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New business models could emerge from musicians’ livestream performances

In mid-March, as more Americans were ordered to stay home to slow the spread of the coronavirus, a sense of foreboding started to creep up on British rocker Yungblud.

His US tour — set to kick off in April at the Coachella music concert in Indio, Calif. — had just been canceled, and his Asia tour had been nixed before that. He was starting to worry that his source of connection to the world — namely, performing music — could be put on hold indefinitely.

“I saw what was happening to the world. Everything was closing down drastically to the point where everyone was going to be stuck inside. Tours were being canceled left, right and center,” said the 22-year-old.

That’s when he decided to put on a variety show centered on live music, but also including a drinking game and a cooking lesson, via YouTube for his house-bound fans. Within 72 hours, Yungblud broadcast the show, which he likened to a “punk rock Jimmy Fallon,” from a Burbank, Calif., studio using a handful of artist pals and a crew outfitted with gloves and masks.

“I had over 300,000 people watch over the hour, which is three f—ing stadiums,” he said. “It is the biggest concert I’ve ever done.”

The musician, who plays before crowds of 2,000 to 10,000, garnered so many views “the show paid for itself” — despite the fact that Google-owned YouTube is known to pay its contributors just a fraction of a penny per view.

The coronavirus pandemic may have brought the curtain down on musical shows around the world, from Dolly Parton to Iron Maiden, but music is still being performed for anyone with access to a smartphone. And while the majority of online music shows are currently being offered free of charge or for charity, the trend is paving the way for a new business model.
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Yungblud performing in February 2020
Yungblud performing in February 2020Getty Images

“The artist community is going through a very disruptive event, like everyone,” one music executive told The Post. “Most of the activity is focused on charity, but it could be an inflection point in bringing together the audience and the artist for livestreaming to emerge as a business opportunity.”

Some the biggest beneficiaries so far have been tech companies like YouTube, Facebook Live, Instagram’s IGTV and Twitch, which are suddenly streaming live music by the industry’s hottest names, including Elton John, Billy Ray Cyrus, John Legend, Diplo, Marshmello, Miley Cyrus, Dua Lipa and Metallica.

Not to be sidelined, music label Universal Music Group, which reps Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Jay-Z and Kanye West, is developing a platform for its artists to “syndicate” livestream performances simultaneously across multiple platforms, like YouTube and Facebook Live, a rep from the company told The Post. Artists are expected to start using the platform as early as next week, the rep said.

The service, which has yet to be named, will allow artists to communicate with fans and issue calendar alerts for streaming shows. It will also let them sell merchandise and seek donations to charity.

UMG will undoubtedly create a for-profit revenue model at a later date, but what it will look like is not yet clear. When asked about making money off the service, UMG only said that streaming rights are owned by the label and that royalties are agreed through its contracts.

Bandsintown, a Web site that notifies music fans about when their favorite artists are coming to town, transformed its business in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak into a site that lets artists alert fans about their upcoming streaming gigs.

“We reshuffled the product map in two weeks,” said Fabrice Sergent, co-founder and managing partner of the site, which works with a database of more than 530,000 artists and 55 million fans.

Through a partnership with Twitch — an Amazon-owned platform known for live-streaming people playing video games — Bandsintown musicians can now have fans tune into their channel to see performances, like the March 27 living room dance party with electric dance-pop duo Sofi Tukker.

The platform lets fans watch their favorite artists free of charge and only earns money if viewers “tip” through virtual coins equal to 1 cent per bitcoin. After paying Twitch an undisclosed share of tips, the rest is currently being donated to the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund, a charity for out-of-work musicians.

“I’m sure we will see a lot of variations in the coming weeks,” Sergent said. Artists, for example, may soon seek to make money by amassing subscribers who pay to be members of their private channel, or through advertising revenue or selling merchandise while streaming.

Yungblud, whose real name is Dominic Richard Harrison, is planning on another YouTube concert from his home studio in London where he is quarantined.

But he hasn’t profited off his live performances, and he’s not planning to so long as the coronavirus outbreak continues and he has food to eat. “It’s not on my radar to make money from that,” he said, before adding: “If I was about to go broke, these performances are a way I could see making money.”

When asked if he sees a future for livestreaming his music in a post-coronavirus world, the singer-songwriter, whose debut single “King Charles” was called “a protest song for the disenfranchised working classes,” didn’t miss a beat.

“Absolutely. I want to make this regularly occurring,” he said. “As soon as everyone gets out, it’s gonna be f—ing pandemonium. It’s gonna be like the ’70s punk movement. It’s gonna be awesome,” he said with some consideration. “I mean, as soon as there’s a vaccination.”