How COVID-19 reshuffled the consumption of music

“Clearly these are turbulent times and there is a long way to go yet, but solace can be taken from how musicians and labels are responding.”

Whilst the phrase “apart for now, closer than ever” might sound alarmingly similar to any number of recent nausea-inducing TV adverts, it speaks to how most people have been trying to cope with the impact of coronavirus on their daily lives. Whether it’s a Zoom call or Tik-Tok, technology is the predominant tool for keeping in touch with others and the music world is no different. What’s been noticeable recently is how musicians have responded to the challenges of lockdown by actively collapsing the gap between themselves and fans. 

In a world where physically attending live gigs is impossible, music has been forced to develop even more of a virtual presence. Simply put, the increase in online platforms for both radio and video has meant it isn’t just Boiler Room streaming from isolation. Club Quarantine is one example, a queer online nightclub which was launched in mid-March and now hosts hundreds of guests on Zoom every night of the week.

During lockdown, some of the most talented selectors in electronic music took part in Club Quarantäne, a 36-hour virtual rave organised by Resident Advisor and featuring Darwin, Jayda G and Ben UFO among others.

As surreal as it is watching DJs bop about in their slippers, there’s also something undeniably trusting and intimate about these living/bedroom settings, opening up an artist’s world beyond the music they play. Dialogue with fans is vital in this regard.

One EP that has caught the eye this year is Werkha’s ‘The Rigour’ and a recent Instagram poll asked fans which track from the record they wanted to see him perform, live from isolation in sunny Manchester. There is no preordained way to respond to a crisis like this but creativity is key.

The same can be said for generosity. Bandcamp’s decision to periodically waive their revenue share for 24 hours in order to help those struggling has been praised and prompted a strong response from the wider music community. $4.3 million dollars was spent on 20th March (15x the amount on a normal Friday) and when this happened again on 1st May, the figure rose to $7.1 million. With Bandcamp extending this scheme for the rest of 2020, it is a real act of solidarity.

Not only do musicians gain vital financial aid from these initiatives, but fans are seeing artists release music that might otherwise have sat collecting dust. Tunes that could once only be found on ripped YouTube videos have been made available to buy, with less emphasis on showcasing perfect productions and more on sharing material.

It would be naive to ignore the financial incentive behind moves like this, but there have been notable acts of generosity from impacted artists in return. R&S’s ‘In Order To Care’ compilation, with tracks from more than forty of electronic music’s most exciting producers, has raised over £35,000 for the NHS and still counting.

It isn’t just older music that is being released either, as some artists are using time in lockdown to create and share new work. Little Simz’ Drop 6 came out a few days ago after minimal promotion. She made the entire EP over April, announced it at the end of the month and released a couple of weeks later.

Given all future shows are postponed, this isn’t strategically timed to lead into a busy festival season as would be normal. It is simply a collection of songs that she feels passionately about and that have challenged her greatly. Her mischievous streak is ever-present (comparing herself to Lauryn Hill on this record rather than Jay-Z and Shakespeare) but she also delves into her own intense struggles with mental health as a result of the virus. Aside from lyrical references, you wouldn’t know that negative thoughts and self-doubt have plagued her in this period. The bar remains high after 2019’s ‘GREY Area’. 

Clearly these are turbulent times and there is a long way to go yet, but solace can be taken from how musicians and labels are responding. Simz herself offers a tongue in-cheek glimpse on Drop 6’s highlight ‘you should call mum’ of what her days look like at the moment. Namely, continuing to do what she does best:

“Living day by day, sleepless night by night.
Bored out of my mind.
How many naps can I take?
How many songs can I write?”

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