Saturday

8th May 2021

Opinion

How live music venues are emerging from Covid-19 crisis

  • The Ancienne Belgique venue in Brussels. (Photo: Kmeron)

At a time when countries around Europe are easing restrictions implemented to contain Covid-19, it is becoming clearer that live venues are going to be the last ones to emerge from this crisis.

Regardless, the venues behind Liveurope are committed to keep working together to find new ways to fulfil their mission and develop activities to boost European diversity.

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  • The famous Melkweg venue, in Amsterdam (Photo: Marie)

As taste-makers, music venues develop a special relationship with their audiences.

The lockdown has pushed venues to find innovative ways to interact with them through live-streaming initiatives such as Štream from Kino Šiška (Slovenia), the Art Marathon from Palác Akropolis (Czech Republic), and Melkweg's participation to United We Stream (the Netherlands).

Above all, the Liveurope venues remain committed to fulfilling what they consider as a public service mission, that is to say, support their music ecosystem and its professionals whose livelihoods were on the line due to the crisis.

Something Musicbox (Portugal) is doing by working with six independent labels to organise projects with local acts.

Concert halls are finding inventive solutions to welcome audiences while they cannot to accommodate concert-goers.

Makeshift treatment centres and exam halls

Rockhal (Luxembourg) has hosted a temporary Covid-19 treatment centre, and Ancienne Belgique (Belgium) opened its doors to students sitting university exams in June.

This unprecedented situation brought about new forms of solidarity with more open dialogue in the music sector amidst the crisis.

Ground-breaking forms of collaborations are also emerging, as demonstrated by the Liveurope's Digital Tour, launched to celebrate Europe's musical diversity for Europe Day.

Through this campaign, 11 new European acts have simultaneously taken over Liveurope and Liveurope members' social media, allowing Liveurope venues to continue presenting new artists to their audiences.

As the lockdown starts to ease, a few venues can partially resume some of their activities: A38 (Hungary) and BLÅ (Norway) have opened their terraces and Stodoła (Poland) and Kino Šiška (Slovenia) are looking into hosting outdoor shows.

But the perspectives of full re-opening still seem far away. Operating under social-distancing guidelines would not be sustainable in the longer term, putting the existence of venues at risk.

For venues like Sala Apolo or Musicbox, opening under two-thirds of their capacity would not even allow them to break even.

Beyond, it's the very essence of music venues that we won't be able to replace.

Through live concerts, music venues provide a sense of togetherness, a range of experiences and emotions that cannot be recreated through a computer's screen.

This is not a luxury; this is a crucial necessity to recreate the social bonds that this crisis has been depriving us of.

The new normal will not be accomplished through virtual reality or mere interactions via streaming platforms, but when we will be able to share common experiences again with no fear, nor danger in the intimacy of a concert room.

Local acts?

Even now as the borders are reopening, music promoters will first focus on programming local acts rather than foreign acts.

Though this can be an opportunity for the growth of the local music scenes, will these artists be able to thrive beyond the local spectrum? And can they develop their careers without touring beyond their borders?

As venues will be heavily impacted by the crisis, taking risks to book artists from outside their comfort zone will become increasingly complicated.

Besides, their programmes will already be saturated with concerts that were previously scheduled, leaving less room to book new talent.

Facilitating the cross-border mobility of European acts was a challenge that already proved paramount, as shown by the EU study on a European music export strategy.

Double taxation issues, the domination of English-language repertoire, and growing concentration in the sector are just a few of the challenges highlighted in the 2019 study.

These many hurdles explain why European music does not travel well beyond national borders, even before the start of the crisis.

By promoting the competitivity and diversity of the European creative sectors, the Creative Europe Programme from the EU has already facilitated the launch of projects addressing this challenge.

The progressive bonus mechanism launched by Liveurope was meant precisely to help venues take risks in booking new European acts from unchartered territories, and help to promote Europe's musical diversity.

But what is in store for the future support for the CCSs? In the past weeks, EU leaders have been sending positive messages that our sectors would be strongly supported in the wake of the crisis.

And yet, how is that ambition reflected in the proposed EU recovery plan, in a context where the budget dedicated to culture, education and youth is the only one to decrease in comparison to the commission's own proposal from 2018?

What message does this proposal convey in a plan that is actually meant to "pave a strong path" for the next generations of the EU?

And how will the EU set up the proposed Creative Europe regulation that was meant to introduce new actions dedicated to sectors such as the music one with such a budget?

If we want to build a stronger Europe of culture, and defend European creativity, as French president Emmanuel Macron advocated for in his press conference dedicated to the cultural sector in early May, this also needs to be reflected in the framework programme dedicated to the cultural and creative sectors.

Author bio

Elise Phamgia is coordinator of the Liveurope platform, an initiative supporting 16 independent live music venues across Europe.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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