[This post originally appeared on MusicTechPolicy.]
MusicCanada commissioned an outstanding survey by Abacus Data using serious data-driven methodology to credibly measure the Canadian public’s experience with the COVID shut down of live music and expectation for reopening. Instead of glorified “Who’s Hot”-level casual polls you see cropping up here and there, The Locked-Down Blues: Canadians, Live Music and the Pandemic sets the gold standard for the kind of data-driven serious national opinion study that policy makers can actually use to plan how to get out of this corner.
The study measures many different factors, including the more intangible questions of what trust level fans will require before they come back to live music. Regardless of what distancing or contamination standards are imposed, none of that matters much if the fans don’t trust it enough to come out to hear live music in cities like Toronto and Austin.
For example, the study found this reaction:
DESPITE WANTING TO GO, CANADIANS, EVEN THOSE WHO LOVE LIVE MUSIC, SAY THEY WILL BE RELUCTANT TO GO BACK TO LIVE MUSIC EVENTS BEFORE A VACCINE FOR COVID IS FOUND.
Even if they are permitted to go to live music events, many Canadians, including those who love live music the most, will be reluctant to return for some time.
We asked respondents how soon they will feel comfortable enough doing several activities, once physical distancing restrictions are lifted. In almost all cases, fewer than 40% said they would feel comfortable in a few months or less. For most, the time horizon was much longer with many saying they may never feel comfortable again.
For example, 43% said it would take six months or more before they would feel comfortable going to a music festival or a concert in a large venue. Another quarter said they may never feel comfortable going to those types of events again.
I find it hard to believe that there’s going to be an appreciable geographical distinction between Canada and any other country on these issues. But this study provides a gold standard for other studies in other countries, all of which should be done and done using a robust and defendable methodology.
So let’s be clear–this study is giving you the hard truth. It is not some Chamber of Commerce hoorah or conclusion-driven clap trap. It also tells us that the idea that you can just turn the lights back on and people will flock to the clubs may be looking at the wrong ball. It has serious implications for the entire music industry across all genres.
But–it especially has serious implications for cities like Austin that get significant economic benefit from music tourism. Given that the City of Austin commissioned the Austin Music Census in 2015, another robust data-driven study that produced unwelcome dire conclusions, it is astonishing that the blinking red light in the Census was completely ignored. Not only were Austin musicians poorer than the City seemed to think they were, the entire local ecosystem was essentially dependent on live music. For example, streaming was a negligible source of revenue for Austin musicians–think maybe someone would have wanted to look into that issue as a matter of industrial strategy? And is there anything about the “Live Music Capitol of the World” that gives you a clue that maybe you might want to start thinking about why all the eggs were in that basket? As Mark Twain said, if you’re going put all your eggs in one basket, watch that basket. Or at least don’t ignore it.
Since the City did such a thorough job of ignoring the Census for so long, I wonder if they’re going to be able to figure out how to solve the current crisis. Or if maybe somebody actually would like Austin to turn into just another college town with a Google campus, self-driving cars busily scraping rider data while stacked up on I-35 and Uber Eats Your Soul.
We can be grateful to Music Canada for commissioning this study and getting it out at the perfect time for policy makers to have some meaningful data driven reality conducted in a manner that could stand up to peer review like the Austin Music Census. And show the world the gold standard for how to develop policies that actually solve a problem because you better know what the problem is you want to solve.
Here’s the survey: