10 ways the coronavirus is going to change music in the coming weeks, months, and years

Long after this crisis has passed, we will be talking about this unprecedented planetary lockdown. And we’ll also be singing about it in various ways. Here are ten ways that the COVID-19 situation will change music going forward.

1. Virtual performances will permanently become a thing.

People have dabbled in livestreams on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube for years, but with so many people shut in and bored out of their minds–this, by the way, applies to both fans and performances–the interest in these sorts of virtual gigs will stay with us even we get back to normal. New tech is also rapidly becoming available to make such events easy to execute.

By the way, we have a name for these virtual gigs: quaranstreams.

2. The album cycle will be disrupted

Around the world, most new music is released on Fridays. Because artists and labels work so far ahead, there’s plenty of material in the pipeline to last us for several months. But by the time we get to the fall and that all-critical fourth quarter, new offerings could be very, very thin.

Artists may not be able to finish records. Most label people are working from home which makes planning and marketing more difficult. And even if an album is ready and COVID-19 is still with us, would you want to go on tour? To release or not release, you know?

3. September, October, and November could be very, very crowded

With so many events being postponed until the fall, things will be insanely busy once the music industry ramps up again. What if you have tickets to two shows that have been rescheduled for the same day? If the NHL and NBA get back to business, will big venues be available? Will there be enough in the ways of crew and touring gear to handle the demand? And what about events already scheduled for those months?

4. The tone of music will change one way or another

Pop music has been getting slower, more sombre, and sadder in tone over the last couple of years. It’s possible that the coronavirus will exacerbate the situation as we all commiserate about how we feel isolated, alienated, and alone.

Then again, music might be used to galvanize people against the crisis. That’s what we we saw in the 1960s with the Vietnam War and civil rights protests. Or perhaps pop will get happier as people seek escapism. That was the role of movies in the 1930s when the world was in the depths of The Great Depression.

In any event, it’ll be interesting to watch how the prevailing mood of pop changes.

5. Artists are in quarantine, too. What will that inspire?

Artists in lockdown will inevitably use the time to write new songs. It’ll be interesting to see what we get from musical storytellers, including any new ones that might emerge in the coming months.

The first thing we’ve seen are songs about the coronavirus that are being called quarantunes. (Here are some examples.) But it won’t be long before we move beyond parodies, novelty songs, and tracks about social distancing and washing our hands.

It’s interesting to note that some companies are releasing free music creation apps for people who want to experiment with music-making while they’re confined to home. (Here’s another one.)

6. The language of music will change

With social distancing a thing, will we see a shift away from lyrics that involving physical acts of touching and the swapping of various body fluids?

7a. Speaking of body fluids, dance clubs are under big stress

The number of dance clubs has been shrinking over the last number of years as people turn to apps for hook-ups instead of going through the hassle and expense of going to a club. During a pandemic, a sweaty dance club could be a petri dish of infection. Will they survive COVID-19? And will people come back to dance after all this has passed?

Extrapolating things beyond music, what will this extended period of social distancing do for dating? I don’t think it’s a good idea to be on Tinder right now. Best stick with Pornhub (and people are, by the way.)

7b. And what of other music venues?

All music venues are under stress. How many will be able to keep the lights on? And if they go under, where will artists perform? This also affects promoters, agents, music stores, equipment rental companies, and road crews. This could push more artists to conducting virtual gigs (see #1 above).

8. More people will explore the world of streaming

We’ve started to see changes in behaviour when it comes to the use of streaming music platforms. People seem to be digging deeper into the 60 milion+ song libraries of Spotify, Apple Music, and all the others to help pass the time sheltering place.

This could bode very well for the world of rock and country, two genres that lag behind pop and hip-hop when it comes to consumption through streaming.

9. This could hasten the end of physical product.

Music sales have been on a downward spiral for years. Even before COVID-19 hit, total album sales in Canada were down about 30% year-to-date. And with many stores closed, with Record Store Day postponed until June, and with more people gravitating to streaming, the CD and music retailers could be mortally wounded.

I really want record stores to survive. Godspeed to them. Hang in there.

10. Radio will not just survive but thrive

Need a distraction? Need to know what’s going on in your neighbourhood? Need companionship and a connection to the outside world? That’s what radio is for. It’s there. Use it.

I might add to this list as things occur to me. Your thoughts? Meanwhile, this COVID-19 may not be all bad. Look at this.

UPDATE: This is from Live Nation’s 2019 annual report:

“We may be adversely affected by the occurrence of extraordinary events, such as terrorist attacks or disease epidemics.

“The occurrence and threat of extraordinary events, such as terrorist attacks, intentional or unintentional mass-casualty incidents, public health concerns such as contagious disease outbreaks, natural disasters or similar events, may deter artists from touring and/or substantially decrease the use of and demand for our services and the attendance at live music events, which may decrease our revenue or expose us to substantial liability.

“The terrorism and security incidents in the past, military actions in foreign locations, periodic elevated terrorism alerts and fears from publicized contagious disease outbreaks have raised numerous challenging operating factors, including public concerns regarding air travel, military actions and additional national or local catastrophic incidents, causing a nationwide disruption of commercial and leisure activities.”

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

2 thoughts on “10 ways the coronavirus is going to change music in the coming weeks, months, and years

  • March 20, 2020 at 11:26 pm

    How COVID-19 will affect music might be least of our worries. Apart from people being unhinged by the stress–I’m no financial analyst–but consumers not purchasing goods, the stoppage of trade, and businesses being closed for at least 2 or 3 weeks cannot be a good thing. I have a feeling there’s going to be a stock market crash similar to 1929. Shortage of things we take for granted will ruin peoples day.

  • March 22, 2020 at 9:29 am

    Hey Alan. Any insight as to how all of this is going to affect Ticketmaster? They are going to be refunding a lot of money in the next few months. Do they even have that money anymore?


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