What Will Live Music Look Like in 2021?

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Between venues shuttering and festivals facing major postponements, the pandemic has certainly changed how we experience live music. While 2021 seemed like the light at the end of the concert-less tunnel months ago, things are looking dicey again. In the United States and Europe, big-name artists have cancelled (rescheduled) tour legs, and businesses, like concert venues, remain in a state of limbo.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, the music and entertainment industries were among the first to grind to a halt, leaving countless promoters, booking agents, venues and musicians out of work. While the COVID-19 vaccines are offering some assurance that, one day, we’ll be social creatures again, the timeline remains unclear. After all, being in large crowds — something that so defined the exciting, energetic concert-going experience — feels frightening these days. So, we’re asking the questions: When can we hope to see the return of live music — and what will musical performances look like during 2021?


When the pandemic forced thousands of independent music venues throughout the United States to shut their doors, things couldn’t have looked bleaker for the future of live music. Luckily, a key organization, the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), stepped up to help folks weather the storm.

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NIVA consists of over 3,000 independent U.S. music venues, all of which came together in an effort to survive. The group was able to garner massive support for the Save Our Stages Act (S. 4258), a bill led by John Cornyn (R-TX) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) in the Senate, and (H.R. 7806), which was led by Peter Welch (D-VT) and Roger Williams (R-TX) in the House of Representatives. In the end, the bipartisan bill provided billions of dollars in relief and tax credits for struggling indie music venues. While this was incredibly helpful in the short term, these types of relief can’t keep venues afloat indefinitely.

Will Live Music Return in 2021?

As we all remember quite well, 2020 saw the mass cancellation of a huge number of music festivals and tours. Initially, some festivals, including Coachella, pushed their dates to 2021. At the time, this kind of rescheduling seemed plausible, but, now, it’s hard to imagine that events of that scale will happen in the U.S. in 2021.

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Rolling Stone reached out to Stanford’s Dr. Dean Winslow, an infectious disease expert, for answers. “No one really thought back in April that we’d still be in such a dire situation by the end of the year,” Winslow said. “A vaccine is a huge proponent of getting us through this. When a large number of Americans have this vaccine — we’re talking late spring, summer, maybe even early fall… It’s very optimistic we’d be back to full-venue outdoor concerts perhaps by next fall with social distancing and mask-wearing, but the indoor environments are high threats. I don’t see us filling concert halls or theaters until maybe even early 2022 before people can feel safe indoors.”

While this may be good news for those in the world of outdoor entertainment, the future of indoor venues remains largely up in the air. Many hope that President Biden’s vaccine rollout plan will prove a greater success than that of his predecessor, but the early days of 2021 have left many Americans stuck firmly in the “we’ll have to wait and see” phase. And, of course, feeling envious of countries like Australia, where live music — and, generally, a fairly COVID-free way of life — has returned.

What are Artists Doing During COVID-19?

The COVID-19 pandemic has inarguably wreaked havoc on the world of music, affecting artists at every level of the industry. Fortunately, the CARES Act was designed to provide relief for unemployed or underemployed independent contractors, as well as those who lost work from traditional employers.

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This doubtlessly helped keep many artists on their feet, but it also forced them to look for new ways to reach their audiences. Livestream concerts have proven popular among big-name musicians, such as Christina Aguilera and John Legend, who raised more than $120 million to help fight COVID-19. In March 2020, Coldplay’s Chris Martin took to Instagram to raise fans’ spirits with a concert — all in the palm of their hands.

But while livestreaming may have proven lucrative for music’s biggest celebrities, things are a lot tougher for lesser-known gig musicians. Nonetheless, many independent artists have tried their hand at livestreaming and, in doing so, have attempted to raise money from donations. Others are posting to an artist-owned platform called Ampled, which provides fans with an easy way to donate money to their favorite musicians. For many, however, the ability to make an income off of such virtual ventures — and a whole lot of merch hawking — just isn’t comparable to live performances.

How You Can Help Support Musicians From Home?

If you’re a music lover who has the means to help those struggling in the independent music industry, there are a variety of ways you can go about it. Just thinking of it this way: If there wasn’t a pandemic going on, you’d likely drop money on concert tickets, merch and more.

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Here are some great ideas to consider:

  • Buy Music Directly From Your Favorite Artists: Many musicians sell their music through sites such as Bandcamp and Gumroad. These sites tend to take the smallest percentages of each sale, with most of the payment going directly to artists.
  • Attend Livestream Concerts: Want to stay on top of all the latest live music streams? Head over to Songkick, where you can check out a complete list of upcoming virtual events. Songkick is a particularly great resource when it comes to supporting independent musicians. While you can attend most virtual performances for free, many musicians provide links that show fans how to donate or buy their music and merchandise. Billboard also has a similar list of live performances, though it’s mostly geared toward larger-name musicians, many of whom probably don’t need the support are much.
  • Become a Patron: Patreon is a site that allows musicians and other artists to create their own subscription services for their fans. When you sign up to support your favorite artists, they’ll earn a reliable monthly income and you’ll receive things like exclusive content and rewards in return. In short, everyone wins.
  • Donate Directly or Through a COVID-19 Relief Fund: Many artists, particularly independent musicians, have set up Venmo, Paypal, or CashApp accounts, which allow fans to donate directly. But there are also a vast array of programs that have been established to support the music industry in general. For a full list, check out Arts.gov. Programs range from the Sweet Relief fund, which provides financial assistance to musicians and music-industry workers, to funds like the COVID-19 Blues Musician Emergency Relief Fund, which allows you to donate to artists who produce specific styles of music.