Roll out the live music, and soon

If this year has thought us anything, it’s that we need music more than ever, and it should be valued accordingly, says Stevie G in his Downtown column
Roll out the live music, and soon

Cork singer Lyra streaming at Cyprus Avenue. This pandemic taught us that we need music live more than ever.

Last time I out I reviewed the music which soundtracked 2020, but overall the music was the side story this year. Thankfully the music continued throughout the year, but it will be remembered as the year where the lights literally went out on the music industry. The gigs stopped, the clubs stopped and the festivals stopped, and as one lockdown ended another stepped in, changing the music industry with likely long-term consequences.

The initial novelty gave way to much soul searching by the summer, and people slowly started to realise that this wasn’t just a few DJs and bands losing out. The whole industry is a massive employer and while the likes of myself could at least continue to do bits online, there were now many sound engineers, lighting technicians and stage riggers who were out of work completely. This is not to mention the many others who work directly or indirectly in bars, clubs, festivals and at parties.

The industry started fighting back as it soon became apparent that this wasn’t just a pandemic that would last a few months, and finally there was some government support not just in the form of the PUP for some, but for the online shows which are being recorded and broadcast this winter all over the country. Some artists also received financial support and while the distribution of the funds caused a bit of controversy, the intentions at least seem to be succeeding in some ways to stimulating an industry that lay in tatters over these last few months.

Overall, the live music industry seems confident of a return next summer, though things are likely to be never the way they were before

As I write the uncertainty remains but the big guns have responded with multiple festival announcements for 2021. All Together Now, Longitude, Live at the Marquee and Forbidden Fruit are just a few of those with recent announcements, and coupled with the positive vaccine news, it looks like in the medium-to-long-term our prospects are much better. For now, the next few months look a bit grim, but at least it’s gonna be in a traditionally quiet part of the year anyway. Overall, the live music industry seems confident of a return next summer, though things are likely to be never the way they were before.

This probably has its plus sides too. The festival calendar was getting a little bloated by 2019 and while I miss them more than anyone, I think it’s good that we are eventually taking stock. Some of the line-ups were becoming stale and unimaginative, and there were way too many festivals throughout the year. Too many were not offering enough variety and originality. The time out will allow the most creative to cook up new plans, and the rebirth could be pretty exciting. Sadly for some, they won’t come back. A number of smaller festivals and venues are unlikely to return. Some are gone. As I always say, it’s hard to survive in the music industry even at the best of times, so the worst of times was always gonna make it pretty impossible.

Creativity continued throughout the year and many artists, DJs and venues stepped out of the their comfort zone and many even thrived. There have been some superb live streams and performances, and as the industry slowed down, some of the pauses for reflection brought iconic moments.

Great artists paired off in Versus, great DJs dug deep into their music collections, and great producers offered more insight into their work flow. It was cool watching people broadcast their music from home, and for those of us doing the broadcasting, we all learned a lot more about the technical possibilities in 2020. Streaming for DJs remains a legal minefield, but platforms such as Mixcloud are offering legal and licensed solutions, and it seems that this is ultimately the way forward.

It was a year of activism with Black Lives Matters and other movements gathering pace, and the music industry was forced to finally acknowledge some uncomfortable home truths about its own culpability and responsibility regarding racial awareness. Hopefully things will change. At least we look like we are getting rid of that dodgy term “urban” with regard to describing black music. Streaming platforms such as Spotify have also come under fire for their lack of dividends to artists, but thankfully Bandcamp seems to be going in the opposite direction, with a more artist-friendly model. If this year thought us anything, it’s that we need music more than ever, and it should be valued accordingly!

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