What’s Next for Music Venues?

We have reached a point in the pandemic where most non-essential businesses have resumed operations. Shops, bars and restaurants are all welcoming customers once again – but what about nightclubs and live music venues?

It’s a question on many people’s minds, including our own. Here, we look at the latest government information and make some predictions on how live events could operate moving forward.

Latest Government Information

Boris Johnson has just announced that live indoor performances will resume from Saturday, having been delayed from 1st August. To the frustration of many, little information regarding nightclubs has been provided.

The announcement is certainly a step forward. But for most grassroots venues its still not financially viable to open with social distancing measures in place. Even with VAT being slashed from 20% to 5% for all hospitality businesses, including clubs and venues, it’s not enough to recoup the losses induced by months of closed doors. We’ve seen initiatives such as ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ launched by the chancellor to boost struggling bars & restaurants, but little for music venues. 

Back in early July, the Government announced a £1.57 billion rescue package for arts & cultural institutions. While it’s a step in the right direction, much of this comes in the form of loans, not grants. Britain’s museums, galleries, theatres, independent cinemas and heritage sites, all need to share this in addition to music venues. It’s simply not enough. 

The live events industry, which contributes billions to the UK economy and employs up to 1 million people, needs more support. Social campaigns including #SaveOurScene, #LetTheMusicPlay and most recently #WeMakeEvents have sought to highlight the issue. For more information on what you can do to help, click here.

Based on existing government guidelines, here are some predictions on what future live events could include:

1. Outdoor events will be actively encouraged

Scientists strongly believe that there is a lower chance of transmitting the virus in outdoor environments. The government has already made it easier for businesses to trade outside, as we discussed in our ‘4th July’ blog piece. This is fine for bars & restaurants who can spread out onto pavements and car parks, but it’s simply not practical for large crowds.

Some venues do have ample outdoor space to hold a concert, but for others it may need to hire or collaborate with another venue. The UK’s first socially-distanced music venue has just opened in Gosforth Park, Newcastle. The Virgin Money Unity Arena spreads 2,500 fans across 500 spaced-out platforms:

This isn’t the only event that’s had to adapt. We are currently working with Greenwich Comedy Festival, who have moved their 2020 edition to the lawns of Greenwich Maritime Museum. A carefully spaced outdoor seating arrangement has replaced the Big Tops of previous years.

The entire live events industry will need to be more flexible and creative about how they stage shows. Realistically, we know going outdoors isn’t practical for a number of venues, or for fans. The unpredictability of English weather is a factor, as is the complexity of acquiring a license to hold an outdoor event.

2. Seating-only events

Many life-long music fans will argue that sitting down at a concert detracts from the experience and atmosphere. Unfortunately, seated concerts will become the standard, at least from a short-term perspective.

With seating it’s a lot easier to maintain social distancing, as opposed to a crowd of people who are free to move around. Cinemas are operating with an empty seat in-between each visitor, or by clustering households together. If your venue has seating installed already, this is mostly likely the model you’ll have to follow.

The concept of ‘social bubbles’ has been used a lot in government’s rhetoric during the pandemic. This has practical applications in seating arrangements. Greenwich Comedy Festival are only selling tickets in pairs. Their proposed seating area is divided into ‘blocks’, along with staggered arrival times:

The audience area at Greenwich Comedy Festival has been split into four completely separate blocks – each with their own colour code, entrance & exit points, toilet & hygiene facilities & dedicated PPE-adorned staff.

Of course, the main challenge all types of business are facing is that social distancing measures reduce overall capacity. 100 standing fans take up far less space than 100 seated, socially-distanced fans. Nevertheless, customer safety must take priority over profits until the virus has been defeated. Large crowds of dancing fans can only return once social distancing measures have been removed.

3. Advance tickets will play a huge role

The idea of spontaneously attending a gig could be over in the age of Covid-19. Advance tickets provide a chance to collect customer information. This is mandatory to aid with local contact tracing efforts.

Pre-booking should be actively encouraged regardless of the pandemic, as it allows you to gauge attendance numbers and adapt your marketing efforts accordingly. But now it’s more important than ever.

For nightclubs in particular, staggered arrival times could go hand-in-hand with advance tickets. Many club events already offer tiered tickets that have varying entry times. but this may become more commonplace for all types of events. Staggered arrival times reduce queuing times and allow you to better control the flow of fans in and out of your venue.

We understand that many nights out aren’t meticulously planned out beforehand. The best way to still allow on-the-door tickets would be to implement a scannable QR code that takes fans straight to a contact information form. No one wants to extra hurdles for potential customers, but venues have few other options until the rules around contact tracing relax.

Concluding words

In many ways, it’s too early to make any serious assumptions about what the future of music venues looks like. While this is partly due to the government’s emphasis on other parts of the economy, it’s mainly because hospitality is intrinsically linked to close-quarters social interaction. The audience plays a huge role in creating the experience that fills venues in the first place.

What venue owners, artists and fans can all agree on is that no one likes an empty club.

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