By now, most of the world has gone without live shows for so long that it can often feel like they’ll never return. Luckily, that’s not the case. The transition from where we’re at now to what live music was like before 2020 isn’t going to happen overnight, and things might never look the same. But before packed arena shows and music festivals return, the live music industry is most likely in for a period of transition. These three show formats are the ones likely to first return after the pandemic.
Distanced outdoor concerts
When it’s warm enough, or if there’s enough outdoor heating, we’ll likely see many outdoor concerts with distanced fans return soon. This format might be hard to pull off for huge acts that draw thousands of people, but it could be done if social distancing is enforced seriously enough. Compared to venue shows, outdoor concerts carry far less of a risk, and they’re the kind of events that people want to see on a warm summer night. If it’s cold, these kinds of shows will obviously be tougher to do, but evidenced by people’s willingness to eat outside during frigid winter temperatures, we’re still likely to see them as the pandemic wanes. While there were hardly any live concerts in 2020 indoor or outdoor, distanced outdoor shows are going to be one of the first show formats to return once people feel safe enough to experience live music again.
Small venue shows
Sold-out arena shows might not be safe or legal for a while, but concerts at small venues will be a different story. Venues that only hold 50-200 people are typically nimble enough to enforce cautionary measures like social distancing, and they’re used to hosting small shows as opposed to large venues that need big staffs to operate. We might see a trend of huge artists touring small venues with high ticket prices and limited numbers of guests. One positive for developing artists who tour after the pandemic is the idea that they may benefit from society’s need to see live music no matter who performs it. People who may never have seen live music may start seeing shows and becoming interested in music. While there’s no way to know if this will happen, small venues are likely to become important centers for live music while we slowly find a new normal.
While large festivals and venues continue to adapt to the pandemic, artists will continue to take matters into their own hands by hosting small DIY shows. Long before the pandemic, musicians have experimented with things like house shows to forge closer connections with fans and earn more money. But now that playing at conventional venues is often impossible and almost always complicated, this trend is likely to grow. Those that host small shows have the benefit of being able to vet guests and enforce safety measures like masks and distancing. And, unlike venue and festival shows, DIY concerts can be nimble by moving locations at the last minute if they have to. While we slowly make our way back to normal, more and more developing artists and potentially even some established ones will start creating unconventional show opportunities for themselves and ways to bring their performances to their fans.
These are three show formats likely to return first after the pandemic, but as we’ve all learned over the last year, anything could happen. Vaccines could bring things back to normal quicker than we think, paving the way for live music as we know and love to return in earnest without much of a transition. But on the other side of the coin, the transition could be complicated by myriad factors and could take years. The truth is that we just don’t know, and this uncertainty obviously puts musicians, venues, promoters, and sound engineers in a difficult position. All we can do is hope for the best and plan for the worst by pursuing safe performance opportunities and connecting with audiences every other way we can.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.