The pandemic has been raging across the globe for a year now. The performing arts industry has endured in boundless creative ways in order to remain relevant, bring attention to the needs in our communities, and to continue to be creative in a time when we most need to be lifted up. With live in-person events likely to resume this summer outdoors in some number, and in the fall indoors (albeit still with masked audiences and likely reduced audiences), do we really need to continue to livestream events when many of us are at capacity with our screen time? The short answer is a resounding YES–and here’s why.
In the beginning … there was a plethora of poorly produced, free livestreams that I think started the industry off on a bad footing. It set the bar low for artists to actually be paid for their work, and it turned audiences off to the idea of livestreaming in general. Additionally, the streaming platforms first available to artists were not as they are today and did not provide for protection or control of their work in a way that many artists would prefer.
Nowadays … artists have since invested in better audio and video equipment and set up home studios that provide for better backdrops and presence for concert streams and other livestream activities. Better livestream solutions are now available that can offer 360-degree views of the performance setting, virtual reality settings, and private or paywall platforms to control access and avoid the horrendous possibility of having your event removed from the internet midstream. Despite the fact that technology has nearly caught up with the needs of this blossoming virtual industry, providing for high-production value livestreams from empty stages and artist living rooms, we as an industry are struggling to get attendance levels to anywhere near where it should be to sustain these events–and the artists and promoters. We need to shift our perspective as audiences from mere entertainment consumers to a model as supporters and patrons of the arts.
With nearly a year passed now since North America’s venues started shutting down, many performing artists have had to pack up and leave their homes to return to live with family members or relocate to areas with cheaper rents. Band makeups will change as a result of this when we do resume in-person events. Some will disband entirely. This may provide for some forced artistic challenges that could result in an amazing new direction, so there are benefits to this scenario perhaps. Sometimes under duress one can overcome to create genius works. But I wouldn’t want to force that struggle on anyone.
It’s important that those of us in the promotion side of the industry help to educate our audiences that have the financial ability to support on the reality of the situation–that we (the venue or organization, the artists, and the all of those as part of the larger arts ecosystem) are in need of their committed patronage to pull us through. Yes, there has been funding in the form of grants and low-interest loans made available to nonprofits and businesses during the pandemic, but for many gig workers, access to any government support–whether federal programs or state unemployment benefits–has remained and will remain inaccessible. It’s been weeks since the SVOgrant program was announced, and yet applications are not yet open, confusion abounds, and for the uninitiated in the world of grant applications, this can seem an insurmountable task to even consider delving into. And it’s tax season, as if we didn’t already have enough paperwork to concern ourselves with.
But I digress … the point I’d like for all to take away is that livestreaming remains vitally important from multiple angles–as a marketing investment and as a way to meet your mission as an organization (if that applies), and as a way for artists to still feel like their endeavors still hold value. Livestreaming remains our only option for connecting the community to the performing arts. Venues are still shuttered and summer outdoor events are looking less likely to happen in numbers we were optimistically aiming for just weeks ago.
So, artist friends: please take heart and continue to do what you can to create in this vacuous pandemic; your craft and presence really matters and lifts us all up. Promoter friends: please continue to offer virtual programming in some form to keep yourselves present in this industry and provide a place for artists and audiences to convene from around the globe. Audience friends: please understand that every dollar you spend in arts is probably doubly important and appreciated these days and that just “showing up” in the virtual space does help artists make their creative contributions and energies feel worthwhile.
Thanks for reading my heartfelt rant. I’ll be the first ticket buyer in line when venues in my state are able to open again, and one of the first festival-goers in 2021. Meanwhile, a heartfelt thanks to all of you creating and working in the virtual space. I’ll see you online.