How will Music thrive in COVID-19 times?

We are living through an uncertain, unprecedented time, with no modern roadmap to guide us. Before you stop reading for fear of another COVID-19 think piece, I want to let you know it’s not about what’s happening now. It’s about how we move forward. The entertainment industry has always had to learn to adapt — […]

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We are living through an uncertain, unprecedented time, with no modern roadmap to guide us. Before you stop reading for fear of another COVID-19 think piece, I want to let you know it’s not about what’s happening now. It’s about how we move forward.

The entertainment industry has always had to learn to adapt — sometimes faster than other industries. You could say that technology leads the way for changes in the music industry (from vinyl to 8 tracks, then cassettes, CDs, MP3s to today’s streaming models). It’s easy to see how the landscape has transformed over the years, and the way the industry grows and changes is normally aided by technology. 

In these uncharted waters, at a time where the majority of money in music is made through touring or sync licensing, we are seeing the scramble to adapt or die. In recent weeks, we saw John Legend serenade the world over Instagram live for a free concert he performed in his bathrobe, while wife Chrissy wore her infamous “house towel,” and later, a glitzy gown. It was a fun respite from the doom and gloom on every other channel. Legend can hold free events like this, but what happens to up and coming artists?

We see a lot of new talent coming from TikTok, and so many young people seem to have cracked the code to getting internet famous in the digital age. But without festivals and clubs to play this music in, how do we fully consume it? Of course, there are going to be the new stars coming out of this — the DJ D-Nice’s who gave the world it’s biggest dance party the weekend before last. It felt familiar, we all felt connected and for those nine hours it felt like you were at the club again — mixing with celebs via D-Nice’s shout outs whenever a familiar face would come through, but without the charge for entry. The whole time I danced, I thought how do the artists get paid for the use of their songs on this DJ stream, and how does D-Nice get paid for ALL those hours of bringing all those people together? 

How will artists make the shift? How will artists make it special for fans? And how do they monetize it in a time of global economic uncertainty?

The obvious answer is Live Streaming — FB Live, Instagram Live, Twitch, StageIt, and you can bet there are more coming. You can leave a tip with a Venmo. It’s all evolving rapidly. Many artists have been using Patreon for years; in fact, those artists are in the best position currently, as they are well seeded with their own supportive and invested fan base. Erykah Badu arrived nearly on time for her live stream that started at 10 pm PST and went for three rejuvenating, intimate (she performed in her bedroom) hours. We’re really not worthy of her. 

I digress. 

But what happens if we’re locked down longer than expected? How are new artists, or even established artists, expected to tour and really make a name for themselves? How are we expected to promote the new music and stay the course of a release plan (with slight modifications, of course)? 

As we start to move forward, it’s not just my belief it’s a well established notion that music is a connector — and we need to feel connected even more than ever now. Now is the opportunity for everyone to turn the mirror on themselves and figure out how they are contributing to the community. That’s what we do as artists, marketers and managers. Having honest conversations with people by connecting. 

At my company, Juel Concepts, we are poised to help our artists keep connections meaningful. Each week since the COVID-19 outbreak, we have been releasing singles and have been carefully watching the shifting music consumption landscape with cautious optimism. Radio and Streaming are of particular interest to us all. I expected there to be a dip in usage due in part to the elimination of commutes – as well as places where you would normally use music (like gyms, restaurants) are closed. Those are two major events that are potentially devastating for music. However, Nielsen just reported that  Americans are already spending almost 12 hours each day with media, and that time could grow by 60% among those who stay indoors. They have found Radio to be a trusted connection still —  83% of consumers say they’re listening to as much or more radio as they were before the pandemic. Streaming has taken a hit the first week of “Social Distancing” — Variety cited a 7.6% decrease from March 13-19; not surprising considering that week saw families start to work remotely and children out of school so there was displacement in what was consumed in general. Fun fact, three genres of music — Folk, Classical and Children’s music actually saw uptick during that week. 

So where is this all heading? I see nothing but opportunities ahead. For starters, MIDiA cited there could be up to 15% potentially more time in consumers’ day to listen to music. So here we have convergence of a couple indicators for the opportunities ahead. 

  1. There’s a captive audience with more time on their hands
  2. Musicians are isolated, reinventing themselves as content mavens
  3. Musician’s teams are ready to help shape and guide 
  4. Every brand is looking for ways to keep things moving during this transition
  5. Every aspect of the music industry is more open than ever to reinvent the business model with every week that goes by where artists can’t tour and engage in real life

This all equals the opportunity to create an even stronger, more engaged, and potentially financially viable digital media community, or even an overarching breakthrough media platform that could be scalable and sustainable post COVID-19.

As I write this, I am reminded that sometimes the best solution is one you can control yourself. We see innovation opportunities, it’s the perfect time to lean into new things. We’ve seen that in times of disruption, the sooner you start to build, the more you increase the odds of having your work and learnings be more established by the time everyone else begins to build. That’s how we move forward optimistically. We just have to keep going. 

After all, the show must go on.

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