The infrastructure behind the music industry is hard hit. If venues keep on disappearing, normality will possibly never return. Hal Fish looks at the options…

By Hal Fish: Music Columnist

So far, the beginning of 2021 has been painfully similar to the end of 2020. The question on everyone’s lips still being: when will this godforsaken pandemic actually end? At this stage, no one can truly answer that. So perhaps it’s best to start with a smaller question. 

What will live music look like in 2021?

For many, the adrenaline rush of standing shoulder to shoulder with likeminded people, drenched in beer and sweat (and hopefully nothing else), singing along to some of your favourite tunes, has been an irreplaceable feeling for too long now. 

Yet, in some places – where the virus has been competently managed – not only has live music returned, it’s almost as if it never left. In New Zealand, for instance, a crowd of 20,000 attended a live Six60 gig this January without having to follow any Covid safety protocols. 

Unfortunately, very few counties will be in a position to allow for such large public gatherings any time soon. One thing we can learn from that concert in Waitangi, however, is that it marks the beginning of Six60’s nationwide tour. With travel limited across the globe, 2021 may be a year in which bands have to tour a little closer to home. 

For artists based in the United Kingdom, Brexit will likely make this probability even more pertinent. With Boris Johnson’s Brexit trade deal failing to secure visa-free travel for UK artists wishing to tour Europe, many UK acts will struggle to get booked for events across the continent.

It will be interesting to see how this impacts upon the style of music artists make in the near future. A band like Arctic Monkeys famously shifted their sound as they grew in success and emigrated from Sheffield to LA. Had they been unable to leave the UK in those years, would their music have progressed in the same manner? Surely not. 

Of course, before anyone can start planning tours (even if just in their native countries), it has to be safe for fans to get back into venues again.

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One potential solution to this is ‘health passports’. As reported by Event Industry News this February, start-up company You Check will soon test its new health passport with live audiences in London and Bristol. 

…According to Music Venue Trust research, more than 400 grassroots music sites are at imminent risk of being closed permanently..

MACKAYAN: what live music may look like in 2021

The app – which has been approved for trial by the government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – has been adapted to connect with test, track and trace software.

The technology looks for a viral load high enough to be contagious with 97 percent plus accuracy. If successfully administered, it should be able to determine who is safe to attend gigs without spreading the virus.

Still, one of the biggest fears for live music, is that when concerts can safely return, there will be no more venues to play host. According to Music Venue Trust research, more than 400 grassroots music sites are at imminent risk of being closed permanently. With this in mind, the 100 Club – one of the UK’s most iconic smaller venues – is looking to pilot a new ventilation system next month which aims to wipe out 99.99% of dangerous airborne pathogens within buildings. 

Hopefully, some successful solutions are soon found. Whatever happens, if people are to attend live concerts in 2021, so much would have changed. Perhaps the live music experience will never be quite the same again.

For now, though, we may be stuck a little while longer – nostalgically watching old YouTube clips of past Glastonbury sets, or maybe ‘attending’ the occasional virtual gig streamed directly from our laptops.

It’s not perfect, but look on the bright side: pints don’t cost £8 when you’re at home, and there’s no queue for the toilet.