At the 2020 Arts Festival, I was thrilled to organize various shows and events. However, due to the outbreak of a pandemic, safety and social distancing regulation enhanced, which led to the inability to hold such big events with more than 100 people involved. Therefore, as an alternative, we decided to broadcast all events online.
Under the new condition, new considerations such as live streaming sound system and video streaming interfered. There were some significant benefits: online streaming enabled more sophisticated mixing and mastering of the sound with a more dramatic production of some shows. Nevertheless, the most significant problem was the loss of authentic interaction between the performers and audiences. Here, my question arises: what could make the online live streaming feel like a ‘live performance’ if what audiences are watching is a mere video with after-processed sound? And, first of all, what is a live performance in the contemporary pandemic context?
After the Arts festival, I noticed what we experienced was a global phenomenon: there has been a dramatic growth of online platforms as a new medium of live performances. However, what I constantly doubted was the absence of ‘live’ness in most of the shows. Although the sound and video quality were supreme, I felt a lack of authentic connection between audiences and performers. However, although these online performances are yet to perfectly replace the in-person performances, what fascinated me was the new insight and opportunity these attempts proved, which might possibly expand the horizons of live music and the music business.
It is clear that the recent development of online music has introduced a new paradigm in the music and entertainment industry. Nowadays, in both the performing and recording sectors, music and technology are more interconnected than ever before. From the introduction of new genres of music like EDM to new platforms such as Yamaha Sync Room, the music industry is in its transitional state with its synergy with rapid-developing technology. On the recent Korean music project ‘Once More,’ the voice and video of legendary singers were restored, performing live through the hologram video and manipulated restored voice. From watching people being fascinated to see the singers coming back to life, I realized the new possibility of the live music sector overcoming the limitations of human beings through technology.
Meanwhile, the income stream for artists is also diversifying. With an inability for live tours which serve as a major revenue stream, artists are utilizing new platforms like Youtube or Tik Tok to monetize their music. This led the music business structure to be more individualized, reducing the role of record labels in the artist’s career. What this implies is a shift in the music business structure: joining a major label is not a silver bullet to success anymore. In fact, some claim individual artists might better off not joining these managerial firms, who only leaves about 10~15% of the revenue for the artists. Take the example of Lil Nas X, who made a huge success through his unconventional fusion of Hip-hop and Country “Old Town Road.” It was not a huge record label that earnt him the “Song of the Year 2019” award, but it was social media, especially Tik Tok’s “Yeehaw Challenge” that made him succeed.
Then, can we claim that conventional live music and music business dying? The answer would be “not so hastily.” Face-to-face performances still is a major appeal to many audiences, and, despite the current difficulties, a number of attempts to secure the live venues have been proposed. The unique approach of ‘Drive-in Live’, the idea that audiences remain in the car while watching a live concert just like Drive-in theatre, enabled the live music to keep its beat going on, and the recent $15 billion subsidies from the congress of the United States to National Independent Venues Association (NIVA) has provided an optimistic future for the live music sector to survive until things become ‘normal.’
To conclude, due to the worldwide economic and social recession, people are isolated, and longing for connection. While the pandemic has posed an unprecedented challenge for live music and the music business itself, there has also been rapid innovation
in new revenue sources for artists and the media live music is presented. No one would be able to accurately predict the next phase of the innovation. Rather, what the musicians should equip is the flexibility to adapt under any conditions and seek a way to present their art through the most accessible platform. And we, as audiences, should actively support the musicians who are at the forefront of this transitional moment of the industry.