Monday, August 10, 2020

Inclusive Livestreaming: Let the Music Play On (beyond this pandemic!)


I’ve written before about my absolute passion for live music. Growing up and life beyond has been based around listening to music, attending gigs of friends and bands I admire. I have more recently had to embrace a different way of attending gigs and the last two years have been spent attending gigs in my power chair and prior to that in a manual chair or at least seated. Since 2009, attending live music became a challenge. Not insurmountable but a challenge none the less. Attending live music events suddenly became unchartered terrain, navigating a landscape that was no longer meant for me. But where there’s a will there’s away and with encouragement I grasped the nettle as it were. 

I learned that I needed to ring venues for tickets and a friend would also pay to enable my attendance and enjoyment. In time, I found out about the CEA card from a venue, a subscription service with which venues will accommodate all disabled adults with a free supporting ticket in this way. This card also works with attendance to theatres and cinemas. Click below for the link.

I've learned that disabled parking is usually quite good - if not like the krypton factor to find sometimes - as long as you have a current mobility badge. Initially, as I like being right down at the front, I hated being placed up on a platform but it's something I am used to now and while I hate being 'visible', we’re usually joined by like-minded wheelies and people who need a seat during the performance. I'm no longer stuck at the back with little or no view or having the drama of my chair being lifted up/down stairs or being placed in storage while I sit on a stool or step pointed out to me by well meaning barstaff - this is not great for payback (PEM: Post Exertion Malaise) believe me! 

However, many chronic health conditions are terribly unpredictable. Along with my attendance to some gigs are many hidden and costly no-shows where I'm just not well enough to attend and so others are sent in my place or the expense is lost. I will watch a blurry recording of one or two songs uploaded onto band sites but missing the gig itself is always a kick in the teeth.

But then came this pandemic. Suddenly, the music industry had to solve huge issues of performance, visibility and creating revenue when the very idea of a gig with a live audience was impossible due to the real and pressing health risk of coronavirus.

Solutions began to be 'found' that disabled people had been advocating for a long time. Musicians streamed mini-performances on Facebook and YouTube initially with an option to donate what you thought to watch and enjoy. I was able to watch from the comfort of my home without the rigmarole of getting ready, travelling, waiting and the inevitable payback for a few days after.

For a long while, concert tickets were pulled and gigs rescheduled for hopeful dates in 2021 yet the band communities on social media created spaces to perform their favourite songs. I watched some of my favourites perform - I was able to watch socially distanced performances from my sofa such as Bang Bang Romeo, IDLES, Christine and the Queens, Bellowhead, Sheafs to name but a few.

As lockdown continued, pay-per-view events began. Nick Cave at Alexander Palace was a huge event for many of my friends and peers, with other bands developing ways to reach their audiences. Don’t get me wrong, streaming live performances has been possible since 1993 after engineers managed to stream a gig to the adjoining room for a band called Severe Tire Damage in Pal Alto, California. The Rolling Stones were one of the first major bands to start streaming and began streaming gigs to fans the following year.   

My own first knowledge of this was as a friend was setting up Show Stream UK in 2017 and a fab local band Hands Off Gretel offered streamed performances for a much lower price so I was able to watch at home. I know many bands who have always been mindful of access and have been as inclusive as was within their powers, yet why, if there have been solutions since the advent of streaming and live internet performances since the 1990s has this not been offered as a matter of course to all?

Concert streaming is our new normal for now - yet this was only made mainstream when able bodied fans were affected. There are so many tools at our disposal to reach all fans and yet it has taken this pandemic to create a new awareness. Necessity is the mother of invention after all. Necessity to the masses of course, but let's not look back as we're not going that way, hopefully. Musicians are being offered ways to widen their visibility and offering live music to those who can’t attend - for whatever reason - can only be a good thing. Streaming offers another venue stream and tickets for physical or virtual attendance can be appropriately priced. 

Budgets can be created for tours and performances to include streaming, whether that’s on a small or multi-camera scale and then online access priced to accommodate this. Smaller independent venues are being hit hard as gigs being cancelled threatens the survival of these places. Local venues such as The Cutlers Arms, Rotherham, offer free streamed performances each weekend, yet in time they may charge a nominal fee to increase their own revenue and that of the bands'. Virtual DJ nights have become popular each weekend with DJs such as Algie Joseph and Jarvis Cocker giving those of us in lockdown a way to be involved in a community event and dance in our living rooms to our favourite tracks.

This current wave of community is nothing new, but has certainly been highlighted during these troubled times. The streaming of music events must continue and should be allowed to flourish while this pandemic continues and indeed beyond. Full inclusivity to live music through streaming could and should become a permanent positive for us all.

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