Should Music Lovers Pay for Livestreams during the Pandemic?

In September, I blogged about live music in the age of the pandemic, particularly the first six months. I want to revisit one element: my evolving views on paying for virtual concerts.

NFGWhen New Found Glory announced their first livestream in June, I was “ready and willing” to pay the $9.99 admission. When I encountered a $3.95 service fee, I stopped in my tracks. The fee seemed excessive for what was only a livestream, and out of principle, I didn’t want to pay an extra two-fifths of the advertised price. I passed on the event, and in retrospect, I missed out on something I would’ve enjoyed.

When New Found Glory played their second livestream in September, I paid the full $13.94. I made the right call. As I wrote that night, “It was the first time I’ve paid for a virtual concert, but between the set length, the audio quality, the lighting, and the background video, you get what you pay for! . . . Virtual concerts have evolved to the point where paying for them is sometimes warranted.”

This conclusion isn’t just about how artists deserve to make a living when one of their primary revenue drivers has been taken away. The price might be worthwhile based on two considerations:

  1. The comparison is not between watching a virtual concert and attending an in-person concert for the same price. The latter option isn’t currently viable, and that’ll be the case for more than a year since the pandemic started. So if a music lover wants to enjoy live music, this is the way. (While there are some in-person concerts taking place during the pandemic, they aren’t safe, prudent options.)
  2. A well-produced show, especially in terms of audio quality, warrants compensation for the artist and the crew more so than when a solo musician spontaneously plays acoustic guitar using a computer’s camera on Facebook Watch.

With my new modus operandi, I accepted that these shows are a way to be entertained, so I should take advantage. If they could bring some pleasure during difficult—and, frequently, boring—times, I should partake. As part of a bundled birthday gift from my wife, I paid for livestreams from Frank London‘s Klezmer Brass Allstars, Pearl Jam, and Metallica in October and November. Before, during, and after the latter two, I wrestled with whether they were worth $15 each, but I’ll try not to overanalyze my decision. I’ve attended in-person concerts where I had mixed feelings as well!

Golem_livestreamWhen I learned that Golem would play their first livestream in November, the decision to watch was a no-brainer. Admission was pay-what-you-wish, and I gave what I thought was a reasonable amount. I’d seen Golem live 27 times and 2020 was the first calendar year I didn’t since my first Golem show in 2006, so of course I was interested. I watched the concert when it aired, and afterward I was able to listen to it again in the background while doing other things. This was my new best-case scenario! Click here to read my blog post about Golem’s livestream and other on-screen activity.

The most grappling was for Bad Religion‘s “Decades” series. To celebrate their 40-year anniversary, the band streamed four shows, with material from each of their four decades together. They charged $15 for one episode or $40 for all four, plus fees. As someone astutely pointed out in the Punk Rock Dads Facebook group, if I considered paying for more than one, I might as well do all four, since it’s the best value.

The sound quality for the Bad Religion shows was terrific, and so were the set lists. They streamed a new episode each of the past four Saturdays, and paying fans can watch the episodes as many times as they want until Monday. As with Golem’s livestream, I watched each episode once and afterward listened in the background while doing other things. After watching the episodes 12 times total so far, I’ve already gotten my money’s worth. I paid $3.83 per watch! During the ’90s episode, I appreciated that singer Greg Graffin introduced “Infected”—my top song on Spotify for 2020—by saying, “You and me have a disease. Let’s keep wearing those masks, though.”

BadReligion_decades

Nearly a year into the pandemic, it makes sense that our perspectives on technology have evolved, as have the offerings. Telecommuting and videoconferencing will remain popular following the pandemic, with hybrid models instead of all-or-nothing. Similarly, well-produced livestreams can entertain fans and be worth the price of admission. That model might outlive the pandemic.

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