Coronavirus, the cultural catalyst

Daniel Lee, William Baker and Nick Haywood

University of Tasmania

Social distancing has been introduced in many parts of the world as a preventative response to the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, countless performing arts events all around the world have been cancelled. The live music scene, globally, has been all but shut down overnight. This situation has had unforeseen repercussions on the music industries which are already struggling to navigate unforeseen conditions in the wake of constant, and rapid, developments in telecommunications in recent decades. Many musicians have lost their primary income stream and source of livelihood. These developments have caused some of them to consider adopting other avenues of income, abandoning their art, while others have explored alternative modes of income generation from their music during times of social distancing. For many, this has included sharing their music online. Even though these strategies are not new for musicians, the wave of creativity and online sharing that is now occurring as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented.

Many world-famous musicians including Melissa Etheridge, Chris Martin, John Legend, Pink, Diplo, Keith Urban and Australian guitarist and singer/songwriter Orianthi (Ahlgrim, 2020; Urban, 2020) have recently live-streamed concerts instead of face-to-face concerts. Mexican guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela (2020) uploaded a video to their Facebook page after their first concert for five years in their home-town, Mexico City, was cancelled, with the promise of more videos to come in the following days.  It is not just popular music taking to the internet either, Vienna’s State Opera, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York, have live-streamed concerts in recent weeks (Sheridan, 2020). To support struggling live musicians and raise awareness of their plight in these uncertain times, the online music community base Bandcamp (Diamond, 2020) waived their own revenue share for 24 hours on Friday, March 20 stating: “a single day of boosted sales can mean the difference between being able to pay rent or not.”  

The long-term cultural repercussions of responses to Covid-19 are unpredictable because music education has also been affected with many schools closing in various parts of the world. In many cases, instrumental music tutors have moved from teaching face-to-face to teaching online via Skype, Zoom, and other online video platforms. New videos explaining how to conduct online music education have been uploaded to YouTube recently, including videos for educators (Fossgreen, 2020) and videos for students (Hart, 2020). This online teaching paradigm encourages a new level and style of engagement with other online music platforms influencing the sources of musicians’ inspiration (Lee, Baker & Haywood, 2018a).

Live music taking place before COVID-19. Source: Daniel Lee.

Live music taking place before COVID-19. Source: Daniel Lee.

What does all this mean for music culture from a global perspective? The introduction of the internet, and especially the introduction of YouTube, allowed for sharing of music in ways hitherto unseen. Musicians from anywhere in the world can now upload their music to the internet and share it with virtual audiences from anywhere else (Roy, Baker & Hamilton, 2019). This development has allowed an entirely new mode of cultural exposure. However, what is happening in recent weeks is at a much-accelerated level. People without access to live music are turning to the internet for entertainment while isolated in their homes, and musicians, in the absence of live audiences, are using the internet to continue to disseminate their music.

We do not know, and cannot predict, the long-term cultural implications of the social-distancing response to Covid-19. However, we argue that it may act as a cultural propagation catalyst with the potential to spread cultural outputs around the globe faster than ever before. This could have a profound long-term influence on cultural-aesthetic expressions. It has been long thought that online music sharing has the potential to feed the development of a global mono-culture (Carson & Westvall, 2016; Drummond, 2005; Norberg-Hodge, 1999) with Western consumerism potentially overwhelming and eventually eliminating isolated micro-cultures. However, research at the University of Tasmania (Lee, Baker & Haywood, 2019a, 2019b) suggests the exact opposite may, in fact, be the long-term outcome. Greater interest in online music sharing exposes little-known musical micro-cultures hitherto to a larger, newer and geographically more dispersed audience giving cultural diversity a whole new level of expression. An Australian university lecturer in popular music observed the internet has, in terms of cultural geographical boundaries, broken them down and strengthened them at the same time.

After the pandemic has run its course and society attempts to return to something resembling the past, what will live music look like? Live music is integral to local culture and is one factor that individuals seek to feel part of the collective (Kornhaber, 2020). Will musicians and audiences bring new-found global influences to local live music scenes? Australia’s musical culture is already an eclectic collection of inspiration from international sources (Lee, Baker & Haywood, 2018b). How will the latest phenomenon feed future cultural progression here and abroad? It is too early to predict how Covid-19 will influence musical cultural expression globally; however, it is undoubtedly a catalyst for change. The music industry, and associated industries, will need to prepare themselves as best as they can for the unknown. 

References

Ahlgrim, A. (2020, March 20) Artists are playing live concerts from their home amid the coronavirus outbreak – here’s how to watch them [Online article] Retrieved from https://www.insider.com/live-private-concerts-coronavirus-watch-online-music-streaming-2020-3

Carson, C., & Westvall, M. (2016). Intercultural approaches and “Diversified Normality” in music teacher education: Reflections from two angles. Action, Criticism & Theory for Music Education, 15(3), 37-52.

Diamond, E. (2020, March 17). Today, Support Artists Impacted By the Covis-19 Pandemic. [Online Article] Retrieved from:  https://daily.bandcamp.com/features/bandcamp-covid-19-fundraiser

Drummond, J. (2005). Cultural diversity in music education: Why bother? In P. S. Campbell, J. Drummond, P. Dunbar-Hall, K. Howard, H. Schippers, & T. Wiggins (Eds.), Cultural Diversity in Music Education: Directions and Challenges for the 21st Century. (pp. 1-12). Brisbane: Australian Academic Press.

Fossgreen, J. (2020, March 21). How to teach online lessons (for all music teachers). [Online video] Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BuWDBhcD8IE

Hart, D. (2020, March 16). G4 Guitar Covid 19 Update. [online video] Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xyOER2de3lk

Kornhaber, S. (2020, March 19). Pop music’s version of life doesn’t exist anymore: What good are songs about touch and sweat during a pandemic. The Atlantic, March 19, 2020.  https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2020/03/what-good-is-pop-music-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic/607894/

Lee, D., Baker, W., & Haywood, N. (2018a). Instrumental Teacher Education and the Incoming Tide of Information Technology: A Contemporary Guitar Perspective. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 43(5), 16-31.

Lee, D., Baker, W., & Haywood. (2018b) Idiosyncrasies in Australian guitar culture: An examination of developments within the paradigm of popular music. Paper presented at Crosstown Traffic Conference 2018, International Association for the Study of Popular Music (UK and Ireland Branch), University of Huddersfield, U.K. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333564772_Idiosyncrasies_in_Australian_Guitar_Culture_An_examination_of_developments_within_the_paradigm_of_popular_music

Lee, D., Baker, W., & Haywood, N. (2019a). Following Australian footprints in the multicultural landscape: Teaching music educators their potential in cultural maintenance. Paper presented at Footprints – Creating Pathways for the Future, Australian Society for Music Education (ASME) XXII National Conference. University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia, October 3, 2019. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/336242866_Following_Australian_footprints_in_the_multicultural_landscape_Teaching_music_educators_their_potential_in_cultural_maintenance

Lee, D., Baker, W., & Haywood, N. (2019b). 21st century perspectives on geographical boundaries in music communities: A pedagogical response. Paper presented at Winds of Change: Australian and New Zealand Association for Research in Music Education (ANZARME) 41st Conference, Victoria University of Wellington, Kelburn, Wellington, New Zealand. 31/10/19. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/336916555_21_st_century_perspectives_on_geographical_boundaries_in_music_communities_A_pedagogical_response

Norberg-Hodge, H. (1999) Consumer mono-culture, the destruction of Tradition. Global Dialogue; Nicosia Vol. 1, Iss. 1, (Summer 1999): 70-77.

Rodrigo y Gabriela. (2020, March 19) Electric Soul. [Online video] Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/rodgab/videos/2609682239265207/UzpfSTY5NTY2NTg0ODoyODI1MjkwNDA0MjMzNDQx/

Roy, D., Baker, W., & Hamilton, A. (2019). Teaching the Arts: Early childhood and primary education. (3rd Ed.). Cambridge University Press.

Sheridan, A. (2020, March 20) Every concert you can livestream on March 20 during the Coronavirus outbreak. [Online article] Retrieved from https://www.cnet.com/news/all-live-streaming-concerts/

Urban, K. (2020, March 16) Keith Urban Live. [Online video] retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPF_dHS5eM0


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