year (and counting) of nightlife experience. Will the lack of formative nights on the dancefloor keep them away in years to come?

Although I miss the 'shared experience' of an in-person concert, I still feel livestreams have their place, particularly for promotion purposes. - Laryssa Kim

Live music isn't just about the fans; the nightlife economy provides crucial resources to artists and industry employees. As Botanique booking agent Thomas Konings told me, “it’s a way to continue the work we’re already doing: giving some visibility to local artists, giving them the opportunity and the platform to spread their music on a proper stage”. Livestreams are a way of ensuring the resources of a venue like Botanique aren’t wasted. Under the residency program they've set up, local artists can improve their live shows and work with Botanique's sound and light engineers. Come the end of March 2021, around 50 artists will have taken part.

One of those artists was Laryssa Kim. For her livestream, she matched the sparse, careful atmosphere of her production with subdued lighting and beautiful choreography from Rebecca Louis. She too feels that a real live show can't be reproduced with digital media, and she misses the "shared experience" and "power of the sound" of an in-person concert. That said, she explains that livestreams still have their place, particularly for promotion purposes. She makes the point that they can be a great way to reach a new audience for emerging artists. It costs far less time and money to listen to new talent on a livestream, and the recording is available long after the stream finishes. These recordings also come in useful when talking to promoters in the future.

As time goes on, livestreams are improving.

From this point of view, livestreams could offer something post-pandemic. Artists’ livelihoods have been wrung dry by the streaming model, and, as mentioned above, the precarity of touring to earn a living is unsustainable. Currently, livestreams are generally free, but platforms like Noonchorus have shown that this need not be the case. Helping independent artists earn a living wage and find a new audience is a no-brainer going forward. 

In-person concerts weren't totally absent in 2020. Botanique held several fully-seated, reduced capacity shows. "Despite this more controlled and less spontaneous context, I think both artists and public were mostly pleased to be there", Konings says. The fact that reduced-capacity shows are still in demand highlights the role that live music and venues play in people’s lives; it goes beyond just looking for an excuse to party. As Konings puts it, "it was very emotional for everyone involved, too. It made me realise how therapeutic music is for a lot of people, including the artists themselves". Laryssa Kim, who also played a reduced-capacity show in Botanique in October last year, has a slightly different view and feels that these shows had an atmosphere that was “restricted and colder than before”. She wonders whether there is a way to carry on with measures in place but in a way that will reintroduce the “human” element of a live show.

Even still, seated shows aren't an option for clubs and DJs. With their incomes being wholly dependent on the full reopening of clubs, the pandemic has shown how precarious these livelihoods are. In the long-term, this model should be scrutinised appropriately; but short term, both Lefto and Konings emphasise how crucial government support is. It’s a public policy issue as far as Lefto is concerned: “culture, music and arts are essential for a healthy society”. Konings feels that some positives may have come from the pandemic. “I hope this crisis made clear how important culture is for all of us”, he says. Laryssa Kim isn’t as hopeful; yes, artists and fans realise how fundamental live music is, but the government “denigrated the sector during this crisis”. 

There's a special connection between the artists and the audience that's intrinsically linked to time and place. - Thomas Konings

It is easy to make the argument that livestreams don't provide audiences with what they miss most about clubs and concert halls: the sound, the anticipation, the sense of belonging. But in some ways, streams are improving. C12's virtual club is a huge step up from the usual, DJ-centric visuals, and the community that gathers around Kiosk (online and in-person) is a good antidote for isolation. On top of that, if the efforts of Botanique are replicated throughout the industry, streaming may be a new source of income and promotion for artists. From that point of view, I do hope livestreams become a part of the landscape.

It's also challenging to assess how big the queues will be in front of nightclubs post-pandemic. In a sense, maybe those who've just entered adulthood are too far removed from their local scene to participate now. On the other hand, the crowds that came out to enjoy recent unseasonal weather is a sure sign that their energy needs an output. I doubt whether a livestream can ever play that role. Konings put it better than we ever could when he told us that there’s a “special connection between the artists and the audience that is so much linked to time and place… while a livestream is another tab in your browser that’s screaming for attention”. Audiences and government are the support structure for our clubs and venues. As long as the pandemic doesn’t stop government support, audiences aren’t going anywhere.