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Musicians…We Need to Prepare for a New Reality

As the COVID Pandemic continues to ravage the Classical Music sector, I have been waiting this past many weeks of self-isolation for someone to announce the magic solution to all of our main challenges – when and how can live performances resume? And even when they do resume, how do we ensure that audiences will return? That second question is particularly vexing. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post sharing data that shows that audiences will simply not return like they did before. You can call me paranoid and pessimistic, but I think as a community, we need to be prepared for that and come up with viable solutions NOW on the new normal that will come into effect to share our art while making a living at the same time. My pessimism is also rooted in the fact that I have been watching numerous industry online chats and reading articles that seem to be espousing an attitude about being prepared for when audiences return to traditional concert halls. But I feel that this view is narrow and there has to be more preparation for the possible reality that very few will return. What are we to do instead? Many classical organizations were struggling prior to the pandemic to get audiences to attend, especially of the younger demographic. A typical orchestra or opera company’s go-to audiences tend to be of an older demographic. Since they were particularly hit adversely by the pandemic, can they still be relied upon to attend concerts in a post-pandemic world?

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that I see an industry that’s attempting to use the same model and economic structure that has been in place for many years to deal with an unprecedented time in history. I think the classical music community has to be prepared for the whole structure to have to be blown up and re-started from scratch. It feels like the classical music industry is on the Titanic. The ship is sinking and rather than trying to think how I get off this boat, I’m focussed instead on gathering all my valuables.

Many feel the solution is monetizing digital content. But my concern with that is the public has now had MANY years of largely everything being available for free on the internet. If we start charging, will people pay? Only way that could possibly work is if there was serious collusion amongst all artists that they will not release content without charging. Is that likely to get everyone on board?

I can’t speak for how all the arts administrators are going to survive through this, but for us composers and performers, I feel that the absolute assurance of our survival has to be with teaching. The vast majority of professional orchestral musicians, composers, vocalists, and even many soloists, already rely on teaching at educational institutions or privately to supplement their income. For many, that is far more lucrative than the creative music part of their careers. I feel that this could become even more essential in a post-COVID world. A musician’s output will be mostly consumed online. How many YouTube subscribers and number of views will determine your popularity and thus determine how much you can charge for lessons. Thankfully we do live in a world that yearns for a quest of knowledge and skills. In this new reality, there could still be live performance once social distancing measures are lifted, but they will be in unique or smaller venues. Musicians will travel less and instead use fewer live performances as a means to promote their online social media channels and educational services.

I know many will read this potential new reality in horror…how can I write the death certificate to live music so quickly? First off, I don’t envision this potential with joy. Quite the opposite. I would miss the way things once were. I’m trying to look at this with simple economic supply and demand theory…I feel it’s dangerous and ignorant on the part of our community to not have an alternative plan in place should it happen.

So for any of you out there (even the world’s greatest soloists / stars), if you’re not teaching right now, start! Let’s keep working hard to figure out how to share our performances and compositions, but let’s also be open to sharing how we do that, and monetize that at the same time. The most important thing is that we get to keep sharing our music no matter what. We shouldn’t let our fear to change the system inhibit us from doing just that.

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