How the music industry will bounce back after COVID-19
The 4th of July marked a new independence day in the UK, with 1000s of pubs and bars able to reopen for the first time in the three months. However, nightclubs, gyms and spas will remain closed as they pose too much of a risk.
It has been reported that the government is cautious as there was a coronavirus spike in South Korea as soon as they reopened nightclubs in late April and had to shut them down again after only two weeks. In Germany, where the virus is almost under control, the ban on nightclubs will last until July 31 at least, while gatherings of more than 5,000 people aren't happening until October 24.
In the UK, unfortunately for the industry, gigs and concerts are banned unless they are being live-streamed due to the risk of people singing and passing on the virus. Concerts, particularly open-air ones, will therefore likely be the first to reopen as they are better ventilated and fields tend to have more space than clubs.
The effect of the global pandemic has not only had a profound impact on the live music scene here but across the world. According to the World Economic Forum, the global music industry is worth over $50 billion, with two major income streams. The first, live music, makes up over 50% of total revenues and is derived mainly from sales of tickets to live performances. The music industry has been hit hard by coronavirus with live performance revenue the biggest casualty. A six-month shutdown of live gigs is estimated to cost the industry more than $10bn in sponsorships, with longer delays being even more devastating. While this seems bad, there is some good news. For example, the industry is fighting back with new ways to monetize music consumption and innovative models: Fortnite hosted a live rap concert that attracted nearly 30 million live viewers.
For DJs, producers and artists, the world seems a very different place from this time last year but there are some things to take away that we should be integrating into our strategies moving forward.
Looking to the long-term, the core value chain of the music industry is likely to remain largely unchanged. Professional artists release music via one of the big three record labels – UMG, Sony Music or Warner Music – or alternatively through an independent publisher. This operating model represents 97% of recorded music by market share and may see fluctuations – but upheaval is unlikely.
In addition, the integration of songwriters, composers and post-production engineers in the development of music are not expected to change, though more work may take place remotely. Artists and labels will retain close links to streaming platforms, venue operators and event promoters to distribute music.
Record labels have increased their valuations in recent years, attributed largely to the growth in consumers using paid streaming services, and several are now preparing to go public. As consumption has grown, spending habits have changed. While some consumers take on more subscription services at home, others have opted out of subscriptions under financial pressure.
Maintaining adaptable monetization strategies may open new avenues for the industry to work with other sectors in the future. For example, gaming and TV integrate songs, compositions and musical scores into their content – but these synchronization revenues currently account for only 2% of recorded music revenue. The business frameworks for synchronization deals are currently underdeveloped, so there is an opportunity for growth – even if it is a long way from reaching a comparable share of revenue to streaming.
China provides an indication of how flexibility could work in practice. During the coronavirus crisis, music streaming platforms there introduced tipping as a new way for consumers to support artists. In the future, platforms could take a cut of these payments, thereby developing a new revenue flow built on streaming.
As music consumption is increasingly digital, there is a growing role for third-party platforms in shaping music distribution, discovery and consumer behaviour. During the pandemic, Fortnite hosted a live rap concert that attracted almost 30 million live viewers, underlining the potential for cross-industry partnerships to engage users and promote artists in a new way. It is likely that rights owners and distributors will continue to adopt similar approaches going forward.
Furthermore, it suggests that the industry is thinking about ways to do this without relying entirely on streaming and physical performances. Streaming may be highly effective in reaching consumers, but it leaves rights holders more reliant on third-party platforms, but a quirk in the streaming business model showcases how the relationship with these providers may change in the future. In general, platforms pay rights holders a minimum proportion of revenue from subscriptions – for Spotify, around 65% – with additional compensation determined by the number of streams.
This arrangement has two implications for the industry. First, it incentivizes streaming services to drive consumption toward non-licensed audio forms, such as podcasts. Evidence suggests the shift has already started: since 2014, music as a share of total audio consumption has decreased by about 5%, and spoken-word consumption has increased across every age group. If the proportion of music streaming declines, it creates scope for platforms to renegotiate their relationships with record labels.
The second implication relates to the content itself. Research has shown that songs are getting shorter and snappier, mainly in response to the need to boost the number of individual plays. Other players are adapting, as Tsai Chun Pan describes: “Short video is a new entertainment model. This model has a huge demand for music content, which has not only brought us many new opportunities but also provided us with new content promotion and distribution channels.” TikTok, already changing how consumers discover music, is developing its own streaming service that is expected to contribute to these evolving dynamics.
Elderbury is a nomadic DJ and producer now based in London, UK. After shows on various radio stations, he is a diverse performer working across bassline, dubstep and grime to house, lofi and DnB. He currently has residencies on Quest London Radio and Reinforced Radio.