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Live events in an age of Covid

When Covid-19 happened, it put an end to the live touring industry, but it didn’t stop live events – it just changed them. “Live music was still happening, it was just in a different place,” Stew Hume, editor, Tpi magazine (pictured), told the Live Events Summit at ISE 2022.

While many tours had to stop half way through, artists still kept performing, whether at socially distanced events, performing virtually, or via streaming. Some did drive-ins, others had people penned off in individual VIP areas – which proved popular with older fans – and post-pandemic they could be used to appeal to those fans who don’t want to feel crushed as they enjoy the event.

Virtual performances were often powered by Unreal Engine, which many designers use to show artists what shows will look like. Lockdown caused designers to reconsider what it could do, leading to such concerts as Jean-Michel Jarre performing in a virtual Notre Dame.

There were sometimes many more fans at virtual events than could ever be entertained live, such as the Lost Horizons event which had about 4.6 million viewers.

While some artists went low-tech, using Facebook or Instagram Live, others put in the same effort they did to their live shows. Artists using the Inklick live broadcast platform played to a large screen, and could see their audience and interact, so it felt more like a gig. Other shows were streamed at a specific time and never made available again, like a real gig.

Surveys showed that many fans who had viewed streaming performances were still prepared to buy tickets for the live show as well, so some artists are now considering streaming rehearsals or sound checks, confident that it won’t satiate demand for the tour. “We need to open up live events to more people, and Covid showed that there is a demand for it,” said Hume. “Not everyone can afford to go to a live show, or be physically able to, perhaps due to disabilities.”

Post lockdown, live events are more complicated. Covid is still a problem, so some tours have their own PCR machines, and anyone tested still has to isolate – causing crewing problems. It also means VIP packages allowing fans to meet the artists are no more.

Crewing is also difficult, as about 30-40% of freelancers have left the industry – and there was already a problem attracting new talent. In the UK, 600 festivals are expected this year. “That is a large workload to deal with – more than in 2019 – with fewer people,” concluded Hume.