Will gigs as we know them ever be the same?

COVID-19 restrictions are beginning to lift but gigs and performances as we know them might never be same. Do we need to consider new ways of entertaining audiences?

For live music fans there’s nothing like being in a sweaty throng, listening to the shudder of a bass speaker, experiencing the sticky carpet and collectively witnessing a live performance. But what will the vibe be like when venues open with lifted restrictions, if they even open at all?

Musician and entrepreneur Matt Walters is the founder of Parlour Gigs, an Australian music platform that enables fans to sell tickets and host their favourite musicians in their backyard, bedroom, kitchen, or other area of the house, making for a very intimate style of performance.

Although Parlour Gigs launched in 2015, it’s a model we may be seeing more of in the future due to the precarious nature of the live performance industry, with some venues forced to close and others questioning how they’ll operate with social distancing measures once opened.

‘Every day we’re seeing more and more applications come through for the artists who are already signed up with Parlour,’ Walters told ArtsHub. ‘I think there’s going to be a real demand for this service, which is great.’

Names like Ella Hooper, Ben Lee and Sarah Blasko are just some of the artists who’ve used the platform over the years, but Parlour Gigs also welcomes smaller scale musicians to sign on with them, as long as they have a fan base.

‘We really want to bring that service to the community. We’re all artists and we built this specifically for artists to generate extra revenue,’ Walters said.

But the element that makes Parlour gigs viable is that each gig takes place in a different space – the house of the fan hosting it. For other musicians who are used to playing in theatres or on the festival circuit, it might be a while before it’s business as usual.

What will reopening look like?

Live Performance Australia (LPA) is the peak body for Australia’s live performance industry representing promoters, performing arts companies, theatres, venues, music festivals and stadium tours.

Chief Executive Evelyn Richardson said when it comes to reopening, safety is at the forefront of everyone mind, especially LPA members.

‘There’s a range of issues our industry is addressing as part of making our workplaces and venues “COVID safe” for workers and audiences,’ she said. ‘We’re all keen to get back to business, but are very mindful of the importance of doing so safely and sustainably.

‘We also need to be able to re-open in a way that is commercially viable. This threshold may be different depending on the type of venue and business, but it’s certainly not feasible for most venues and productions on current physical distancing guidelines.’

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Richardson makes a logical point, but there’s another factor at play. Once venues do open and are adhering to social distancing regulations, what will the ambiance be like at the reduced capacity? Walters has some concerns.

‘The big question I have is, “if you go to a show at the Tivoli or at the Forum and you’re only allowed 100 people in there, how weird is that show going to be?” It might be really special, but it might also be a strange experience.’

Musician Dan Kelly performs an intimate party at a fan’s residence through Parlour Gigs. Image supplied.

For many performers, live streams have become the new normal during the pandemic and understandably so, given there haven’t been venues in which to perform. But anyone who is used to performing live knows that the sense of connection and chemistry between performer and audience cannot be replicated by a virtual ‘like’. Richardson said the richness of experiencing a live performance is determined by its atmosphere.

‘Our industry has shown tremendous agility and versatility during the COVID shutdown and musicians have put in place creative ways of staying connected with their audiences. However, there is no substitute for the emotion, excitement and vibrancy of a live performance event in front of a full house – whether you’re on stage, or in the audience – and our plan is to restart and reopen our industry to its full potential as soon as it is safe and practical to do so.’

But for others who are considering how they’ll navigate this new normal, a model like Parlour Gigs might be worth considering.

‘We’re really keen to work with all sorts of artists. If you’re in a position where you’re thinking, “How am I going to get active and start earning again,” this is really one way you can do it,’ Walters concluded.