Are Geo-Blocked Concerts the Future of Music? - OZY | A Modern Media Company

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because desperate times call for desperate measures — even in the music industry.

By Eromo Egbejule

It’s been a hellish year for fun-seekers — and for those entertaining them. With musicians and concertgoers stuck in couch potato mode due to the pandemic, industry executives and artists are experimenting with generating new revenue streams to ensure that the beat goes on.

Soul singer Erykah Badu built her own livestream company with a firewall, charging viewers a $1 to $3 fee for her Quarantine Concert Series, streamed from her apartment. In April, Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli streamed an Easter concert on YouTube from the Duomo cathedral in Milan, with 2.8 million peak concurrent users, according to Billboard magazine.  

London-based singer Laura Marling is trying out a novelty: geo-blocked concerts. She and her team have already sold out two major concerts of this variety. On June 6, the Grammy-nominated folk singer played from a chapel in her home city to 4,000 fans in North America; she performed another sold-out concert for viewers in the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe. As with private Zoom calls, ticket holders were emailed custom YouTube links shortly before the show began. Only those accessing the link from specific geographical areas could view the concerts. Marling’s success might inspire other artists to try geo-blocked concerts, some experts predict.

I don’t necessarily think it could be sustainable.

Gareth Brown, director, the Opium Room

Deborah Mannis-Gardner, head of Delaware-based music licensing firm DMG Clearances, predicts that live music will come back “in a different way and in smaller situations.”

Still, some industry stakeholders question the sustainability of livestreamed concerts as they spread to other regions. A surfeit of streaming content that’s competing for viewers, a reduction in disposable cash because of the economic crisis and variations in accessible bandwidth could all hamper success. Mannis-Gardner concedes that “livestream can’t re-create the environment of a concert.”

“It’s a tricky one, and I don’t necessarily think it could be sustainable,” says Garth Brown, director of the Opium Room, a Johannesburg-based music and branding strategy firm. He cites the example of the Africa Day concert in May that was livestreamed on YouTube with a lineup including Daily Show host Trevor Noah and Nigerian singer Burna Boy. Despite the star power and MTV as a partner channel only around 300,000 people streamed it globally. “Streaming should have brought more numbers because it’s borderless and people can tune in from all devices as long as you’ve got internet connectivity, but it didn’t,” Brown says.

Instead, Brown suggests, drive-through entertainment, which has regained popularity — from concerts in Germany to zoos in the United States — could prove to be the golden goose that helps the music industry mitigate its losses.

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