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Amid the Pandemic, the Live Music Scene Sings a Different Tune

How bands and venues are feeling the wrath of the crisis

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Teaching is the only steady income we have at this point.
– Adam Deitch, drummer for Lettuce


For centuries, music has been touted as the universal language. Now, more than ever, listeners around the world are turning to soothing melodies as a tool of comfort as we continue to navigate the unknown of the global coronavirus pandemic. From Italy to the US, musicians and DJs have taken to their balconies to serenade neighbors.

However, beyond the resounding notes that bounce from building to building each evening, an industry sits at a standstill. According to an April 3 report released by Pollstar, a live event and trade publication and research firm, the live music industry stands to lose an estimated $9 billion in 2020 due to the damage by the pandemic. “Of the initial $12.2 billion projected for the year in box office receipts, $8.9 billion is still unspoken for and could be lost if the industry remains dark for the rest of 2020,” penned August Brown of the Los Angeles Times on April 6. “If touring resumes in late August, the projected drop in revenue would total around $5.2 billion. If venues could somehow reopen in late May — an increasingly remote possibility — that figure would drop to $2.3 billion.”

Brown notes that in 2020, the top 100 concert tours were up approximately 11%, compared to this time last year. Additionally, Live Nation Entertainment President Joe Berchtold revealed that around 70% of the event promoter and venue operator company’s revenue is generated beginning in the summer months – from June and beyond.

Large-scale tours postponed by entertainers like Elton John and the Rolling Stones, along with massive music festivals rescheduled for fall, like Coachella and Bonnaroo, impact more than just the musicians and their crews. Fans, ticketing agencies, production companies, vendors and venues, both large and small, are experiencing devastating losses.

How Bands Are Coping

“It’s devastating financially and logistically,” shares drummer Adam Deitch of 28-year-old funk ensemble, Lettuce. The band was busy wrapping up an extensive European tour when the travel ban and deadline was enforced by President Trump in March. Cutting the tour a few dates short, the band members rushed to return to their respective cities in the US, where they now remain quarantined. “Our entire spring, summer, and fall is in jeopardy. That’s too many tickets to count. That’s our rent, food, bills, etc.,” Deitch explains.

In fact, Deitch and his bandmates are making the most of their time outside of the spotlight. They are in constant contact sending ideas, recording their individual parts of new music and getting that music mixed

“This allows us to release music during this trying time,” says Deitch, who is also embracing the unexpected pause after 20 years of touring full-time. “I am learning for the first time what being ‘home’ is. It sure is a learning curve; but, learning to cook, eat healthy and being creative on a daily basis is the key to staying positive,” he says. And, Lettuce has plenty to be positive about as the band prepares for the release of new album, Resonate, which is set to drop in May.

Teaching the Art of Funk

Additionally, the members of Lettuce are spending time “teaching the subtle arts of funk online,” according to Deitch. “Teaching is the only steady income we have at this point. It’s also very rewarding to watch the students ‘find the funk.’” 

Prices vary from the number of lessons booked to the length, and this was a band-wide decision as an effort to keep the musicians financially thriving. “The goal is for all of us to have regular students that study with us for a prolonged period of time.”

In addition to Lettuce, other touring musicians from jam collectives like the Disco Biscuits, Sound Tribe Sector 9, Perpetual Groove, and Kung Fu are also offering lessons to eager fans-turned-students as a way to earn supplemental income.

Virtual Reality

Although fans around the globe cannot physically attend music events, they are turning to technology to continue enjoying the music. Beyond Spotify and SoundCloud, bands are streaming remote jam sessions through Facebook Live and Instagram Live. Apps like Nugs.net are offering free, 30-day trials to fans interested in both listening to and watching replays of their favorite shows, from bands like Pearl Jam, Dead and Company, Dave Matthews Band, and Metallica.

Concert promoters have even gone as far as to curate virtual festival experiences, from the Rocky Mountain Virtual Music Festival, which supports Colorado-based music, to Uncancelled Music Festival, which aims to help sustain the music industry on a global level.

The Future of Live Show Attendance

Music venues around the world are feeling the hard hit of the crisis, especially in New York City, the current epicenter of the pandemic. Venues like SummerStage in Central Park, which is a seasonal space, have halted all operations.

“We were just about to load in the venue to get ready for a May start when this all began,” says general manager and veteran music festival producer Larry Siegel. SummerStage, which hosts more than 100 events from May through October, produces large-scale concerts with up to 5,500 attendees, along with free shows and private events. “Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo just announced he extended the lockdown until May 15, which means May events are for sure out of the question,” says Siegel. “We will have to wait and see when – and if – they will allow mass gatherings to happen this summer.”

In terms of what the new live music event will look like, venue teams and event producers, alike, are still unable to predict the future. “Will we check folks’ temperatures as they come into the venue? Will we give a rapid test to see if they are negative for COVID-19? Will patrons have to wear masks, or be forced to be socially distanced while inside a venue? If so, what does that do to capacity, and how do you enforce these new rules?” ponders Siegel.

The most important aspect is that these conversations are already in play and that Siegel and his team remain hopeful of not only the world but access to live music reopening in the near future. “I do feel some folks will have anxiety, at first, coming to any live event, regardless of a vaccine or not. However, it is my opinion that once a vaccine is found, and this fades away, live events will come back bigger and stronger than ever,” shares Siegel. “We will be back to normal – it’s just a matter of when.”


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Amid the Pandemic, the Live Music Scene Sings a Different Tune

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