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Solutions

Dan Daley • July 2020The Biz • July 10, 2020

When we see a black-eyed Susan peeking out between the cracks in the concrete of a parking lot, we’re reminded that life manages to find a way in almost any situation. Live music seems to be doing the same during the pandemic. Concerts are taking place in a variety of environments and in a range of configurations. The question then isn’t really whether live music will find a way to survive but rather, how much of this new way of doing it will become part of the post-pandemic landscape, and how much of The Before Time will return?

‡‡         Drive-In Shows

The use of drive-in movie theaters as concert venues will certainly be memorable, if not sustainable. Keith Urban’s show at the Stardust Drive-In near Nashville in May was a self-described proof-of-concept show, and for the 125 or so cars — half the capacity of one of the theater’s two screens — and the front-line healthcare workers in and on them (a car makes a useful six-foot distancing marker) who the show was dedicated to, it was a real treat. Urban told a local news outlet that they wanted to keep it small, with minimal P.A. and lighting rigs, and just two musicians beside himself, one of whom, Jeff Linsenmaier, was essentially DJ-ing backing tracks (using two laptops that enabled him to edit tracks on the fly to extend choruses, verses, intro, which let the song structures flow as freely as they do during “real” concerts) while multi-instrumentalist Nathan Barlowe played keys and guitar. All three were 10 feet apart onstage.

The idea has caught on — Danish singer-songwriter Mads Langer recently performed to a crowd of 500 from a stage at a drive-in movie theater in Aarhus (the country’s second-largest city), where attendees listened to Langer’s set via in-car FM radio and could interact with him via Zoom. At Colorado’s Beanstalk Festival (June 26-27, 2020) at The Holiday Twin Drive-In in Fort Collins, plans called for guests to remain in their cars during performances while the artists would be projected onto the screen and concertgoers would also be able to listen to the performance via their vehicle’s FM radios.

Electronica artist Marc Rebillet announced a drive-in concert tour to five Midwest cities in a month. In fact, any venue with a large parking lot can get in on this action. The Texas Rangers announced plans to use parking lot “B” at its new Globe Life Field Stadium to host a series of drive-in “Concert in Your Car” shows this summer. Each concert will cost $40 per car, while special VIP packages with guaranteed access in the first two rows of the parking lot will cost $80 per vehicle. It’s not the traditional concert hall or club experience, and likely wouldn’t replace those once the pandemic is corralled, but at a time when the few concerts there are have moved to online and television, this model provides something far more tactile. These events can also be a boon to the venues: drive-in theater numbers in the U.S. have declined to barely 300 from a 1960s high of more than 4,000. This represents a new purpose for them, and the Rangers’ new $1.1 billion stadium has yet to host a baseball game, so a few hundred paying cars now and then can help keep the lights on.

‡‡         Online

Streamed and cabled shows have gained traction, and once they’re showing useful monetization, they’ll likely survive this locked-down era in some form. Live concert streaming service LiveXLive announced the launch of a new pay-per-view live streaming platform for performances and events. Its new Pay-Per-View initiative will provide artists with revenue streams from ticket sales, fan tipping, digital meet & greets, merchandise sales and sponsorships. These take the form of tour and weekend passes ($39.99 and $19.99, respectively), with an a-la-carte option for single shows ($4.99). A growing number of artists whose tours were cancelled earlier this year are warming to the idea, like K-Pop idols BTS, who will be featured in a live-streamed concert in June on live pay-per-view.

PPV concerts are detached from a visceral live experience, but they are convenient and benefit from the fact that home audio systems have gotten much better sounding in recent years. Plus, they can provide an enhanced experience, via immersive formats like Dolby’s Atmos, which could even aurally rival being there. And every ticket guarantees the best seat in the house for a lot less than the previous nearly $100 average. As importantly, they’ve proved their value financially: according to Variety, 458,000 people viewed the YouTube livestream of Beyonce’s epic “Homecoming” concert at the 2018 Coachella festival, and 400,000 people paid between $20 and $100 for livestreams or pay-per-view of the Grateful Dead’s series of “Fare Thee Well” concerts in 2015. And that was when you could still go to an actual live concert.

While a handful of live-streamed concerts will do big box office, it’s more likely that their real value is in the long tail. Almost a half a million people saw “Homecoming” live, but 1.1 million viewed it when it streamed a year later on Netflix. Streamed and cabled performances give an audience a lot of control over the timing and pace of a performance; no matter how big your home screen is, hit “pause,” and Beyonce stops mid note, frozen as you grab another slice of pizza. That level of control over the artist is nice for the consumer, but serves to diminish the power of the performance. Live-streamed concerts will be part of the mix in the post-pan era, but bet on them more as archival moments.

‡‡         Innovation

Providers of P.A. and other concert systems are also finding new ways to create value around this newly shaped concert world. Gallagher Rental & Staging has a new division: Gallagher Venue Disinfectant Services. It’s not a particularly mellifluous moniker, but it’s pragmatically appealing. The company’s staff will cover the venue before a show using Vital Oxide, an EPA-registered, hospital-grade disinfectant that meets the EPA’s criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19. Gallagher put together a comprehensive set of protocols around achieving and maintaining a virus-free environment for performers, audience and workers. The gist of the document is essentially the same nostrums that were drilled into our heads for the last few months: wear a mask, wash hands often and thoroughly, use gloves. But the heft of the document is its true purpose: to reassure all of those parties that venues and concerts can be made safe again. It’s the Scarecrow’s diploma from the Wizard of Oz, and while Covid-19 is quite real, the fear around it is as virulent as the sickness itself, so a bit of reassurance will go a long way towards getting us back to whatever the future is going to be.

 

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