A while ago I had an idea for a short story set in a post-apocalyptic world where recorded music was lost and live music was banned. Two sisters, with voices from heaven, travelled the country secretly playing shows for people despite the fact that a deadly airborne disease could strike them all down at any moment. Every night people risked their lives just to hear the music.
Unfortunately I never ended up writing that story because it seemed kind of far-fetched and I couldn’t think of an ending. Now a few weeks into this pandemic I am wondering if such depressing dystopian visions were closer to reality than we could ever have imagined.
Despite some artists optimistically rebooking shows for later in the year, I think we all have to consider the possibility that there will be no live music concerts for a very long time. At the very least it will be months not weeks, and some form of social distancing may need to be in place right up until the end of this outbreak, which could be over a year. I sincerely hope I’m wrong. But right now it just doesn’t seem plausible that travel and mass gatherings will happen when there is still such a potential risk to lives.
Risk is the key word here. No one knows exactly how their body will respond to the virus. Unless you’ve recovered or know you were asymptomatic then any social interaction means you are playing Russian roulette with your health and that of those closest to you.
Even if there is a lifting of some restrictions, live music cannot happen in the same way we are used to until the virus is contained or everyone has immunity. Until then venues will surely only be able to open with reduced capacities, crowd control, temperature testing and distancing inside. Or maybe only artists and fans will be able to gather if they can prove their immunity.
Some may think worrying about live music in a pandemic is selfish, after all people are losing their lives. But for most of us fans, music is our life. For many more it is their livelihood too. As the pandemic goes on we may not only lose loved ones to the virus we may also lose artists, venues, festivals, radio stations, the music press and many other unsung cogs in the industry machine.
Live music is more than just standing in a room and listening to people sing. For many it is a spiritual experience unmatched by anything else in our everyday humdrum lives. Music, and specifically live music, brings a joy that is actually scientifically proven to extend your life. For anti-social introverts like myself it can be a means of connecting with others beyond our own limited spheres of existence. Others might feel the same about football, or going to the pub, or the hairdresser or church. To live without it is to not really live at all.
So what can we do in the interim? How can fans survive this? (I talk as fan only – I leave it up to others to discuss the implications for the wider industry).
The first response to the cancellations of shows has been live streaming. Many artists have used this as a way to generate funds, promote new releases or just offer a bit of light relief from the news. I know many people have enjoyed them but my experience has been mixed. To me they can feel remote and awkward at times. That’s not the fault of the artists themselves – it must be really difficult to generate energy when you’re sitting on your couch and singing into your phone. Plus the endless flood right now is a little overwhelming. I can imagine, as time goes on, that there will be a few artists who get better at them and maybe even find new fans this way. Social media is a powerful tool but often it only helps certain kinds of personalities and suits certain demographics of fans.
Instead I’ve found myself going on YouTube and watching old concert footage, as well as lots of Tiny Desk Concerts. For some reason these are more comforting and entertaining to me than the live-streaming. The good thing about the internet is that you’re never going to run out of content. It’s almost as if we built this damn thing in preparation for a future when we wouldn’t be able to ever leave our houses again.
If money is not a problem for you then you could spend the time expanding your record collection or buying merch. For most people however, I just don’t think it’s sensible or possible even to be spending lots of money on non-essential goods when the economy is so precarious. And as much as I want to support artists and independent record stores, I’m concerned that buying things puts people at risk right through the chain of supply and delivery.
We also don’t know how many artists will even continue to release new music in the next while. Many releases have already been delayed. While this may not be popular with fans, I think it gives us an opportunity to slow down and consider the music we already own. Dive back into the music that made you. Or use streaming sites to listen to a new genre or a whole artists’s discography – I’ve been doing that with Dolly Parton and have found it to be an illuminating experience.
Other fans may want to spend time reminiscing about old concerts they’ve attended or start writing a list of all the artists they want to see at the end of this pandemic. I think that’s probably a good distraction for some but others may find spending too long reliving the past and dreaming about the future can be hurtful to their mental health. After all, prisoners survive by suspending desire, not encouraging it.
What you can do is make a bargain with yourself about how you will live when this is over. Think about some things that you know you want to do in your life – they don’t even have to be music related. When this epidemic is over I will...(go to Red Rocks and never miss another show because I’m too ‘tired’).
Write the list, put in a drawer and get on with accepting this new reality for however long it lasts. Live in the moment. Let music/wine/books/Netflix/whatever be enough. Connect with others online and appreciate the fact you can. Be comforted by the knowledge that everyone is missing out (okay some are missing out in the comfort of their mansions with lots of land while others are in small flats with no outside space but hey let’s not dwell on that right now). This is the sacrifice we must all make. Never forget that staying home is saving lives.
Hang in there, everyone. One thing is certain: there will be an end.