✖️ Coronavirus and the future of music 🦠
What innovations can provide some reprieve from lost live revenues?
This week a special focus on the coronavirus and its impact on music. The cancellation of Ultra Music Festival and SXSW should have made it abundantly clear we’re in for a bit of a ride.
What has me up is how artists will make a living with an important revenue stream fading out (more below). I am scheduling some time to do brainstorms with artists & teams about employing membership-style models (think Patreon) for sustaining income in the midst of all these cancelations. Initially free of charge, because I there are a few things I want to get a better understanding of. Read the details on LinkedIn.
Coronavirus and the future of music
The global pandemic is about to hit the music business hard. With a lack of live shows, what can artists and their teams do to maintain a living?
Before I dive into the nitty-gritty of what the coronavirus means for music, I want to add some explanations of what it means for all of us. A good place to start is Liz Specht’s thread on the exponential nature of the outbreak and its effect on our healthcare systems.
She starts off with an assumption of cases doubling every 6 days. Starting from a conservative estimate of 2,000 cases in the US today, that means 1 million by the end of April, 2 million around May 5, 4 million by May 11, etc. If ~10% of these cases need hospitalization, then all open hospital beds in the US will be filled by May 8. If only 5% of these cases need it, then that date changes to May 14.
There are lessons we’ve learned from past outbreaks, like the Spanish flu.
With containment and cancelations of gatherings, we can make the crisis more manageable for the healthcare system. The goal would be to keep the number of infections, somehow, below the healthcare system’s maximum capacity, as this image by Thomas Splettstösser indicates:
SXSW is just the beginning
What I am trying to highlight is that it’s just a matter of time until governments decide to prohibit more forms of public gatherings (Italy’s government is preparing a decree to ban public events with high concentration of people across the entire country, France has banned gatherings of more than 1,000, etc.).
With the most effective strategy to reduce the spread being isolation, including self-isolation, how many people will still be able to even come out to gigs once July hits (est. 20-70% of global population infected)? So we have to consider the possibility of full cancelations of tours, shows, etc.
Luckily the infrastructure for a more resilient music business is here. It has been here for many years, but it’s underutilized.
Resilience is in the networks
Years ago, as I was completing my Bachelor’s degree in Communication, I tried to figure out what had gone so wrong for music and what strategies artists & teams could employ to maintain revenue. I studied piracy, but it seemed like a pointless ‘problem’ to focus on, because no individual artist can ‘solve’ that in a way that would meaningfully bring them significant revenues. So I dug deeper.
The problem definition focused around the networked nature of our current media landscape. It has been the enabler of piracy, but also more broadly speaking of networked communication. It has enabled a shift from channels to less linear models of communication through communities that intersect and share nodes.
In the solution section of my thesis, I took those principles and explored how they can be utilized by artists in order to make a new type of living that depends less on the record sale. In short: make yourself part of your fan base, understand who these people are, and develop exciting things that people want (or as I framed it: get people to thank you for the opportunity to spend their money on something you’re selling).
In those late-MySpace days and early days of Facebook and Spotify, I imagined a new music business emerging. Just… it didn’t really come about. At least not in the way and scale I imagined.
In part, crowdfunding is hard and so is developing products or services besides your music (whether merch or something less common). It’s a different type of operation. So it’s been optional. Let alone membership-type crowdfunding models of which Patreon is a good example. In an interview with Cherie Hu last year, Patreon’s SVP of Product Wyatt Jenkins had this to say about musicians and why music isn’t a top-2 category on the platform yet:
“All of their other revenue streams look, sound and act really differently from a membership. They’re coming from gigs, they’re coming from sales of music, touring — you know, all these other lines of revenue for musicians are these spiky, hustle-based lines of business”
Now, I believe we’ve reached a point where for many people it’s not optional. How do we cover lost live revenue?
What life looks like, locked inside our homes
So here’s the good news paragraph. I know for anyone except perhaps the most introverted the above heading doesn’t sound like good news, but hear me out.
For the creative sectors, right now, there is a big emerging opportunity in people sitting at home, being bored out of their minds. Expect usage of streaming media to go up in the next months. It’s hard to say whether that will translate into more subscriptions due to economic anxiety, though perhaps initially we’ll see a spike there too (thanks for raising the topic, LIAS). Previous research by MIDiA warned of streaming subscriptions’ vulnerability in a recession due to it being so easy to cancel.
In China, this has meant that its biggest promoter, Modern Sky, has been streaming live performances from past Strawberry Music Festival editions.
Here’s some expectations for coming months:
Channels with visible music experiences on Twitch and YouTube, e.g. Boiler Room and COLORS, are going to see a jump in viewers;
We’ll see musicians recording more video content, and a mix of Patreon-style membership models and livestreams (you can use membership models to paywall communities to livestream to, see: Ben Folds, Pentatonix);
I imagine some festivals will try to generate digital revenue in some similar form;
We might see younger startups manage to make significant strides forward, such as Patreon-style playlist service Currents.fm, and who knows, maybe social music experiences such as Endlesss when they launch.
It’s going to be a rough year nevertheless. Support each other.
Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face.
Stay calm. Stay informed.
Cherie Hu launched a Patreon page early 2019. She’s been doing an amazing job. Here are her five lessons from her first year on Patreon. 🎂
Warner Music Group delays IPO over coronavirus fears. 📉
Sammy Andrews posted a great Twitter thread about the coronavirus crisis & music with helpful advice. 🦠
I love reimaginations of the past. Here’s one imagining what the world would look like if YouTube hadn’t happened. 📺
Two-programmer musicians used algorithms to generate every melody possible and put them under a Creative Commons Zero license to help artists fight back against lawsuits. 🧠
Pitchfork published an interesting piece about Deezer’s free and open-source AI tool for ‘source seperation’ called Spleeter. In short, it can turn music tracks into stems, which can then be used for anything from further analysis to more creative endeavours. 🔪
Lastly, and while we’re on the topic of AI, Music Business Worldwide published an in-depth piece on the promise of artificial intelligence for A&R. 🤖
That’s all for this week. Keep your eyes on my social media for a podcast about MUSIC x GREEN coming out later this week.
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