Kirk Pasich, Co-Founder of Blue Élan Records, LLC, and Kim Umanoff is its Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel
For the first time in the 34-year history of South by Southwest, Austin’s iconic music, film, and technology conference has been cancelled. The local disaster cited by city officials for the closing? COVID-19. At the time of the cancellation on Friday, March 6, a mere week before the start of SxSW, Travis County, Texas, Austin’s home, reported zero confirmed cases of coronavirus. The ramifications of SxSW’s historic cancellation have left participants, artists, and the local community devastated—and with questions. Was cancellation necessary? As cancellations and attendance restrictions spread, where will artists play? And, who will come? Translating all of this, the question, most simply stated is: How will those who depend on live music make a living or stay in business?
The effects of event cancellations ripple far beyond the economic implications of forgoing a tour date. Often, record labels create annual marketing strategies based on “anchor-dates” like SxSW, which are leveraged to garner press and incite awareness campaigns. For a new artist releasing a record, the opportunity to showcase at SxSW or another high-profile event brings not only instant credibility, but also the opportunity to perform for key press, network with other artists, conduct appearances and meet-and-greets with potential branding and endorsement partners, and perform for agents or managers whom otherwise might not catch their live show. For unsigned artists, SxSW remains a prime place for discovery. Indeed, artists have planned their entire record release around a SxSW showcase. Cancellation of such an opportunity is not just demoralizing for artists who have been working toward this goal for years, but potentially devastating to a campaign’s marketing and promotional schedule, sometimes leading to re-scheduling record release dates.
While the and health and safety of artists and fans is paramount, a pause of the entire events industry will not only impact artists, but also owners, promoters, and those who work at venues, clubs, and bars. Faced with shuttered listening rooms and quiet stadiums, the events and music industries must be nimble. Alternatives should focus on digital events, such as online concerts through platforms like Stageit (with an artist hosting a digital paid concert experience). For emerging artists, maintaining a personal connection to fans in the absence of physical interaction means an even heavier focus on social media and digital live interfaces, such as live video premieres, virtual hang-out sessions, or live Q&A sessions on social platforms. Artists must maintain visibility and connections to their fans, replicate live concert experiences in a digital package, and encourage consumers to support the music industry through increased music consumption and digital interaction.
But, it’s not all on the artists. If we want live music and we want artists, we need to help artists and the creation and delivery of new music survive the coronavirus. We need to be in this for the short haul, and the long run. Stream songs, buy merchandise, subscribe to special online broadcasts. Watch. Listen. Support. It’s time to give back to those who have given us so much, and who still want to do that. Step up. Now’s the time.