Now is the most challenging time of the entire pandemic for musicians
October of 2021 is proving to be the most challenging time for touring musicians and the live music sector since the start of the pandemic.
When COVID first hit it was obvious what needed to be done. Now every part of the live music ecosystem is exhausted, financially stressed, and fighting for survival, and the path forward is far less clear.
In March of 2020 musicians and venues followed government guidelines and shut down their shows. At first, everyone thought that it would be a short disruption. But as the weeks dragged on, musicians and others in live music cut costs, applied for government assistance and asked fans and supporters to buy merch, fill the tip jar, and help wherever they could.
Creative energies shifted. Time usually spent doing live shows was channeled into writing and recording as files traded across thousands of miles made lockdown location irrelevant.
Once an afterthought, musicians, music tech companies, social media outlets, and sometimes venues explored music live streams at an unprecedented pace. Bandsintown published 43,000 live streams by 14,000 artists in the first five months of lockdown alone.
By early 2021 things felt like they were getting better. Vaccines offered hope, venues reopened as lockdown rules loosened and artists began to book their first tours in more than a year.
Then the Delta variant hit and vaccination rates stalled making going to a show feel riskier for both artists and fans.
The path forward suddenly seems far less clear.
The renegotiation or cancellation of even a single show can make an entire tour unprofitable and yet the chances of that happening are greater than ever. The Delta surge caused new ticket sales to slow to a trickle and breakthrough cases are often forcing musicians to quarantine and cancel their own shows.
At the same time, after 18 months of the pandemic, any financial reserves are exhausted, unemployment and other government support have run out, and the mental strain of 18 months of lockdown, fear, and “not knowing” have taken their toll.
Is it better to risk it and perform now or smarter wait?
These are the financial, emotional, and even promotional calculations that artists, managers, agents, promoters, and venues are making and reviewing almost hourly.
Despite signs of hope ahead, October of 2021 is the most challenging time of the entire pandemic for touring musicians and the live music sector.
Bruce Houghton is Founder and Editor of Hypebot and MusicThinkTank and serves as a Senior Advisor to Bandsintown which acquired both publications in 2019. He is the Founder and President of the Skyline Artists Agency and a professor for the Berklee College Of Music.