Indie artists and huge labels alike are figuring out how to create a “concert experience” in 2020. When COVID-19 shutdowns swept the country in March, many turned to acoustic sets with virtual tip jars, in living rooms and on back porches. It felt intimate and unfiltered, offering fans a chance to see their favorite artists up close and personal, without lights and stages. But after a while, artists and fans alike started missing the lights and stages. There’s something humanizing about seeing musicians play from the comfort of home, but there’s nothing like watching a full show. So, as the novelty of quarantine livestreams wore off, some artists started getting creative, dreaming up ways to play “big shows” even without crowds actually in the room.

Virtual concerts differ from livestreams in many ways, of course — but one of the biggest perks of performing from a soundstage is providing work for so many team members who have been furloughed due to the lack of touring. Bringing in lighting and sound technicians, as well as touring musicians, allows artists a creative way to bring work to the people they often labor with on the road without ever hopping into a bus or catching a flight. Of course, these events are profitable for the artists, too – often in ways that a YouTube tip jar simply can’t provide. Fans are happy to view a show with all the bells and whistles, even if they’re not physically present, and there are a few different ways to get them to show up. When figuring out how to market this virtual show set-up, I’ve found artists typically fall in one of two camps. 

Playing “Local” Shows

Some artists have opted to keep selling tickets by location, even as shows have shifted to a virtual format. There are some perks to this choice, including the ability to partner with local sponsors. Sponsorships are still a key element to shows, even virtual ones, so targeting specific audiences with causes and partnerships that matter to them locally is a good selling point. Additionally, marketing to a fanbase in a specific location offers the ability to create a tailor-made show. Asking attendees to vote on a setlist makes them partners in creating their city’s experience, and other attendees in the chat will be local, allowing for connection.

Playing “Global” Shows

Perhaps the most lucrative virtual option is playing a show that’s marketed to fans all over the globe. By opening up ticket sales to anyone, anywhere, artists offer fans who may live in a small town without a venue, or an ocean away without the ability to ever attend a physical show. The reach can be much wider with this method, and the potential to partner with bigger sponsors exists here. However, it is also true that there’s less freedom to curate a location-specific experience when fans are watching all over the world.

Regardless of which route artists take, I do believe there’s a great market for fully produced shows in 2020. In a time when merch sales and other revenue streams are likely taking a hit, connecting with fans in this way is a great avenue to make a living playing music, even when artists are largely unable to hit the road in a way that’s financially lucrative. It doesn’t matter whether you opt for a global audience or a targeted crowd, local sponsors or major nonprofit organizations — just get to a soundstage and create an experience. It’s a great way to remind yourself why you love playing shows in the first place, and a great way for fans to connect with you until they can see you in person again.