Illustration: Esmée Finlay / @efinlayillustration

In this second report, detailing the findings of our musicians’ survey carried out in partnership with The University of Liverpool, we look at responses relating to the alternative platforms for live music and the effects of lockdown on levels of creativity. The findings illustrate a willingness to adapt to new digitised parameters, but a landscape where streaming is a financially viable rival to live shows is yet to materialise.

As lockdown shut the doors of music venues across the city region, musicians turned to online streaming as the new way of broadcasting their gigs to audiences also confined to their homes. What used to be packed out rooms cathartically singing along with crowdsurfers and pints of beer flying overhead, turned into sitting at home watching all the action on a screen in the hope of replicating some of the former experiences.

Bands and artists setting up intimately in their own homes became the norm. Virtual promoters pushed the boundaries of live possibilities with digital events to help curb the impact of a festival summer that never happened.

As always, musicians soldiered on learning new skills and innovating themselves to stream their artistic visions online. Of the 175 respondents to this study’s survey, 48 per cent of those were involved in some type of live-streamed performance during lockdown. The reaction from those involved was widely positive, with 68 per cent of them seeing lockdown live streams as beneficial to their development as a musician both creatively and connecting to fans.

From our results (of which data ends at the start of August), the artists asked took part in 506 virtual shows involving 402 performers and reached a collective 203,445 people online. One major positive we saw was that the potential reach of an online performance can often go far beyond the capacities of conventional venues.

With the majority stuck at home, millions of people turned to music to reconnect with the life they had before. Streaming became a positive means for artists to build up fan numbers and increase awareness of their music. Where once bands could gain new fans from enthusiastic live slots and playlists to attach themselves to keen ears, now the great wall of noise on social media was a further incentivised platform.

The temporary transition to streaming gigs split opinion, as some saw it as a crucial medium of connection with fans and increasing listeners. One responded saying: “While not being able to play in real life, it still gives people who are interested in my music a chance to hear it in a live format. The internet offers a much larger audience than a venue, so it’s an opportunity for more people to discover you.

For many, lockdown will have been characterised by learning new skills in between Zoom pub quizzes, banana bread baking and daily binges of Tiger King. For others, lockdown forced people into being creative. Yet this wasn’t a consistent feeling; as always, the creative block can be hard to beat with around a third (34 per cent) of respondents feeling uninspired during lockdown. Alternatively, nearly half (46 per cent) of musicians surveyed felt an increased inspiration as there was more time to spend being creative.

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These bursts and drives of motivation were seen to fluctuate across the lockdown period. Some musicians were initially impacted negatively as the sudden change to lifestyle halted creativity with around 12 per cent finding the setback hard to deal with. “I need a positive headspace to write, and with so much negativity in the world right now, it damaged my motivation to write new songs,” one respondent said, with another more optimistically adding: “I went out of my way to find ways to be creative and to encourage those around me to do the same.”

The closure of practice spaces affected the ability for musicians to work together as over half (53 per cent) were completely locked out of practicing with their bandmates during lockdown with an unfortunate sense of regression apparent in those asked.

For musicians, live streaming offered a unique opportunity to develop digital skills as 36 per cent of our respondents learnt how to stream a live show, 12 per cent gained new understanding of video production and, finally, 10 per cent went deeper into their creativity focusing on painting and creative writing.

To delve into the methods and digital platforms used, 76 per cent of respondents used Facebook, 40 per cent broadcast on YouTube and 36 per cent streamed over Instagram Live. The popularity and ease of working with these platforms was highlighted by the musicians. Endlessly scrolling through memes and corona hot takes from your uncles could be interrupted by a band eager to connect with fans again.

With disruption comes innovation, but also collaboration. With musicians having more free time due to furlough and lack of real-life gig opportunities, 61 per cent of those asked worked and collaborated with other musicians during lockdown. But these collaborations didn’t come without their drawbacks as many preferred working in person. Large portions of the musicians (88 per cent) preferred face to face discussions as it was easier to gain instant feedback and bounce ideas between people. They found a certain disconnectedness and loss from the shared experience of practicing that isn’t obtained with people working online; 20 per cent described that the lack of direct real-life collaboration completely inhibited their activities.

Ben Roberts was an organiser of Liverpool Digital Music Festival which saw two live-stream events take place in recent months. The first event took place in May and saw 100 Merseyside based artists performing from home. The second took place over the August bank holiday weekend and saw venues like the M&S Bank Arena open their doors to host artists like Zuzu in a cavernous, empty auditorium to an audience in its thousands watching from home.

The project was born out of the lack of gigs taking place, says Roberts, and an appetite from both fans and performers for the return of live music in some capacity. Creating the second event saw the production take place in venues across the city which brought in new health and safety concerns as around 50 people working across four venues required its own robust Covid-19 measures. Venue mapping, one-way systems, cleaning down areas in between sets, PPE for staff and a track and trace system were all in place – even without any fans in the building. This level of organisation stresses the logistical difficulties that Covid-19 has brought to the live music industry. “Live streaming is so new and not a lot people were doing it last year,” says Roberts, “but people and venues are now seeing the value in streaming. There is tremendous potential.”

"The internet offers a much larger audience than a venue, so it’s an opportunity for more people to discover you" Respondent

But as the sun came out, lockdown loosened and society wanted to get back to the beer garden, the live streaming revolution gained renewed competition from people wanting to go outdoors.

For some fans, however, a live stream, although is nice to watch and support, does not equate to the live experience. The collective unison of a packed room brought together by a love of music struggles to be replicated sitting on your sofa with some cans looking at a screen. Although the innovation and new fanbase gains were a positive, the overriding feeling from artists towards online gigs was one of frustration. Performing in front of people and playing live was seen as a fundamental need for both fans and performers.

“It’s a pale stop-gap for live performance which is socially and culturally important and cannot be replicated online,” one respondent put simply. Another added: “While they can be OK to watch, they don’t have the atmosphere and magic of real live performances.” Another responded outlined how it felt like they were just “providing content rather than me giving people an experience”.

More damningly, the financial viability of live streaming becoming the new normal, for touring bands especially, is more doubtful. Of all the live-streamed shows that the musicians in the survey were involved in, only 16 of these musicians actually got paid and they contributed to 118 of the 506 shows recorded. Of these 16 musicians, only five of them got paid over £100 for their performance as they took part in 24 shows. This means that 81 per cent of musicians did not get paid for performing a streamed set. These statistics reflect that only select and established musicians have been benefitting from live streaming shows, suggesting that the emerging acts are not getting paid enough and are being left behind.

Drawing on findings from the last article in the series, we saw that £1.75million was lost in performance revenue for cancelled shows up to the beginning of August amongst the artists asked. With very few gigs to the end of September and onwards looking to go ahead, we estimate that figure to grow to with a further £700,000 potentially being lost.

The live streams that our respondents were involved in as a replacement for the lost shows brought total projected earnings of only £68,000. The figure has potential to drop to a grim £21,000 if you remove free gigs from the calculations and just focus on the performers who actually got paid. This remains a drop in the ocean compared to the money lost due to lack of live opportunities with streaming shows only recouping 1.2-3.6 per cent of the money lost.

“They are great for pushing monetised things like merch, accepting donations in lieu of gig performance fees,” one respondent shared, “however there is no way to directly monetise the live streams within the platforms themselves, making income very uncertain.”

Where the processes of a band or artist getting paid for a live show vary from via agents or direct from promoters, the payment systems for online performances are yet to be ironed out and proven. Where the purchase of a gig ticket grants you access into the room and a knowledge that the artists you’re seeing will be getting a portion of that fee, there is no one “watching the door” for most live streams.

“It’s a pale stop-gap for live performance which is socially and culturally important and cannot be replicated online”

Pay-for-view live streams are a much harder sell in an age of getting media online for free; the concept of paying to watch a performance on a screen without leaving your house is a tough sell. Even well-established artists are already proving the hardship. Mercury Prize-nominated Laura Marling saw her professionally produced live stream show at London’s Union Chapel garner 4,000 viewers from across the globe at £12 a ticket. However, the show still failed to make financial returns that would make this type of performance a viable solution going forward.

There isn’t one rule that fits all in the industry as with different demographics and audiences comes different attitudes to. Some smaller artists may see the greater potential reach of streaming as enough to warrant not getting paid as much. In the long run, however, that could have negative effects as it grants the audience an expectation to get live music for free and for artists to lose out.

As the lockdown hit, Sound City set up Guest House Live which saw emerging and established artists perform streamed gigs on a pay-for-view platform. Fans were able to buy tickets, donate money to the artists directly, engage in a Q&A and purchase unique merchandise created specifically for that show. “We saw that streaming was going to be integral for artists, but there had to be a way to monetise it. We felt it was really important to us as a festival and an organisation that works with so many artists that we address that,” said Sound City MD, Becky Ayres.

“The emerging artists who don’t have a big profile but do interact and have some dedicated fans have done really well from it. We’re trying to learn from those emerging artists that have done well on the platform to see where and how we can make that a level playing field for other artists,” she added.

“We do believe that streaming performances are something that fans should be paying for, whatever that amount might be. Streamed gigs will never be the same as a real show, but it’s about giving the fan an experience that will engage them with artists and ultimately create more of a relationship with them which in turn will generate more income.”

As the industry continues to adapt, the structuring and potential of live stream events will no doubt flourish in the coming months. Musicians will further evolve with limitations leading to new, beneficial opportunities. For now, though, Liverpool and the international music communities have to wait for a potential vaccine to be created and distributed before the doors of venues can reopen. It sadly remains a continually bleak outlook for the future of live music, but it is reassuring to find that the city region and its musicians are evolving and finding ways to adapt to these enforced changes.

Lead researchers and data analysis: Richard Anderson and Dr Mathew Flynn, University of Liverpool

The next stage of this research will take place via a consultation event led by Bido Lito!, University of Liverpool and other musician support organisations on Tuesday 27th October via Zoom. The event will consider the wider impacts across the sector with venues, promoters, educators and other industry professionals encouraged to take part.

Lead researchers & data analysis: Dr Mathew Flynn & Richard Anderson

 To register head to bidolito.co.uk/consultation

Issue 110 of Bido Lito! is out now in print. Sign up as a member to get the next issue delivered to your door or become a subscriber to our weekly newsletter.

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