It will be one of the defining images of 2020.
On Easter Sunday, Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli stood alone, outside the Duomo Di Milano in Italy, and sang Amazing Grace to what should have been a throng of people. Instead, the square was empty.
As he sang, images of empty streets the world over were streamed over his performance.
Bocelli delivered a message of hope to Italy and the rest of the world in the age of self-isolation and the coronavirus. It was an iconic end to a concert that millions watched as it streamed live on YouTube.
It was a powerful show of support, but perhaps more than that, a powerful display of what happens when music cannot be heard in person, live.
Globally, the live music industry was predicted to be worth $31bn by 2022, according to a 2018 entertainment and media outlook by Price Waterhouse Cooper (PwC).
But by March 2020 this collapsed almost overnight. With concerts stopped globally, there is – as we speak – no live music industry at all.
But the toll and effect of this are not just on the big promoters like Live Nation or Glastonbury Music Festival.
At the independent end of the industry, smaller promoters with a business model that relies on advance ticket sales to cover upfront costs, are in debt. With venues shut, that is income that may not be recovered.
But while the entire live music industry is awaiting the return to normal, artists themselves are taking to social media to get the music out to the people.
Instagram and Facebook live gigs have become commonplace. World-famous artists like U2 have been hosting virtual gatherings. The effect it is having on artists is forcing them to change the way they think about presenting music and the business of selling it.
Amsterdam-based drum and bass artist Lenzman is both artist and record label owner. He is torn between his business, selling music, and the fact that so many people have lost their livelihoods.
“It’s an interesting one,” he says. “I think a lot of people are worried for different reasons. Will it sell? Is it ethical to try and sell something at the moment? But in my eyes it’s about survival for artists just like it is everyone else. Besides, music makes people happy, and I think that’s something we can all do with right now.”
And that seems to be the driving force for many in the global music and entertainment industry right now. In isolation, home entertainment has jumped in numbers.
American music magazine Billboard and rating agency Nielsen are tracking the effect coronavirus has had on the entertainment industry. The figures speak for themselves: 24 percent of respondents say they have added a new entertainment subscription service, and music video streaming is at an all-time high – up by 13 percent. All told, the report shows that in the last two weeks of March consumption of audio, video and news has jumped massively.
We are consuming more entertainment now than ever before. But will things get back to normal and will we ever dance together again?
One expert quoted in United States media, Zeke Emanuel, a healthcare professional at the University of Pennsylvania, did not mince his words: “You can’t just flip a switch and open the whole of society up. It’s just not going to work. It’s too much. The virus will definitely flare back to the worst levels.”
That makes for bleak reading for the live music industry because while we are consuming more entertainment than ever, the long-term effect on live music is unknown. How many promoters, artists and subsidiary industry people will survive the loss of income? How many will bounce back? As ever it will be those operating as independents that may suffer the worst.
But the one thing creative industries have shown us time and time again is that art always finds its way to its audience. Maybe we do all stay at home and experience live music in the way that Andrea Bocelli has shown us: Alone, but linked digitally.
For the time being one thing is for sure. Staying in is the new going out.