Music In The Age Of Covid: Can An Industry Adapt And Save Itself?

We look at how artists are coping with the struggles of a global pandemic, and hear from voices inside the music industry

By Scott Nelson

The fields of Glastonbury remain untrodden. The doors of Berghain in Berlin slammed shut. Not even the annual Twyford Village Fête in Berkshire has been spared. Since March, the worlds of culture and music have been mercilessly decimated at the hands of the global pandemic. A report by industry body UK Music suggested that songwriters’ and musicians’ incomes in 2020 would be down by 65%, rising to 80% for those involved primarily in live music. The list of cultural casualties has undoubtedly been long. But has creativity been able to flourish under Covid-19’s iron fist? In the music industry’s attempts to adapt, has it successfully found new ways to survive? Here, we take a look at the state of play in the music industry in the age of Covid-19.

An essential – and money-making – part of any A-list pop star’s album cycle has always been touring. In the age of streaming services, with the likes of Spotify and Apple Music pocketing a large percentage of artists earnings, live music – while also giving fans a chance to connect with their favourite in the flesh – is a necessary opportunity for musicians and their teams to make back money. But, in light of covid measures, Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia tour – billed for 21 dates – has so far been postponed twice. Despite this setback, 2020 was, undeniably, the year of Dua: six Grammy nominations, two of the year’s most streamed songs and a number one album in ten countries.

Dua Lipa - Studio Magazine

But 2020 demanded more than these traditional measures of success, and Dua and her team were at the forefront of adapting and capitalising when much of the rest of the industry was on its knees. In March (while the rest of us were busy stocking up on loo roll) Dua performed a live-streamed version of Don’t Start Now on James Corden’s Late Late Show. Accompanied by her talented band and a hareem of impressive dancers (each in their respective home), Dua dialled in from London for a perfectly executed performance. Against all odds, the resulting performance was a creative and effective way of bringing her fans live music with an unexpected intimacy. (We’re not the only ones that loved a little peek inside her flat, right?)

November saw her push the ‘live experience’ possibilities even further with Studio 2054. Five million viewers joined Dua and friends for star-studded guest appearances, out-of-this-world choreography and (for some reason) Elton John singing Rocket Man on a big screen.

“This was a different way of doing things to our regular shows, and I was worried it wouldn’t feel the same,” explains Dua’s guitarist, Alex Lanyon. “Although I still missed the crowds, I felt like the band, dancers and everyone involved managed to capture a bit of that live magic, and hopefully give fans at home a dose of escapism.”

Dua hasn’t been the only one breaking new ground in 2020. A whole host of artists turned to the virtual world in order to stage shows that simply wouldn’t have been possible in real life: Ava Max hosted an immersive album launch in the hugely popular online word of Roblox; while over in Fortnite, a staggering 12 million players congregated around a virtual stage for a Travis Scott concert. Cue a skyscraper-sized Travis strolling around the Fornite island while performing Sicko Mode in a truly mind-bending experience that’s unlikely to be recreated in the Hammersmith Apollo anytime soon.

Finnish pop singer ALMA dreamed up her own digital landscape and staged a performance with her band inside it. Hosted on Burst Live’s virtual reality platform in June, she and her Helsinki-based band played a string of her biggest hits. Producing the virtual performance was a collaborative affair, explains ALMA’s musical director, Mike Park:

‘ALMA and the band performed live in front of a green screen, which was then streamed to a series of interactive virtual worlds which fans were able to explore with their own virtual characters. It was a collaboration between teams from gaming, audio, and video, ultimately ending in a successful show with almost 60,000 people tuning in.’

Admittedly, not all artists have the budget or the global reach to put on these kinds of shows, so how have new artists found ways to cope this year? For emerging artist The Last Morrell continuing his growth without gigs and festivals wasn’t easy: “As a less established musician, playing live is my most valuable currency, and how I reach new fans,” he explained. However, lockdown led to him exploring other creative pursuits, enabling him to make art that would otherwise never have existed. “For my last single I made a stop motion animation video consisting of 5000 individual photos – something that I would never have done in normal life.”