April 30, 2020 Amy Scott

Music’s New Frontier


I know it’ll be a long time till we get to get together in a stadium or concert venue again… but I have to say, I don’t really miss live concerts right now. Something else is taking their place.  It’s a new way to feel up close and personal to my favorite artists. It’s a whole lot cheaper and more convenient – and I can do it without leaving home, and the best part for them is, so can they.

Live streaming has found a new ambassador in acoustic performance, and I for one, love it.

Since the quarantine began,  many artists are graciously giving their time and talent to comfort all of their fans by performing live in their own living rooms, front porches, and backyards.  It’s incredible.  The experience of sharing the music is so intimate, from their living room to mine, where I watch on my great big smart tv, making them just as big as I am.  I’m also able to react in real-time, with hearts for thank you and thumbs up for love this song… and I can comment or ask a question, sometimes getting an answer directed right to me. It’s live, and I’m with them, and the world is just a bit safer feeling, even if just for a bit.

I first caught onto this in mid-March, when my old pal Melissa Etheridge started showing up daily on Facebook doing half-hour by request sets for homebound fans from her living room … Then Chris Martin of Coldplay and John Legend joined the trend, chatting between songs, and encouraging people to stay home, be safe, and tune in.  Then Paul Simon showed up, Rob Thomas, Mary Chapin Carpenter.  Niall Horan, Harry Styles, Justin Bieber, Shawn Colvin, Shawn Mendez, and Camila Cabello, One Republic, Ben Gibbard from DeathCab… Rufus Wainwright, Charli XCX, Christine and the Queens, the list is constantly growing. Amy Lee admits she watches her performances back later to read all the comments.  She reads them all!

Some do these live shows regularly, like Melissa, who’s rabidly loyal fans watch every day, and some do it just when they feel like it. Some do it on multi-platforms, like Diplo and Bieber. Some do it to actually help raise money for the cause, not just to entertain. There’s the #TogetherAtHome concert series, part of a larger campaign launched by Global Citizen in support of WHO’s new Solidarity Response Fund where Legend, and Charlie Puth, Common, DJ-D Nice, Ziggy Marley have performed.  And Dave Matthews helped out by launching Verizon’s “Pay it Forward Live” to help small businesses by getting viewers to pledge to buy from them once this is over. It airs on twitter and Yahoo and their plan is to feature comedy and gaming as well.

In a different vein… Miley Cyrus is doing a live stream chat show with her famous friends on Instagram called #BrightMinded … the only thing there is, it can only save it for 24 hours if she shares it a second time, but they are saved on youtube. So make her destination programming at 11:30 amPT m-f, if you want to see it live, but don’t expect much as far as music, she really just chats, and there’s no real fan interaction.

So, this pandemic has created an unexpected benefit for us music lovers… the intimacy of these live performances with the added benefit of an invitation into the personal space of the artist you love. I now know what Chris Martin’s home studio looks like.  Melissa’s living room is filled with her own memorabilia. Sheryl Crow’s house is very rustic!

My thought is that now that many artists see how easy and comfortable this is, and how many viewers they can actually reach, this may be a new venue for them to consider as a part of their own publicity machines. Streaming live performances will never replace touring, as artists love and need that live reinforcement, that instant gratification. There are very few artists who would admit they hate performing in front of a crowd, right?  And though we all love the experience of being in a concert hall, with like-minded fans amidst the shared love and energy of our favorite music, it still does suck that the ticket prices prohibit us from enjoying it with regularity. This would give us more access to the artists we love.  Plus most artists only tour to promote a new release, but streaming… hey, they could stream live to test out new songs… to research their market, share news, or promote a tour.

It shouldn’t be long now before all this amazing free access comes to an end, I fear, as industry insiders are onto it now, and everyone’s gotta be trying to figure out a way to monetize it and help save the suffering business of live music.

How will it happen?  “Live from his living room… Budweiser presents Billy Joel!” couldn’t be far off, right? “Dove presents Arianna Grande Live from her Bathtub”,  “Whatever that Psoriasis drug is presents Cyndi Lauper from her Back Yard!” Live Streaming companies are I’m sure gearing up for the new rush of business. Facebook insiders must be having very intense meetings now discuss how to own their foothold on this concept.

Here’s one I must say, as a producer I saw coming.  MTV recently announced they’re bringing back one of their old time success stories, the “Unplugged” series, live and adding the words “At Home” to the title. Imagine that- MTV playing music? What is this, the 80’s?  What could be next, Carson Daly hosting “Total Request Live Stream”? Maybe, just maybe a music television channel could make a comeback!

Fox recently jumped on the performance from home thing, when they aired a benefit concert called the “iHeart Living Room Concert for America” hosted by Elton John, and featuring artists from Mariah Carey to Billie Eilish and Billy Joe Armstrong to Tim Mcgraw performing from, you guessed it – their living rooms.  Its purpose was to raise money for frontline charities in the Coronavirus fight.  Country artists did the same recently.  Neither was live, but they did prove the power of the look inside their lives and homes being a big seller.

Would I pay for the experience of seeing John Mayer play live in his pajamas with his dog? Would I sit through commercials for it? Maybe I would. Would you?  It may very well be in your future, but for this short while, during this miserable period in our history, many of these wonderfully talented artists are giving us this experience as a gift.  Their way of doing what they do for the greater good, and through that, inadvertently changing the business model of live music.