By Olivia Maskill

There have been a few things that I’ve enjoyed about the pandemic, the newly optional nature of showers, day-long tea breaks, and it being illegal for men to sit next to me on public transport. But overall, it’s been a bit crap. 

I, like everyone else at Pretend, have missed live music the most. Who’d have thought? When lockdown first started, I drowned my sorrows in the livestreams of my favourite artists whose shows were being cancelled left, right, and center. Staying up until ungodly hours to cry along to Phoebe Bridgers singing in her bathtub and dreaming about what might have been. However, I can’t help but miss gigs: the hopelessness of waiting for a pint when the band might start any minute, accidentally going to the loo during your favourite song, and the corduroy trousers of soft boys everywhere blowing in the heavenly breeze of the sluggish wind machine. 

6 months down the line, we’ve seen so many excellent albums released. But the majority of money artists earn from new music these days is through live performances and touring. In the age of streaming, it’s more difficult than ever to cut through the fray to solidify your acclaim and fanbase. Without live shows, for many this will be impossible. Spotify pays artists a whopping £0.0034 per play, meaning a song garnering about half a million streams earns the rights holder about £1700. Not exactly the big time and definitely not enough to record an album off the back of a successful first indie single. Especially, if you’re a nu-wave jazz soul fusion band with 16 members. 

One of the best ways around this is just to have an incredible album with a hugely successful and well-funded marketing strategy behind it, I know my fellow Dua Lipa stans will feel me here. But how are artists without the multimillion-pound recording contracts and invites to late-night american talk shows supposed to climb that golden rope and make their music heard? 

One of the unforecasted consequences of this whole crisis is that collaboration is now easier than ever, doing a session with someone on another continent is about as easy as somebody on the other end of the Northern Line, due to nobody really having any plans anymore anyway. Artists like Soccer Mommy have used this opportunity to create memorable engaging singles series that showcase other artists, as well as to raise money for organisations supporting people in the music industry who are struggling at this time.

Ticket apps, like DICE, are also adapting to the vacuum that live shows have left. Showing a huge range of live streams that artists big and small are doing, both in and out of the city. Not fitting enough cliches into this article, the saying ‘location, location, location’ still rings true. In a quid pro quo deal, some artists are working in partnerships with local businesses (see the Pretend session at Mondo Brewing in Battersea with John Myrtle for an excellent and affiliated example of this), giving artists a safe and socially distanced location to perform, whilst acting as much-needed publicity for independent businesses. 

Finally, the thing we’ve all heard about, but few have actually attended yet: socially distanced gigs. We all lived through the pain of dates being postponed, rescheduled, postponed again, rescheduled again, and so on ad infinitum. But, one of these days the date will actually stick and we actually will be able to go. Yes, we all saw those cursed Sam Fender gig pics and cringed to death, but it did show that there is a place for safe live music in venues with sufficient outdoor space. Costa del Tottenham has done an excellent job of showcasing the potential of particular venues to host events, but there are few locations that are capable of that level of adaptation (read more about that here). What about venues without that amount of space, that have garnered adoration for their intimacy and innate pokiness? Take The Lexington, for example, my own personal favourite venue, how are tiny attic stages like that supposed to feasibly put on financially viable gigs? For now indoor gigs will continue to be restricted and drastically more expensive than before. The more affluent fans among us might be desperate enough to pay £94.50 to go to a socially distanced The Comet is Coming show at Alexandra Palace (22nd Nov), but I fear I am not. It may be that middle-tier artists are the most at risk, not having a fan base large enough to fill arenas, but having too many fans to have one of the accidentally (albeit ahead-of-their-time) socially distanced gigs that many low-level indie bands have put on in the back room of Cafe 1001. 

This is all conjecture on my part really, no one knows how the music industry is going to adapt long-term to the pandemic. I realise I’ve also raised more questions than I’ve given answers. There will definitely be the do-gooders, like Bandcamp running days where they waive their own fees, meaning millions go directly to artists. As well as do-badders of which there are too many to name here. 

We’re all quite scared. We will likely lose many treasured small venues that the industry relies on for the development of new talent, if we and the government don’t support them now. But in the end, music will have to survive, because everyone loves it. Even the rich, and it’s what the rich want that really matters at the end of the day, isn’t it? All I know is I’m not sure if I can cope if Nadine Coyle’s tour is permanently cancelled.

My picks for upcoming live streams:

  • Gary Numan is doing a live Q&A with Jude Rogers on Monday 19th October in anticipation of the release of his new autobiography. Yes: it’s unbelievably expensive at £24 and yes: I’m probably quite uncool for liking Gary Numan, but that’s my business.  
  • Katy J Pearson is doing a Rough Trade Transmissions session on Friday 13th November in anticipation of her dreamy new album ‘Return’ and it’s FREE.
  • Casting our minds forward into January and February, Bjork is doing four concerts with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra at Reykjavik’s Harpa Hall. Definitely worth cooking up a nice mushroom risotto with the boys and having a watch.
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