Live concerts, with a virtual side


RmeLooking forward to the simple pleasures of the pre-COVID world where being able to see your favorite band was just a matter of scoring drummer girlfriend seats or saving up to get rated by Ticketmaster?

JNear-term expectations for the post-pandemic music scene this summer, according to industry veterans, are outdoor concerts at a lower capacity to accommodate social distancing. As far as indoor events go, as Elton John might sing, it’s going to be a very long one.

“There are a lot of national artists who want to get back to work,” says Dan McGowan, managing partner of The Crofoot Presents, a Pontiac concert hall. “We will be doing national outdoor shows this summer.” That’s not good news, however, for the lesser-known, homegrown talent that was the usual fare at Crofoot before COVID.

And while outdoor shows will look like what we’re used to, they will look and function differently. The pods will be standard, accommodating between four and six people per group and spaced out from other parts. Food and drinks can be brought to you via contactless ordering. “A lot of things are just going to make things more comfortable for people,” McGowan says.

It all depends on the deployment of the vaccine, of course. If enough people get vaccinated and new COVID cases drop dramatically, moviegoers might start to feel better about attending indoor shows. Either way, McGowan says, venues like his will likely invest in massive air purifiers and touchless light fixtures to further protect guests.

A legacy of COVID may be the virtual gig, an existential necessity during the pandemic that has shown some artists how to monetize their distant popularity. Detroit band Electric Six, for example, did three virtual shows in 2020 that they charged viewers $10 to stream and included a download of the concert with a higher-quality audio mix. Some 1,500 viewers from around the world, including die-hard fans from the UK and Russia, showed up.

Many acts and venues may continue to offer virtual programming, especially for people with disabilities or those living far from major metropolitan areas who could not easily attend shows in the past. “Streaming concerts don’t generate as much revenue as live, but it’s great if you can do both,” says Nate Dorough, talent buyer for concert producer Audiotree Presents, which operates in Michigan and the US. ‘Illinois.

Last year, Audiotree Presents hosted 25 shows online and sold approximately 10,000 tickets at prices ranging from $10 to $20 for indie acts that included Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! and ’90s rock band Local H. That’s about equal to selling Loving Touch in Ferndale or the blind pig in Ann Arbor 25 times. “You can put those live streams on your 60-inch TV and it looks awesome,” says Dorough. “You can crank up the volume and piss off your neighbors. It’s as close as it gets to a full-fledged concert experience in your living room.

Dorough says streaming shows could remain a mainstay for years to come as live shows and touring gradually find a way back to normal. Music websites such as Bandsintown are banking on it, rolling out a $9.99 subscription service that offers 25 live concerts a month from Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Phoebe Bridgers and Flying Lotus. It could also be a permanent addition to live shows, allowing bands to entertain fans in expensive-to-visit parts of the world.

Still, while the model worked as a temporary balm, says Electric Six guitarist Dave Malosh, the band likely won’t be doing virtual shows once the pandemic passes. “I want to do shows,” says Malosh, co-owner of Small’s Bar in Hamtramck. “Part of the [virtual shows] makes sure no one forgets us. We’re down to a science now, but I didn’t sign up for that, man. I want to swing!”

A frightening prospect, however, is that the economic devastation of the pandemic could lead to fewer sites still operating by the time everyone is ready to go out again. It depends on being able to get larger crowds together as soon as possible, McGowan says.

“If we’re at 50% capacity within a year, our industry is in trouble,” he says. “Hopefully we’ll be at 80 or 90 percent capacity within a year — and that’s still going to be tough. The margins in our industry are incredibly thin.


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