The new decade was hurtling along at an invigorating speed until COVID-19 stopped the world in its tracks.
Pretty much every industry has been impacted by the coronavirus shockwave, with thousands of Australians losing their jobs and livelihoods.
The music industry, which thrives on gatherings of people, has been particularly stunted by the virus and subsequent government lockdowns. Musicians are cooped up at home, fans are living out their festival dreams through throwback live sets on radio, and a heavy cloud of uncertainty and anxiety is weighing down on us all.
Amidst the chaos and confusion, musicians and industry personnel are having to redefine the way the music industry works, and how it exists in the world. In just a few short weeks we’ve already seen increased usage of Instagram’s live function, a surge in online activity and a stronger social media presence from artists.
It seems hard to believe there might be a silver lining to all this, but maybe there is. With a steady stream of creative content and the music industry carving out an online space, could coronavirus be pushing us towards a more innovative musical landscape?
The formula for a live gig is one we all know well. A sweaty venue, a headline act with a few supports, a crowd of people ranging from tipsy to sloshed and a display of musical prowess difficult to capture in a recording studio. This entire exchange relies on an interaction between audience and artist; a sharing of energy, if you will.
COVID-19 may have put a halt for this experience for now, but it hasn’t taken musicians long to come up with an alternative solution. Instagram’s live function has suddenly been getting a workout, with artists scheduling ‘live gigs’ that can take place any night of the week, from the comfort of one’s own home.
Instagram live isn’t a new function, having been used as a digital marketing tool since its launch in 2016. You may have seen some of your favourite musicians jump on there in the past to do Q&As, but this is the first time we’ve really seen it take off as a platform for sharing live sets from home.
Everyone from Lime Cordiale and Merpire to Alice Skye and Julia Jacklin have jumped on the live bandwagon, either on their own accord or as part of the numerous virtual festivals that have cropped up across social media.
Yup, that’s right. Virtual festivals.
It’s a step forward from the solo live streams, with industry movers and shakers putting together stacked lineups.
Instagram remains the popular platform of choice, playing host to the two-day weekender Isol-Aid and Bridget Hustwaite’s Saturday Night Stay In, while Facebook’s live function has been used by Ticketmaster with their launch of Together Fest, and will welcome another event this weekend in the form of Delivered, Live.
Then there’s our very own Beat Live Sessions, which feel more like a gig at your local than a digital festival.
These virtual shows might not be quite the same as a real, sweaty, heaving, breathing live music experience, but they’re a source of new life for the music industry. It’s an example of real innovation in the face of uncertainty, but the pushing of boundaries doesn’t stop there.
Triple j’s ‘Like A Version’ has been a weekly fixture for the radio station since 2004, when Mel Bampton created the segment. Then coronavirus came along, and the ABC had to change their policy on having guests in the studio to adhere to new social distancing rules.
It meant that LAV had to take an unexpected break, and listeners had to go without a Friday morning ritual.
Enter Instagram, and the power of hashtags. Again, the social media giant provided a new platform and solution to the problem. The #covered19 tag started trending, and ‘Like A Version’ was taken out of the studio and into the homes of musicians around the country.
More than just a way for artists to get creative, it’s also allowed up-and-comers or people who don’t play professionally to get involved and share their covers with the musos who inspire them.
And this is just one of the many hashtags and trends circulating online at the moment that’s sparking waves of creativity. We’re seeing people providing sneak peeks at new or unreleased tracks on their stories, sharing footage of them jamming at home, posting virtual collabs and engaging with their fans in ways they might not usually.
It’s as though the music industry is now waking up to the powers of the digital world and realising the full potential of online platforms.
That’s not to say that a virtual gig or interaction could ever replace a real one, and jamming out in your bedroom just isn’t the same as swirling around in a swampy moshpit. But these real-world options aren’t available to us right now, and we have to make the best with what we’ve got.
Coronavirus has thrown an unprecedented curveball at everyone, but it’s how we adapt and evolve from the situation that really defines us and where we go next.
There are immense challenges facing the music industry right now, but these developments we’ve seen in just a few short weeks are a testament to an unwaveringly innovative and creative industry, with a drive to make it out of this crisis alive.
Never miss a story. Sign up to Beat’s newsletter and you’ll be served fresh music, arts, food and culture stories three times a week.