It was early March when the Field Band was on tour, making its way west from Philadelphia when we had to return home due to COVID-19. You can read about it here.
Over the past four months, we’ve utilized all the tools at our disposal: content recorded on previous tours; new content recorded Brady Bunch style; “at home” sessions streamed from a phone; and live, in-studio performances at a physically-distanced six feet. We’ve posted content on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram.
The metrics have been impressive: on a bad day 3K people watch our livestreams; on a good day 25K tune in. Millions of people have watched our broadcasts during this time; we’ve been featured on every major news outlet; and we’ve partnered with guest artists and organizations across the country to expand our reach. We have a diverse and engaged audience from across the country and around the world. So what’s not to like? Who needs to tour or perform for a live audience when you can stay home and livestream? Right? We’ll get back to that.
How about the rest of the music industry? For touring bands (not named the Field Band), the business model is pretty simple:
1. Record an album.
2. Sell albums.
3. Tour performing the music of said album (and fan favorites from previous albums).
4. Sell merchandise at concert venues.
When you can’t tour and sell your merchandise; when you aren’t getting a cut of ticket sales; if venues aren’t going to fill to capacity – how do you make a living as a performing artist?
What about orchestras, opera companies, and musicals? Most orchestras, their fate tied to the venues they perform in, have not done well. Many have cancelled performances through the Fall in hopes that Spring will bring with it a new beginning. Some organizations have begun adapting, transitioning from content from home or previously recorded concerts. trying to stay connected to their audience, to live chamber music performed at a CDC-compliant distance. These more forward-thinking organizations are planning for the worst – how to remain viable in a world where large groups of people getting together to consume entertainment is anywhere from 6-24 months away? They know that doing nothing and hoping for a quick return to normal will be their death.
We’re seeing some organizations try and make money where they can, selling tickets in exchange for exclusive online content or partnering with microbreweries, restaurants, and vineyards to provide unique at-home experiences to their patrons. If marketed correctly, compelling online content will sell. The Berlin Philharmonic is ahead of other arts organizations in this realm with their Virtual Concert Hall that has been in existence for over a decade – much like how the Field Band was at the forefront of military bands due to our focus on multimedia and streaming over the last three years.
How many orchestras took too long or will take too long to adapt? How many will be left when we get to the other side of this pandemic? Many of them were barely above water before COVID, clinging to their outdated ways. How can they innovate and adapt to this new environment to keep this great, centuries-old institution not only alive, but thriving?
What about the movie industry? At what point will people feel safe going to a movie theater with a couple hundred of their closest friends? Even if you go to one those theaters that have reserved recliners for seating (which is the only way to go to a movie theater, by the way), will you feel safe sitting in that seat? I barely thought it was sanitary before…Will there be any movie theaters left by the time a vaccine is widely available? How will the movie industry feed the monster that pays the actors, production costs, special effects, and marketing? Can movies like Avengers or Star Wars with their huge budgets be made in a post-pandemic world? With home theater systems becoming more and more advanced, why spend the money to go to a movie theater – with all the baggage of price, germs, inconsiderate people, and the sound so loud you have to wear ear protection – when you can maybe spend a little more money (per person) to buy the movie on iTunes and watch it at home in your pajamas whenever you want? We’ll get back to that too…
Let’s face it. The entertainment industry is in a bit of a crisis and only the innovative and adaptable have a chance at surviving. Of course, that just speaks to the performers themselves; what about the venues they play in? How will they survive? The fact is, while some – perhaps many – performing organizations will find a way to survive until there’s a vaccine, what about the venues that rely on patrons and donors? Like movie theaters and freelance artists, they are among the entertainment industry’s most affected as a result of this pandemic.
Anyone who has ever been to a live concert – whether watching the Field Band’s Concert Band and Soldiers’ Chorus in a concert hall, listening to the depth and power of their sound coupled with the multimedia and story-telling typical of our programs; or a rock concert in a stadium, with the lighting, video, pyrotechnics, and energy you can only experience being there – knows that nothing can truly replace that in-person experience. For the performer, they have a “captive” audience for 1-2 hours who are focusing on pretty much nothing but the performance itself and are getting real-time feedback from their audience; for the audience, they’re experiencing music as it is being re-created, just for them (unless it’s pre-recorded, like some pop groups, and the experience is more about the dancing, multimedia, and communal experience…).
For the short to mid-term, how we as a society consume entertainment is going to change. Perhaps, in a year or two it will be closer to normal, but the industry may never be the same. This is a complex subject that requires more space than I can write in one post. Stay tuned for more…