I’m not sure about you, but the thing I’ve struggled with most in lockdown has not been the confinement, home-schooling and lack of pub-poured-pints. It’s been the ever moving goal-line, the absence of being able to look forward to big life events with any certainty. The holidays abroad, the weddings, the days out at Croker, the concerts, the arts/food/music festivals, the big movie events – all on hold. Sure, we have a road map to re-opening some of this, but whispers of second waves have prevented us from properly rescheduling the big events, the ones where the collective buzz of thousands of people enjoying something in unison is irreplaceable. So we make the most with what we have, and for now, that remains in the virtual world.
While that virtual world can only ever be seen as second best to the real thing, in some cases, the video conferencing technology that almost everyone has adopted by now, from kids to the elderly, has enabled a more inclusive celebration of events, where the dialogue is no longer one way.
By the time the Irish Times had announced "Covid-19 shuts Irish culture” in early April, the global creative community was already doing what it does best, getting creative. New technologies had to be embraced and new skills learned.
Live Music v2.0
The majority of the gigs I booked pre-covid are still awaiting re-scheduled dates, with next year being the most likely time frame. The annual Electric Picnic trip was surely going to go ahead, with it being so late in the year? Alas no, it’s gone too. Ireland isn’t alone, Glastonbury was set to have it’s 50th anniversary celebration, and Coachella was replaced with #Couchella where they encouraged people to get dressed in festival-fashion and watch a documentary on the festival, 20 years in the making, from their couches.
One can only imagine how frustrating this sense of uncertainty is for musicians struggling to make ends meet, but that hasn’t stopped them from getting creative and continuing to entertain and comfort us when we needed it most.
From the ad-hoc shot-on-phone living room concerts on Instagram Live and Twitch, to the highly produced “event” concerts, streamed live on TV and YouTube simultaneously - artists haven’t stopped performing for their fans. The Intel sponsored Other Voices – Courage series has shown how production quality for live streamed events doesn’t need to be compromised in these socially distanced times - the acts, locations, sound and photography have been simply breath-taking to watch.
But the real differentiator between these “concerts” and their pre-covid counterparts, is that the artists now have a direct dialogue with their fan base through live chat. Acknowledging the love (or hate - which is always entertaining), taking requests, giving guitar lessons and in some cases collaborating with fans to write new songs, with fans offering lyrics & chords in real time (as you can imagine, the results have been mixed).
While some ticketed music events have moved into the virtual world (both Fortnite and Minecraft being the main “venues” ), the majority of artists are still looking for new ways to reach their fan base, and support themselves. Hopefully brand sponsorship can help with this.
Sport makes a comeback
The welcome return of team sports on TV over the past few weeks has brought many of us great joy (especially this patient Liverpool fan). With all eyes back on sports, brands who have been in it for the long run with their sponsorships, can return to showing their commitment through the thick and thin, while getting brand exposure once again. The stadium experience has changed significantly though, with artificial fan reaction noise filling the empty stands and dividing fans. Technologists have been looking for ways to make the experience a little more “real”, with virtual crowds augmented into seats, and smartphone apps that allow you to add your voice to the audience.
While some brands have been “pausing” their sports sponsorships or redirected it to good causes (Budweiser moved all of its sports investments into helping the American Red Crosses blood drives via disused stadiums), others have pivoted into virtual spaces. In turn bringing the fans a little closer to the their sporting heroes.
Santander (sponsor of La Liga) moved into sponsoring an egaming event - headlining a FIFA 20 online tournament using players from the actual clubs themselves. The Twitch live stream, drew over a million viewers and allowed fans to engage with their favourite players.
Tour de France winner and Ineos backed Geraint Thomas raised £360k for the NHS as he cycled for 36 hours over 3 days on the virtual training platform Zwift, allowing fans to join him on the ride in VR.
Nike, like a number of brands, used the athletes they sponsor to challenge stuck-in-lockdown sports enthusiasts to show them what they’ve got through fitness challenges using the #playinside hashtag. They also gave away their ‘Nike Training Club’ app free of charge.
Pride Goes Virtual
The parade, the mother of all festivals, the ultimate community binder. Nothing beats the camaraderie of being together in one place. There’s really no substitute.
Let’s be honest, without a parade in sight, St. Patricks Day was a bit of a dud. Sure there were flags waved and mini garden parades, but it wasn’t the same. We did the best with what we had, but we were all still reeling in our fresh new reality at that stage.
Did we take the learnings and upgrade the virtual parade experience for Ireland’s second largest parade –Dublin Pride? Most definitely.
This year’s celebration took place under the theme ‘In This Together’, and while it was a massive disappointment for everyone to not be able to celebrate on the streets, the show must go on. A small, socially distanced parade along O’Connell St. marked the occasion to honour the frontline workers (accompanied by a small convoy of sponsors such as Tesco and An Post), but it was the virtual events that really shone.
A tonne of events took place online over the month, from the virtual parade to concerts, talks, exhibitions, walking tours, pet shows, Pride Wellness Workshops and Ceillís - all living in digital spaces. Bank of Ireland hosted an online discussion about Safe Spaces for the LGBT+ community, and as Darius pointed out in our last edition, a national survey conducted by BeLonG To has shown that now more than ever LGBT+ young people need to feel safe and supported.
Hopefully in the future with technology enabling this new way to engage with Pride festivals, it will make it more accessible to those who, for whatever reason, can’t attend in the real world. Giving access to celebrate who they are and get the support of the community from wherever they are in the world.
Zoom fatigue is a very real thing, but we’ve spent all this time becoming pros at video conferencing and live streaming - so, it’s not going away, no matter how much restrictions loosen. Our lockdown time has shown how events can translate online and it’s opened up their accessibility to wider audiences and enabled a new level of two-way dialogue that didn’t exist before. We can expect opportunities to engage with audiences/fans/communities through digital events to increase far into the future. Brands should re-evaluate their sponsorships and ensure they are in front of eyes in both the real and virtual worlds.
While our public houses and venues have been closed, we’ve learned that live music doesn’t live or die because of them. Artists have found new ways of expressing themselves beyond traditional ticketed events. So, what does this mean for the future of gigs? Well quite possibly, when venues open their doors again, we could be given the option to experience concerts in person or at home on your smart TV/computer screen. We now know how to run these live events online at a high standard, so why not continue doing so?
The person in the cheap seats has a voice. In some ways, it’s easier for us to get closer to our favourite bands, artists and sporting icons. The interactions we have with them during online events is evolving and becoming even more personal.