For many, nothing compares with the experience of going to a concert. The first time I went to a concert was when I saw The Smithereens, a New Jersey band, while they toured their Beatles cover album “Meet The Smithereens.” My family and I were in the second row, and I happened to fall asleep. It was not that The Smithereens’ music had a sedative effect on me, I was just a nine-year-old with a bad habit of falling asleep in public places. Since then, music has become a healthy obsession of mine, often accompanied by the compulsion to frequently check the tour dates of my favorite bands and artists.
With COVID-19 forcing tours on hiatus and venues to shut their doors, many music fans are left without the concert experience for months. That concert experience, as Monmouth University Music and Theater Arts Adjunct Professor Marc Muller described, can be euphoric. Muller is a studio and touring musician, who instructs a class entitled “Rock and Roll in American Culture” at Monmouth University. With conventional live performances temporarily derailed, it is likely that fans are currently burning through their favorite artists’ discographies. However, studio albums might not always satisfy the pining to hear your favorite song played live. Professor Muller relates the difference between studio recorded and live music to that of “reading the book and seeing the movie. You sit with the book by yourself, [and] dive in. It takes you places, creates pictures in your mind.” Much like a book, there’s a certain ineffable weight about listening to albums by yourself. Which leaves the question, what is going to happen to the other half of this analogy now that concerts have been postponed?
This is a problem that affects both sides of the equation. It is no secret that this era of social distancing has not been kind to performers. Though most performers tour, they also rely on media such as radio for exposure. “Radio stations stream and broadcast live performances all the time, the difference now, most stations are running on automation and being monitored by employees from home because of the pandemic,” a point made by Communication Department Chair and WMCX Advisor Aaron Furgason, Ph.D. Because of the crisis at hand,
much of the music industry has been forced into stagnation with live performances taking one of the largest hits. Be that as it may, performers are channeling the creativity they often use in writing and producing music to address this bilateral problem.
One of those performers is Ben Gibbard, guitarist, lead vocalist and principal songwriter for the indie band Death Cab for Cutie. Every day since March 17, Gibbard has been playing live sessions at 4:00 P.M. PST on YouTube titled “Live From Home” to help people cope with the isolating nature of social distancing. On a larger scale, pop icon Elton John hosted “The iHeart Living Room Concert for America” on March 30, a livestream benefit concert which featured Alicia Keys, Billie Eilish, Dave Grohl, Mariah Carey, Sam Smith, and Tim McGraw among others. Then there are festivals, such as the “UnCancelled Music Festival,” which provide an online experience with “multiple digital ‘stages’ simultaneously” to benefit venues, bookers and performers as a way to “help sustain the music industry.” Since April 2, UnCancelled has collaborated with companies like Fender to provide daily live performances from artists such as Snail Mail, Brian Fallon, Beach Bunny and Waxahatchee. With this recent spike in livestream concerts, organizations like NPR and Billboard are helping fans keep track with detailed daily listings on their websites.
Livestream concerts are not the only form of content being released amid the current pandemic situation. Watching your favorite performer sit in their living room and play an acoustic set may not be the perfect substitution for all concert experiences and fans of musicians like Bruce Springsteen understand the difference. To bridge that gap, Springsteen and other musicians are releasing concert tapes and recordings to emulate that concert experience. Springsteen released “London Calling: Live in Hyde Park” in its entirety to be streamed on YouTube and Apple Music; Sonic Youth released 12 concert recordings for streaming on Bandcamp; The San Francisco Symphony is posting collections of their concert films on YouTube. From pop stars, to indie darlings, to symphony orchestras, music found its way through a pandemic to keep people connected no matter musical preference.