Music

As coronavirus restrictions are relaxed, the future of live music in Japan looks rocky

by James Hadfield

Contributing Writer

However optimistic you feel about the future of live music in Japan, especially with the lifting of the state of emergency across the country, one thing is for certain: Nobody will be crowd-surfing anytime soon.

The typical concert venue here is exactly the kind of environment epidemiologists have been warning us to avoid: cramped, stuffy and full of people jostling and shouting to make themselves heard (and that’s just the band).

It’s hard to imagine a way of making such places coronavirus-proof without making them go out of business in the process. Enforcing proper social distancing would mean drastically limiting audience numbers, leaving organizers with the choice of either jacking up ticket prices to eye-watering levels or losing even more money than they were already.

Many venues were already taking basic precautions before the state of emergency was declared: providing hand sanitizer, asking people to wear masks, keeping doors open for ventilation and performing temperature checks at the entrance.

Such measures look set to become standard practice, and don’t be surprised if some take it even further, whether that means collecting information from customers to help with contact tracing or having artists perform behind plexiglass shields. Osaka prefecture has even recommended the ultimate buzzkill: keeping audiences seated.

Mid-sized venues, which look set to take the biggest financial hit, could get headliners to play two sets as a way of spreading out the audience — though they may be reluctant to pay performers twice for their efforts.

None of these steps will completely eliminate the safety risks. In the continued absence of a vaccine or effective treatment for coronavirus, the issue is more about whether those risks can be effectively managed. Some people will probably prefer to stay away from venues altogether, especially if officials continue to recommend against going to gigs.

One format that looks set to become more common is a sort of hybrid concert, in which musicians perform to a small live audience while others watch online in real time. Venues that have invested in streaming operations over the past few months may find that the effort pays off in the longer term, while ticketing platforms such as Zaiko have shown that it’s possible to monetize online events.

Will that be enough to pay the bills? Probably not. Without government support, the venue closures announced in recent weeks are likely just the beginning.

In line with the nationwide state of emergency declared on April 16, the government is strongly requesting that residents stay at home whenever possible and refrain from visiting bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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