Tia Lowe, Reimagined Futures for Howard University News Service
In the wake of the Covid-19 global pandemic, the music experience has changed drastically. In-person concerts (some fans’ favorite component of music) are almost non-existent. Washington, D.C., a popular location for the world’s biggest artists to perform has faced some harsh realities over the past year. Venues like: Twins Jazz, U Street Music Hall, and 18th Street Lounge are just a few of the many casualties lost to the virus. According to an article in Forbes magazine, the concert industry is likely to face more than $30 billion in losses.
While some of D.C.’s most admired concert venues are closed indefinitely, the impact goes beyond the physical building itself.
Hundreds of staff members and artists that bring life to these venues are without a portion or the entirety of their expected income.
The culture of how live music is consumed has been altered tremendously in the past year. A live performance now has a different meaning.
Today a live concert is watching musicians stream themselves from an often undisclosed location.
Local D.C. artist, Chief Ventura has been impacted by the pandemic. Before coronavirus shut down the world, he was playing gigs and recording songs regularly.
“I had plans to go to New York to work with the different artists and on my EP.”
Despite the sudden and year plus changes, Ventura said the layoff has afforded him time to work on his artistry.
“[The pandemic] has made me dive deeper into my work as an artist. I’m looking forward to dropping an EP and a catalog,” he said.
Quarantining and social distancing has forced the music industry to create innovative ways for fans to engage with music and its artists. Billboard’s staff created a running list of shows and musical events to stream from homes across the country at the beginning of 2021. These shows were now familiar to music streamers who had already grown accustomed to watching ‘concerts’ in their living rooms.
Jeremiah Collins, an entrepreneur saw an opportunity in the disruption that the pandemic brought on. The owner of ONLe Vibez created an online space for local artists to do what they love: perform. Taking advantage of the newly socially-distanced world, Collins utilized his venue located in College Park, Maryland that once hosted concerts and opened his business venue to create music experiences similar to NPR Tiny Desk: At Home and Colors Studios.
A producer, stylist, and former DJ, Collins used to host underground house shows at his facility in College Park. His business’ “ONLe Sessions” is a result of the studio that Collins was initially renting out for shows and pop-up shops. “[The studio] prepared me for this opportunity that Covid-19 presented,” Collins said.
Before the pandemic, artists were booking sessions with his studio. However, the lockdowns meant that people had to stay home and all large gatherings stopped. “All of the cancellations resulted in my business being $10,000 in debt,” said Collins.
However, his expansion of ONLe Sessions has kept him in business. The success so far of his business has also allowed Collins to have been able to donate to homeless individuals in need. “We have been able to feed 1,200 families with donations to local food banks,” said Collins.
Unfortunately, not all businesses have been able to thrive in the new Covid-19 conditions. U Street, home to multiple locations like its namesake Twins Jazz and U Street Music Hall have been devastated by the tragic year. Twins Jazz had been in business over 30 years before having to close. Unfortunately, their three-decade history was not enough to withstand the pressures that came with the pandemic.
A street over from U Street sits the 9:30 Club on V Street. Before the pandemic, the venue’s staff was looking forward to celebrating its 40th anniversary. Now the pandemic has forced them to put their current employees on half-pay in order to maintain their business.
I.M.P an independent concert promotion and production company that oversees events in the D.C. area has been impacted by cancellations and the disruption caused by the pandemic.
Named I.M.P. after the 1963 Lesley Gore hit “It’s My Party,” their website states that, “I.M.P. …puts on shows for 500 to 50,000 fans at a time.” In addition to overseeing events at the 9:30 Club, I.M.P. is responsible for the production and execution of events at various venues around the DMV area.
“We’ve had to furlow some of our employees” due to the virus’ impact on the concert industry,” said Audrey Schaefer, communications director at I.M.P. and board member of National Independent Venue.
As the pandemic drags on for more than a year and the country pivots towards reopening, it will take some time before concerts and their venues are back. D.C.’s plan for reopening currently sits at phase two. While vaccinating has begun, there hasn’t been any indication that they will be opened in D.C. anytime soon.
As of April 19, 2021, service is open for indoor dining at 25 percent capacity, outdoor dining, and carryout and delivery at restaurants. It is expected as vaccination numbers increase there will be further alterations to the Mayoral order.
While some venues have shut down, the 9:30 Club has also managed to remain open because it owns the building it operates in.
A long-standing music hot spot, 18th Street Music Hall, unfortunately, did not have that same privilege. It was about to celebrate its 25th year in business before having to close its doors..
The owner of the hall, Farid Nouri said that they could not remain open with no gigs.
“Landlords want to rent business or not,” said Nouri.
Moving forward Nouri is prepared for things to look different even if he were to open the doors back up at 18th Street.
Howard University student Mayah Odom believes the lack of live performances in venues has taken a toll. As a member of the Howard University Gospel Choir, she resonates with the many business owners and performers that have had a significant part of their passion stripped away from them.
“Performing over Zoom isn’t the same… [I] don’t feel the connection until we are able to see all of our parts in the final video,” she said.
A recording artist herself, Odom who is referred to as Mayah Dae on stage said it is hard to not perform.
The conditions that Covid-19 has forced onto society are by no means easy, but music has accomplished to innovatively adapt to the changes; despite the hardships of the year.