Stronger together: how live music venues are emerging from the crisis


At a time when countries around Europe are beginning to ease restrictions put in place to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, it is becoming clearer that live venues are going to be the last ones to emerge from the current crisis. Regardless, the venues behind the Liveurope platform are committed to keep working together to find new ways to fulfil their mission and develop activities to boost European diversity.  

New forms of interactions with audiences 

As taste-makers, live music venues develop a special relationship with their audiences. The lockdown has pushed venues to find innovative ways to interact with them through livestreaming initiatives such as Brakkesyke from BLÅ (Norway), Štream from Kino Šiška (Slovenia), the Art Marathon from Palác Akropolis (Czech Republic), the ‘Live from Nitsa’ from Sala Apolo (Spain), the Online Poetry Slam from FZW (Germany) and Melkweg’s participation to United We Stream (the Netherlands). Another great example of engaging online content are the cooking videos that  L’aeronef (France) and Ancienne Belgique (Belgium) have been commissioning to various local artists.

Above all, the Liveurope venues remain committed to fulfilling what they consider as a public service mission, that is to say, support their music ecosystem and the many music professionals they work with whose livelihoods were on the line due to the crisis. Something Musicbox (Portugal) is doing by working with six independent labels to organise projects and online performances with local acts. 

Concert halls are finding inventive solutions to welcome audiences while they aren’t able to accommodate concert-goers. Rockhal (Luxembourg) has been hosting a temporary COVID-19 treatment centre within its premises, and Ancienne Belgique (Belgium) opened its doors to students sitting university exams throughout June. 

This unprecedented situation brought about new forms of solidarity with more open dialogue in the music sector in particular between agents and venues amidst show cancellations. At the level of the platform, there has been an increase in the appetite for the venues to exchange ideas and possible solutions as they all face similar challenges.

Ground-breaking forms of collaborations are also emerging, as demonstrated by the Liveurope’s Digital Tour, launched to celebrate Europe’s musical diversity for Europe Day. Through this digital campaign, 11 new European acts took over Liveurope and Liveurope members’ social media accounts on the same day and at the same time. This allowed the artists to take the virtual stage of 16 venues in 16 different countries simultaneously and the venues to continue presenting some of the most promising talents of the continent to their audiences. 

The power of live music 

As the lockdown starts to ease, a few Liveurope venues can partially resume some of their side activities: A38 (Hungary) and BLÅ (Norway) have opened their outdoor terraces, the restaurants of Debaser (Sweden) and Santeria (Italy) are welcoming clients once again, and venues like Stodoła (Poland) and Kino Šiška (Slovenia) are looking into hosting outdoor shows. 

But the perspectives of full reopening still seem far away. Operating under social-distancing guidelines would not be sustainable in the longer term, putting the existence of some music venues at risk. For venues like Sala Apolo (Spain) or Musicbox (Portugal), it wouldn’t make sense to be opening under two-thirds of their capacity. For a venue like Ancienne Belgique (Belgium), the 2000-capacity main hall could only host 130 people with the current rules, which would not even allow the venue to break even. These restrictions could also become stricter again in the event of a second contamination wave, and the main viable option to resume full activities still lies in the discovery of a cure or a vaccine sometime in 2021. 

Beyond, it’s the very essence of music venues that we won’t be able to replace. Through live concerts, music venues provide a sense of togetherness, a range of experiences and emotions that cannot be recreated through the internet and a computer’s screen. This is not a luxury; this is a crucial necessity to recreate the social bonds that this crisis has been depriving us of. The new normal will not be accomplished through virtual reality or mere interactions via streaming platforms, but when we will be able to share common experiences again with no fear, nor danger in the intimacy of a concert room. 

The future of Europe’s musical diversity 

It goes without saying the current crisis was remarkable for the shutdown of borders, and the limitations imposed in terms of cross-border circulation and exchanges. 

Even now as the borders are reopening, music promoters will first focus on programming local acts, which can be a great opportunity for the growth of the local music scenes. But will these artists be able to thrive beyond the local spectrum? And will they be able to further develop their careers without touring beyond their borders?

As venues will be heavily impacted by the crisis, taking risks to book new artists from outside their comfort zone will become even more complicated financially-speaking in the future. Besides, their programmes will already be saturated with concerts that were previously scheduled and had to be postponed. Many of these concerts were major international or local acts, which will leave less room for the programming of new talents. 

Facilitating the cross-border circulation of European acts was a challenge that already proved paramount, as shown by the EU study on a European music export strategy. Double taxation issues, the domination of Anglo-Saxon repertoire, and growing concentration in the sector are just a few of the challenges highlighted in the 2019 study. These many hurdles explain why European music does not travel well beyond national borders, even before the start of the crisis. 

By promoting the competitiveness and diversity of the European creative sectors, the Creative Europe Programme from the EU has already enabled the creation of projects addressing this challenge. The progressive bonus mechanism launched by Liveurope was meant precisely to help venues take risks in booking new European acts from unchartered territories and help to promote Europe’s musical diversity.

But what is in store for the future support for the CCSs? In the past weeks, EU leaders have been sending positive messages that our sectors would be strongly supported in the wake of the crisis. And yet, how is that ambition reflected in the proposed EU recovery plan, in a context where the budget dedicated to culture, education and youth is the only one to decrease in comparison to the Commission’s own proposal from 2018? 

What message does this proposal convey in a plan that is actually meant to “pave a strong path” for the next generations of the EU? And how will the EU set up the proposed Creative Europe regulation that was meant to introduce new actions dedicated to sectors such as the music one with such a budget?  

If we want to build a stronger Europe of culture, and defend European creativity, as French President Emmanuel Macron advocated for in his press conference dedicated to the cultural sector in early May,  this also needs to be reflected in the framework programme dedicated to the cultural and creative sectors.

Photo: štream x ŠKUC KSB - THE CANYON OBSERVER, Photo by Urška Boljkovac. Kino Šiška archive.

An adapted version of this article was published by the EUobserver on Thursday, 18 June.