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Is this a stream? Is this just fantasy?

Posted by Charlie O'Toole on 11th May 2020

Globally, COVID-19 has brought many industries to their knees. Some of the hardest hit have been hospitality and tourism but this crisis has also expedited the demise of live music in the capital.

A report released in 2015 by the Mayor’s Music Venues Taskforce found that London had lost 35% of its live music venues. It’s a well-known tale; the owner of a venue releases a public statement citing rising business rates, increased rent and redevelopment plans as the catalysts for their closure and so London loses another venue.

The real reasons for these closures are more nuanced than the big boss man closing his fist on the unruly upstart venues though, with consumers themselves carrying much of the blame.

As I’ve bemoaned in my previous blogs, the music industry has seen seismic shifts in its business model over the last 30 years. Physical formats are dying out as consumers opt for streaming services that offer a near endless catalogue of music for the same cost as a couple of coffees.

From the consumer’s point of view, it’s a no brainer. Why spend £10-£15 on a new album every month when you can pay a third of that and have the musical library of Alexander at your fingertips? This, as is to be expected, has changed the way that the music industry operates. With reduced income and increased overheads, business operations have had to be scaled down across the board.

However, as with many industry crises there is room for entrepreneurial spirits to capitalise on shifting market conditions. But what happens when everyone does the same thing all at once?

I’m of course talking about live streamed gigs.

I must make one thing clear about this whole situation, I understand why everyone is resorting to live streamed gigs. With social distancing in place and the nation firmly in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic, the last place you’d want to be is packed into a small venue with sticky floors surrounded by sweaty people.

But is this yet another shift in consumer behaviour that will drag the industry into more change? One that sees the music industry go the same way as Disney, Fox and Sony in providing a Netflix-esque streaming service where for a subscription cost you get access to a series of concerts from your favourite artists.

In short, probably not. Touring and live shows are one of the few arenas where musicians can make substantial money. With streaming revenue being so low and the concept of ‘owning’ music becoming rapidly outdated, tickets to concerts are still at premium. Hell, even Metallica was embroiled in a controversy to generate more revenue from its ticket sales.

Streaming also removes the human element of going to see a performance. There’s something to be said for being in the room and seeing an artist at their peak — be it a musician, dancer, singer, actor or even an athlete. Streaming detaches you from this, in the same way that watching a football match from your sofa in no way compares to the atmosphere in the stadium.

Personally, I think streaming is a flash in the pan phenomenon. It’s a way for influencers and musicians to capitalise on a situation and grow an owned platform so that they can have greater success once the epidemic fades out.

Don’t worry, you won’t be seeing a Pink Floyd reunion tour live streamed on Netflix any time soon.

Charlie O'Toole

Charlie brings an unorthodox background of Music, Art, Marketing, Design and Social Media Management together to help bring a fresh perspective to any PR campaign. An ardent believer in the Stanford design thinking process, Charlie prefers to leave no stone unturned in the planning stages to ensure effective and creative results. In his spare time Charlie is a gigging musician, experimenting with different instruments, tech and playing styles to bring his music to life.