In December of 2019, Wuhan, China, saw an intense outbreak of a novel strain of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), causing a severe disease now known as COVID-19. Since those early days, the virus has become a global pandemic with far-reaching consequences in every sector. As of this writing there have been over 370,000 confirmed cases of the virus and over 16,000 fatalities, according to the World Health Organization. Unfortunately, it is likely that the number of infected is greatly underestimated.
In an effort to “flatten the curve” of the infection rate and not overwhelm healthcare facilities worldwide, the global community has instituted various bans and restrictions on travel, gatherings, events and venues. These measures have had and will continue to have serious effects everywhere. In light of the global pandemic, there are several ways the music and entertainment industry have been impacted in particular.
1. Music festivals postponed and cancelled
Under normal circumstances, spring marks the end of the industry’s slow months and the start of music festival season. Whereas everyone should be preparing for the impending deluge of events, music festivals worldwide are postponing or cancelling altogether. Among the affected festivals are SXSW, Ultra Music Festival, Coachella, Glastonbury, Bonnaroo and many others.
Though postponements and cancellations may not seem dire to the average attendee, festivals actually operate on relatively slim margins. This means that a single cancellation or postponement can have severe ramifications for that event, it’s employees, and its surrounding area.
After Austin City’s SXSW March cancellation, the festival has been forced to lay off one third of its year-round employees; this does not include seasonal and freelance employees, vendors, etc. Austin itself will no longer see the typical influx of over 400,000 visitors, and will lose out on an estimated $360 million as a result.
2. Club and venue closures
Amid the slew of worldwide precautions and shutdowns, many regions are enacting severe limitations and bans on public gatherings, as well as blanket closures of clubs and venues. This includes: a limit of 100 or fewer for groups in Australia, France, and the Netherlands; Germany and New York City’s ban on gatherings of 500 or more; and blanket closure of clubs and bars in Miami, Italy, Berlin, Belgium, Portugal, and Ibiza, among other places. The CDC recommends public gatherings not to exceed 10 people.
These limitations have caused shut downs both temporary and permanent for venues globally. Denver’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre and Chicago’s Smartbar and associated venues are closed until further notice. London’s Printworks, Barbican, Phonox, and Ministry of Sound have also shut their doors. Berlin’s Berghain, Las Vegas' OMNIA, and Amsterdam’s Shelter have postponed their programming until late spring at the earliest.
3. Touring cancelled
With the worldwide gridlock firmly underway, artists across the board have been forced to cancel or postpone their tour dates. With electronic music fans having a 74% higher propensity to attend live events than any other genre, the financial implications are staggering. The live music world is set to lose $5 billion, and long lead times standard to the industry make it likely that the after-effect of the COVID-19 pandemic will echo far into 2021 and beyond.
With the cancellation of festivals, clubs and touring at large, what used to make up the majority of revenue for the music industry has dried up overnight. Similarly to festival postponements and venue closures, lack of touring will have far-reaching effects that trickle into the service, production, and tourism industries at the very least.
4. Production and secondary industries affected
Though the immediate effects of COVID-19 on performers, festivals, and venues is most apparent, the flagrantly underappreciated back-of-house workers are also massively affected. While most fans may simply assume ticket sales go into the pockets of performers, the reality is that the entire crew and production splits about 85% of ticket revenue after venue cost, taxes, and other fees.
This 85% can go towards performers, management, promoters, drivers and transport, audio/visual staff, medical staff, stage hands, electricians, lighting specialists, stage equipment, forklifts, catering, and liability insurance, among many, many other things. In fact, there have been single productions that cost $750,000 a day to be on the road, whether they have a show that day or not.
The result of splitting revenue between so many sources is that any single crew member must work show after show to make a living. A single missed production can have dire consequences for everyone involved, and so the cancellation of an entire season of work due to COVID-19 will have ramifications for thousands of individuals.
5. Freelance work gutted
The uncomfortable truth about the music industry worldwide is that a vast majority of workers are classified as self-employed, freelance, or independent contractors. According to the Musicians Union, 10% of U.K. musicians are salaried, 50% of musicians have no regular employment, and an incredible 94% of musicians work freelance.
Musicians aside, a substantial majority of the touring industry is also comprised of freelance workers. From tour managers and sound engineers to stage hands and photographers, most roadies have no employment benefits like health insurance, retirement funds, or vacation and sick leave. Gig workers are also unable to collect unemployment as self-employed individuals do not qualify.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, an anonymous tour manager and festival producer said, “To be blunt, [independent contractors], which I was for my 12 years on the road, are completely [expletive deleted] … with no income and no insurance, we’re looking at middle class, formerly full-time workers going into inescapable debt just for breathing in a public place.”
6. Supply chain interruptions
As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc across the world, supply chains are facing total and utter shutdown. Starting with Chinese factories, which accounted for a whopping 28.4% of global manufacturing output in 2018, global experts expect factory shutdowns to last into May or longer. The effects will be compounded by the demand crisis, which will be created by consumers everywhere who are now required to stay at home.
For the electronic music industry, this means that DJ gear manufacturers who are partnered with Chinese factories have seen major delays, if they have not been shut down completely. Even if brands are not manufactured in China, a preponderance of their components are. Simply put, virtually nothing will be left unscathed: speakers, headphones, lighting, monitors, controllers, and even cables and accessories will be affected.
While many Chinese factories have begun to reawaken, bottlenecks exist elsewhere. After six weeks of total shutdown, factories are scrambling to fast-track their goods, opting to use much faster air cargo, rather than the typical ocean freight. The problem, however, is that air cargo space is increasingly limited, as airlines are being affected globally. This will simultaneously decrease supply and increase the price of goods.
The consequence of this complex issue is that gear will likely see shortages and price hikes in the coming months and beyond.
7. The industry goes virtual?
Although COVID-19’s global ramifications feel nearly apocalyptic, there may be some upshot for the music industry. As festivals, concerts and shows are being cancelled worldwide, people have not been satisfied without their fix. Not content to simply sit at home and whimper, fans and musicians have flocked online, throwing livestream and other virtual events across all spheres of the internet.
Virtual events include: Diplo’s ongoing nightly streams; Minecraft’s latest music festival, Second Aether; TikTok “cloud raves;” KSHMR’s new online production studio; Beyond Wonderland’s Virtual Rave-A-Thon livestream... the list goes on.
And so, with performers and events virtualizing in droves, and with the coming months seeing continued adversity, perhaps the electronic music industry will usher in a new era. Whatever the case may be, here's to a stronger, healthier industry after what will undoubtedly be a trying time for human civilization at large.
Brian Baker is a writer, photographer, and designer based out of St. Louis. You can find his portfolio here.