In March of 2020, upon the rising of Coronavirus cases across the United States and rest of the world, live music professionals began to cancel, postpone, and re-schedule shows, festivals, and tours following CDC and WHO guidelines. However, as we saw cases increase and the pandemic worsen, it became evidently clear that live music would be postponed until “further notice,” or in other words, until an effective vaccine arises. Nonetheless, concert attendees are not the only ones who have been affected by this, but also musicians and more importantly, venues. Iconic venues across the nation such as the Troubadour in West Hollywood, home to legendary beginnings such as Elton John and Joni Mitchell, have expressed their extreme loss of revenue and fear of permanent closure. We spoke to Dr. Henry Puente, an Associate Professor of Communications at CSUF. Dr. Puente has ample experience in the entertainment industry, predominantly the film industry, and has provided us with great insight on where live music might be headed in the future.
A key pre-interview question we asked Dr. Puente was whether or not he believed live music would make its comeback. He responded with deep certainty, We cannot replicate a live event. People yearn to have magical communal experiences at live events. That feeling of wanting to share something unique and incredible with other people will never go away.” We can completely relate to this response. Although we cannot foresee the day live music revives itself, with much hope we can say that it is not dead either. It is a special experience that cannot be replaced, especially with livestream. We asked Professor Puente if he had attended a livestream concert in which he responded that he had, however, “…it is not the same energy that I would feel at a live event. Something definitely gets lost in streaming.” The future could never be headed towards a sole livestream mode of music performance. The energy and experience emanated from a crowd of fans cannot be forgotten nor forfeited.
We eventually asked Professor Puente about future locations of venues. We asked him how he feels if future venues would have to take another potential pandemic (or something similar) or if they should do something of the nature to always have a plan B for situations that may arise again. He responded, “I think that (is) a great idea. But, I do not know how you would stop another pandemic from occurring. I also believe that if you try to create this new type of venue you might lose the experience?” This made us think, we agree that it probably would take that concert experience away. The whole point of a concert is to go for the enjoyment of being in an environment where people with a similar music taste to you can all enjoy the same setting for a few hours. Since we live in a world with a pandemic, it will be interesting to see how things will be when they go “back to normal”. We asked the Professor “What will be the best way to increase the confidence of attendees if festivals and concerts come back?” He responded, “That’s a tough question too. It really depends on each individual person. I think some people would go to a live event now. They would take their chances. For other people, I think you need to practice social distancing, wearing masks, testing people prior to entering the venue — that’s about all we can do in the short term. Long term – if we can come up with a vaccination – I think that will really help the live events industry.” When seeing Professor Puente’s response, it was interesting to get his feedback. It seems so long ago when we could go to a grocery store and not have a plastic divider between us, hand sanitizer everywhere, and mandatory masks. None of us in the group are against staying clean to help ourselves and the community but it is strange to think that it was all over 6 months ago. One day again, we will be able to experience our day to day (as well as concerts) again the way that we remember.
When an effective and legal vaccine is developed, venues must be cautious in ensuring that safety is a priority. Although there will be many individuals who will be eager to attend concerts in regular tightly-packed crowds, many individuals will remain cautious to large crowds in order to protect their health. To follow government guidelines and respect the health of people, some regulations venues must implement may include capacity limitations as Dr. Puente suggests, “Venues have to start with smaller crowds to work out some of these traffic issues. As they get better at managing people, maybe, they slowly increase their capacity until they reach 50%.” For venues, social-distancing is imperative in order for business to remain open. Dr. Puente explores different possibilities for venues as he advises, “I think they need to have strict protocols in terms of allowing a small handful of people to walk in. After they found their seats, you would allow another small handful of people to walk in.” Smaller clubs that have operated with seating before COVID-19 may consider installing Plexiglass around the individual parties of people. Whatever new system venues install, it must be strict.
While the entertainment industry is prioritized the least when deciding which industries will begin reopening the economy, the music industry heavily impacts the economy as Dr. Puente explains, “Live music generates a lot of ancillary revenue (i.e. restaurants, hotels/motels, transportation services) beyond the actual event. So it has a huge impact on other businesses beyond the actual venue.” Music artists consistently tour internationally and globally. Record labels, talent agencies, and managers constantly partner with travel companies, hotels, and internet corporations to maintain cost-effective tour and marketing budgets. Many of these companies include Delta airlines. Holiday Inn, and Instagram. Apart from marketing and tourism, the music industry also adds billions of dollars to the economy with streaming revenue and ticket sales.
While countries wait for a vaccine for COVID-19, the music industry continues to suffer immensely. The reopening of the industry will need many precautions taken in order to fulfill government regulations and safety measures. While many industry professionals are brainstorming creative ways to slowly reopen the scene, our conversation with Henry Puente helped us determine when live music will return and how. Although this industry will be one of the last to re-open, it is evident that it is detrimental to the economy as it provides billions of dollars in revenue.