By Mark Allard-Will
Twenty-twenty will, regardless of how you personally view responses to the pandemic, forever be a phonetic sound to illicit images of shuttered businesses amid lockdowns and restrictions; this was, of course, no different for the live music and entertainment industry.
With a new year, bright-eyed and bushy tailed before us, in the form of 2021, what can we expect from live music? Will we be seeing a roaring return to physical concerts as the vaccine slowly rolls out? Or can we expect more digital gigs on virtual platforms?
To find out more, I decided to speak to professional whom represents Saskatchewan's music industry. I found that professional in Michael Dawson, Executive Director of SaskMusic (formerly known as Saskatchewan Recording Industry Association), the body that represents Saskatchewan artists and the province's recording industry. See our chat below.
NORTH SASK MUSIC ZINE: With the pandemic still ongoing, and the vaccine rollout getting off to a slow start, what can live music fans expect to see from bands for performances in 2021?
MICHAEL: I think this is still such an unknown at the moment. I think we’ll continue to see ingenuity on behalf of artists are they find ways to maintain a connection to their audiences. The obvious challenge is that virtually every aspect of life has moved online and that makes it increasingly increasingly difficult to keep folks engaged to tune into online performances. With that said, it’s been inspiring to watch so many musicians open up their homes and in many ways break down barriers with artists through the interaction that streaming provides. It’s a very different experience than a live music setting, but I do think moving forward as things begin to reopen we will continue to see variations of it co-exist with live shows.
We do know that many festivals, showcases, and music conferences around the world are preparing online editions in the coming months. SaskMusic has been working with many musicians to professionally film live performances safely over the last year. As we wait for the return of live music we do know we’ll have opportunities to present live videos performances by Sask musicians at events around the world.
I know there are many Saskatchewan artists currently working on new music, recording new albums, and generally working toward a positive future in music so I do know that when live music returns we can all look forward to a lot of new music. In the meantime I’d like to reiterate how integral it is for folks who are in a position to do so to continue to support musicians, venues, etc. Whether that means subscribing to an artists Patreon, buying records, ordering take out from venues or purchasing merch from a festival - anything that helps put dollars into pockets is meaningful as all sides are stuck in limbo.
NSMZ: With the most optimistic projections seeing Canada reach herd immunization by September, and other estimates seeing a 37-week period from April for the same, do you think it's likely - or even possible - that we'll see a return to live venues and concerts by the end of 2021?
M: I remain hopeful that live music will return in 2021. In many ways the survival of our industry is dependent on it. We try to follow all of the conversations happening around this across the country and beyond, and there’s certainly more than one school of thought on it. I can’t say for certain what the timeline may look like for us to pack stadiums, but I do have confidence that as soon as it’s safe to do so we’ll see the industry mobilize to begin holding concerts following whatever protocol is deemed necessary.
NSMZ: 2020 saw innovation on the part of bands and ticket providers the world over, with bands performing live, online shows in "virtual venues" only accessible to paid ticket holders through unique, individual passcodes. Do you predict that we'll see any further innovation to how live music performance is connected with audiences?
M: I do think innovation will continue through 2021 and in many cases beyond. The move to be able to monetize live streaming has certainly aided in the ability to some musicians to offset some financial losses. There’s an unfortunate reality that it also largely relies on having a pre-existing audience base and leaves a vacancy for developing artists who are at beginning stages of their career. I don’t know if there is a solution to that in the immediate future, but I know one of the things I’m excited about for the return of live music is a new crop of artists I have yet to discover. I don’t have an answer for what future innovation may look like but I certainly look forward to it.
Innovation is a good place to end our chat, as innovation was the moniker of SaskMusic's approach to aiding the province's live music venues in the early summer of 2020. Quite literally called the Sask Venues Project, SaskMusic commissioned acclaimed Saskatchewan artists and graphic designers to design t-shirts that herald some of the province's stalwart music venues, including Saskatoon's Black Cat Tavern, Bassment and The Capitol, Regina's O'Hanlon's Pub and The Fat Badger, Moose Jaw's Mae Wilson Theatre and the world famous Danceland at Manitou Beach to name but a few. The project came about toward the latter days of the lockdown of spring, a time when venues were hurting the most financially, with 100% of profits from sales going directly to the venues attributed to any given t-shirt line on the project.
What innovation we can expect see from the meeting of minds of musicians, ticket vendors and venues for live performance in this limbo period until herd immunization is reached is yet to be seen, but judging by the positivity of Michael Dawson, good things may be around the corner.
So, join me in raising a glass to 2021. The reasons to celebrate may be a ways off yet, but we can see the light at the end of the tunnel and that's nothing but optimistic in my mind.