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Is livestreaming the post-Covid-19 future for live music?

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The Covid-19 crisis has forced the music industry to reconsider its development and suddenly strengthened the use of livestreaming platforms by artists stuck at home. While providing a temporary fix in a period where concert venues were all locked down, once can wonder if livestreaming will become a mainstream feature of live music in the post-Covid-19 era. This paper exposes its recent generalization around the world and tackles both livestreaming assets and limits.
Is livestreaming the post-Covid-19 future for live music?
May 13, 2020.
This article has been published in English and Chinese on the official Wechat account of the
Institute of Communication for a Shared Future:
Grégoire Bienvenu is a PhD student enrolled in an international codirection of thesis at the
Institute of Communication Studies (Communication University of China) and the Institut de
Recherche Médias, Cultures, Communication et Numérique (Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3).
Thursday, April 23rd. It has already been dark for a couple of hours here in Vancouver,
Canada, when I connect to the Internet to follow a live show from Chengdu. In China it’s 3pm and
the Chengdu Community Radio invited two local artists, T3 and Step.jad, to play a livestreamed set
broadcast from their Bilibili channel. With the Covid-19 pandemic expanding worldwide in the first
semester of 2020, livestreaming has become a common practice for a lot of musicians that have
been stuck at home too. In the scientific litterature, livestreaming is being defined as ‘a broadcast
video streaming service provided by web-based platofrms and mobile applications that feature
synchronous and cross-modal (video, text, and image) interactivity.’1 This practice is not new in the
music industry but the cancellations of live performances and the massive economic loss caused by
the shutdown of stages have led to an inevitable shift from offline music live shows to online music
livestream. At a time where more and more countries are easing physical restrictions in the fight
over Covid-19, it seems interesting to adopt a general overlook on this modern practice and to ask
ourselves: is livestreaming the post-Covid-19 future for live music?
1Cunningham, S., Craig, D., & Lv, J. (2019). China’s livestreaming industry: platforms, politics, and precarity.
International Journal of Cultural Studies, 22(6), 719–736.
Livestreaming: a life before Covid-19 / 回溯新冠肺炎爆发前的“直播”
Music livestreaming is not a new window that just opened with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Thanks to technological development, it is said that the Rolling Stones were the first major band to
embrace the trend by livestreaming on of their show in Dallas, 19942. At that time, professionals in
music already acknowledged the important role the internet could play in music promotion. This
assessment hasn’t changed through the years but new platforms have emerged: Youtube live and
Twitch appeared in 2011, Facebook live in 2015, Instagram live in 2016. With the world’s largest
livestreaming industry (504 million users in 20193), China has developed its own platforms such as
Bilibili (B ), Kuaishou ( 快 手 ) and Douyin ( 抖 音 ). Before the Covid-19 outbreak and the
worldwide shutdown of live venues, those platforms were already used by musicians and music
venues as a way to promote music and to connect with a wider audience4. Livestreaming actually
didn’t intend to replace live shows but offer another string of revenue by enlarging fan engagement
and online reach. One successful illustration of this use is the 2019 edition of the festival Coachella
that gathered more than 82 millions views online while it only welcomed 250.000 people on site5.
2Strauss N. (1994, November 22). Rolling Stones Live on Internet: Both a Big Deal and a Little Deal. The New York
3Lee, E., Jiayi, S. (2020, March 9). Brands turn to livestreaming as China stays at home. Technode.
4Kirn, P. (2020, February 11) In quarantined China, concerts and clubs are going online as a safe place to meet.
Create Digital Music.
5Hu, C. (2020, March 17). How Livestreaming Is Bridging the Gap Between Bands and Fans During the
Coronavirus Outbreak. Pitchfork.
Illustration 1: One of the first livestreamed concert by the
Rolling Stones (1994).
在全世界最大的直播产业发展之时(即 2019 年共拥有 5.04 亿用户),中国已经有了自己独
立的直播平台,诸如 BilibiliB站)、快手和抖音。在新冠肺炎爆发以及全球范围内关闭直
和线上沟通来创造出一种新的收入方式。举一个成功利用直播形式的例子,即 2019 年线上
举办的科切拉音乐节共吸引了超过 8200 万次的观看量,远超过其线下场地所能容纳的 25
Venues shut down and economic loss / 音乐场馆的关闭和经济损失
In the first semester of 2020, music industry has been impacted worldwide. In late January,
the Chinese live venues closed and music festivals were either postponed or cancelled. In Europe
and in the USA, following a slow decrease in authorisations of gatherings, public venues were shut
down and events cancelled around mid-March6. On its website, Billboard tries to list all the major
music events that have been cancelled due to Covid-19. Whether independent artists, underground
venues, major arenas, mainstream rock stars or big labels, everyone has been economically
impacted by this unprecedented sanitary ban on live performances. In the first trimester, 20,000
concerts have been cancelled in China generating a loss of $286million7. In the United States, the
live music business was supposed to generate $12.2 billion in 2020 but these expectations might be
amputated by almost $9 billion8. The economic outburst impacts beyond the artists themselves:
security agents, merchandising sellers, crew members, roadies, independent contractors are all
facing unemployment without necessarily being able to get any other revenue. The cancellations of
music festivals also had a wider range of consequences and endangered local economic actors that
benefited from their attraction on the area9.
在起初的三个月里,共计 2万场预计在中国举办的音乐会被取消了,造成高达 2.86 亿美元的
损失。在美国,现场音乐表演行业在 2020 年的收入比原计划的 122 亿美元少90 亿美元。
6Hissong, S., Millman, E., Wang, A.X. (2020, April 15). The Week the Music Stopped. Rolling Stone.
7Zhang, B. (2020, February 2). Coronavirus Paralyzes China's Live Sector as Concert Cancellations and Box Office
Losses Mount. Billboard.
8Hissong, S., Millman, E., Wang, A.X. (2020, April 15). The Week the Music Stopped. op.cit.
9Desbois, J. (2020, April 16). Le poids économique des festivals bretons. Ouest France.
A worldwide move to livestream platforms / 转向直播平台的全球化
With live music forced to stop overnight, artists and venues massively turned to livestream
platforms to keep engaging with their audiences. First artists to be stuck at home, Chinese
musicians were naturally the first to propose quarantine livestreaming10.
The Strawberry Z festival gathered seventy bands over five days on Bilibili, Taihe Music
organized the "I’m fine 云 趴 音 乐 " bringing twelve hours of music everyday on Kuaishou11.
"Cloud disco" (云蹦迪) also invaded the Chinese livestreaming platforms with famous clubs like
TAXX or One Third inviting their customers to move the party online. With the virus expanding
over the world, the same pattern could be observed abroad.
当诸如“TAXX”“One Third”这些著名的中国夜店直播平台后,邀请费者参加线上
10 Feola, J. (2020, February 12). Amidst Coronavirus Lockdown, Musicians in China Livestream the Party. RADII.
11 任彤瑶. (2020, February 17). 到底什么是 云蹦迪@? (In the end, what is "cloud disco"?). The Paper. https://
Illustration 2: Travis Scott’s concert on Fortnite, April
23-25, 2020.
Musicians in Europe and in America took over the Internet to propose home-concerts on live
platforms like Facebook or Youtube. Websites like Bandsintwon, Shotgun and Resident Advisor
gather information about all the live streaming concerts happening during the pandemic and the
number of shows is gigantic: on March 25th, Bandsintown gathered information about more than
8,102 live stream events12. If the majority of the artists mapped here are medium or small-scale
artists (the most impacted by the impossibility to play on stage), big celebrities also tuned in like
Travis Scott who gave a historic show on the videogame Fortnite, gathering over 27 million
Like a bridge over troubled water / 忧愁河上的金桥
In uncertain times, listening to music plays an important psychological role in people’s life.
As David Hesmondhalgh reminds us in "Why music matters ?", music is a very intense and
emotional experience linked to the personal self14. In this time where live venues around the world
have been shut down and emotions cannot be expressed on stage nor in the audience, online
platforms open a space where artists and music lovers can meet and support each others.
In her article on the livestreaming of the Seattle Symphony, Brooke Jarvis testifies how the
beauty of such a moment helped her to cope with a mental breakdown: "I almost cried" 15. The
livestreaming experience, might also provide the very rare opportunity to share an intimate
experience with artists stuck at home or in the comfortable environment of a recording studio.
12 Frankenberg, E. (2020, April 20). Livestream Data Shows Surging Online Activity While Live Venues Remain
Closed. Billboard.
13 Holmes, C. (2020, April 24). I’ve Never Played Fortnite, But Was Forced to Attend Travis Scott’s Fortnite Concert.
Rolling Stones.
14 Hesmondhalgh, D. (2013). Why music matters ? Wiley-Blackwell.
15 Jarvis, B. (2020, March 24). Livestreaming the Seattle Symphony Became a Source of Connection in Dark Times.
The New York Times Magazine.
In China, "cloud disco" has been a window for the Chinese youth stuck for months inside
their apartments. In Wuhan or in New York City, it has been yet another opportunity for people to
dance, sing and release pressure from the disasters happening outside.
To recreate the social experience / 重建社
With more than half of the world population forced to stay at home, livestreaming platforms
also participated in bridging the social gap by providing a common and immersive experience into
music. "Music [...] represents a remarkable meeting point of intimate and social realms."16
Online, people all over the planet can instantly gather and enjoy live shows. Music fans
from remote areas have access to cultural content they usually can’t enjoy. In the past months in
Vancouver and without leaving my sofa, I’ve been attending concerts from Chengdu (China), New
Brunswick (Canada), Los Angeles (USA) and Britanny (France). Livestreaming also redefines the
codes of the live experience. In his ethnographic observation of "Kadavar livestreamed concert" on
Facebook live, Gérôme Guibert notes some similarities with a normal gig but also new features that
only exist in this format: the concert is happening in a living room, there is no light system and
everyone can see every detail of the set17. A second screen with a live chat allows people in the
16 Hesmondhalgh, D. (2013). op.cit.
17 Guibert, G. (2020, April 6). Is livestream real life ? Une soirée concert en confinement. SURVI. https://virus-
Illustration 3: An illustration of the Bilibili interactive reactions
during a Strawberry Z concert.
audience to share messages with each other and cope with their social isolation. Brooke Jarvis also
noted how the livestreamed format enhances interaction among the classic music audience who
enjoy sending clapping emojis in the middle of an act while social norms would forbid such a
behavior in a real life performance18. In terms of interactivity, the Chinese platform Bilibili is
actually standing out by providing the most integrated feature for audience to react in real-time
thanks to "bullet-comments" (弹幕) superimposed over the video. This kind of visual commentary
track "makes the events an active expression of community and social bonding, rather than just
passive experiences."19
互动,中国的 Bilibili 直播平台其提供观众最全的实时互动操作,即视频上
A new stream of revenue for the music … / 音乐场馆形式的新
Livestreaming concerts was providing another string of revenue for music professionals
before the Covid-19 outbreak but for some now it might represent the only string left. In China,
where artists’ economic model relies heavily on live performances, "it has been a perfect time for
18 Jarvis, B. (2020, March 24). op.cit.
19 Raghav, K. (2020, February 13). Under Lockdown and Quarantine, China’s Punk Rock Bands Are Taking the Mosh
Pit Online. Hyperallergic.
Illustration 4: During a livestream party on
Douyin, TAXX raised more than RMB700.000
creation but a lot of musicians made no money"20. Digital platforms enabled them to keep on
working while opening a new monetary stream: audience can tip the artists, make donations and
even buy merchandising online.
Live venues also tuned in to let their usual customers benefit from live concerts. "As a
venue, our advantage is what we currently have: the venue space, the equipment, and our tech
crew"21. Some clubs have found a lucrative space to raise money: the two Chinese clubs TAXX and
One Third respectively raised RMB700,000 and RMB1million during "cloud disco" parties on
Douyin. This money represents a temporary fix for music venues that can finally cash in and even
pay some of their staff. But it should be noticed that even if venues and musicians are severely hit
by the pandemic, they often connect online performances to charities and spur their fan base to
donate for hospitals, front line workers and associations linked to the pandemic.
… but an uncertain economic development / ……定的经济发展
While live venues remain closed in most of the countries, some limits of livestreamed events
also force us to relativise its role in the post-Covid-19 era. Economically, livestreaming is far away
from having covered up the losses of the earthquake experienced by the living spectacle in the past
If some famous Chinese clubs managed to earn good money on a couple of dates, "cloud
disco" remains a promotion tool to incite clubbers to come back to the physical place once
20 Interview on Wechat with Luna Li, Chengdu local DJ. (2020, March 10).
21 Feola, J. (2020, February 12). Amidst Coronavirus Lockdown, Musicians in China Livestream the Party. RADII.
reopening allowed22. For festivals and live venues, the actual livestreaming format is not as lucrative
as offline events with tickets and beverages sales23. The main concern for livestreaming lies in its
ability to monetize such shows. Monetization can take different forms: advertisement, tips, paid
entrance, subscription to a closed platform, etc.
So far, it is hard to say if people will be ready to pay to access such content 24 even if a study
by Bandsintown reveals that more than 70 % of music fans on the platform are willing to pay to
support streaming artists25. Nevertheless the systematization of online shows also raises the question
of authorship, recording and reproduction rights and still represents a big puzzle that has to be
answered accordingly to the different platforms and national legal systems26.
Audience behaviour and standardization of performance / 观众行为与展示标准
Another concern with the future of livestreaming lies in the core of this practice itself: the
As Gérôme Guibert reminds us, playing in an empty venue might be suitable for some music
styles but not for popular music "where the bodies are meaningful, maybe crucial and where the
show is also in the venue itself."27 The feelings of bodies, the dancing, the mixture of smells of the
venues and the alcohol, the sight and the hearing altered by the lights and the sound system: those
characteristics are hard or impossible to reproduce through a screen. The destruction of the unity of
22 任彤瑶. (2020, February 17). op.cit.
23 Cici. (2020, February, 20). 2020, 线上演出元年@? (2020, year of online performance?). The Paper.
24 Thibault, M. (2020, April 28) Le live stream survivra-t-il au déconfinement? IRMA.
25 Courtney, I. (2020, April 21). Bandsintown Becomes A Hub For Music Live-Streaming. Celebrity access.
26 Hu, C. (2020, April 8) The legal underbelly of livestreaming concerts. Water & Music.
27 Guibert, G. (2020, March 18). op.cit.
time and place forces the audience to readjust its behavior, from being part of a collective musical
rite to a passive and potentially solitary reception28.
How does the livestreaming audience behave? Shall we dance or stay seated, shall we drink,
sing and yell or should we adopt a peaceful watching, closer to a cinema experience? Eventually,
livestreaming might represent a threat to the creation itself. Every live show is different and
musicians are constantly renewing themselves in order to entertain the audience. With only a few
platforms available and an increasing number of bands rushing to give livestream concerts all over
the world, it is to be feared that the uniqueness of live music would be turned into a senseless
mechanical reproduction. The standardization and commodification of a magical, rare and
ephemeral musical moment, would be detrimental both to the less-famous artists and to the music
fans. The promptness of the pandemic postponed these reflections but, like anytime when
technologies develop, a reflection on the evolution of its uses will have to be done.
Conclusion / 结论
Live music has always been evolving and borrowing from new technologies. I can still
remember the shock, when in 2012 Tupac Shakur (assassinated in 1996) appeared on the Coachella
stage under the form of a hologram. Livestreaming and the performance of Travis Scott in a video
game is only the evolution of such an imbrication of music and technological progress. By forcing
people to stay at home and shutting down live venues, the outbreak of Covid-19 didn’t give birth to
music livestreaming but reinforced the digitalization of culture and forced its agents to rethink their
practice. While a generalization of livestreaming concerts seems not likely to happen when the
pandemic will be under control, this tool has shown some very interesting assets that could be
merged into the future of live music. Maybe, the greatest contribution this sanitary crisis had is that
it finally pointed out the need for a change and forced the music industry to reconsider its center of
gravity around live performances.
28 Guibert, G. (2020, May 10). Distanciation physique, communication sociale et musique live. SURVI. https://virus-
Because for most of us now, "the idea of going to a 300-cap venue and pushing through
some asshole crowd of kids to pay for an $18 beer, just to stand in a corner and nod my head to
some music that is never as good as the record, seems just like hell".29
29 Hissong, S., Millman, E., Wang, A.X. (2020, April 15). op.cit.
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