How willing are fans to pay for virtual music shows?

With no return date for shows in sight, artists and music enthusiasts are adapting to a new way of experiencing music together through virtual shows. Whether it will keep everyone satisfied and paid is still unclear. Staff Writer GOSEGO MOTSUMI reports

Since the shutdown on the performing arts imposed by COVID-19 last year, artists have been gravitating towards familiar social media platforms to mount online stages. There was an observable development where streams were mostly free with the aim of easing both artists’ and revellers’ nerves and the online streaming service became more ambitious when some embellished it with good lighting and camera angles at different venues.

As the pandemic stretched into the new year and a new strain of the virus emerged, it became clear that concerts full of crowds wouldn’t be returning any time soon. Virtual concerts became the stage of the new normal, which begs the question of whether patrons will be willing to pay for a virtual music experience and how much the streams edge close to the experience of a real show.

Just last year, the founder of contemporary folk band Sereetsi & The Natives successfully hosted an online concert styled Serubing Live Sessions. “The Natives,” as Sereetsi fondly refers to his legions of supporters, fans and audiences, made monetary contributions to the concert while they enjoyed a front row seat to his unplugged live sessions online. They managed to raise about P6 000, all of which was donated to the COVID-19 Relief Fund.
This publication interviewed music enthusiasts from all walks of life about how willing they are to pay for a virtual concert. The answer was a resounding yes from most people followed by a qualifying “but.” “Yes, I would as long as it is a reasonable amount, considering the current financial strain on all of us due to COVID-19,” said PR professional and creative, Tanlume Enyatseng.

He added that a virtual music concert should be an experience for the viewers, giving them more than just singing in front of a camera. There are some artists such as William Last KRM, Mpho Sebina, Moonga K, Charma Gal and ATI who put out projects last year but didn’t get a chance to promote them with live performances because of the pandemic. “Robust marketing of events is needed across all mediums, just like Afro Punk Jo’burg did last year,” Enyatseng said.

For media personality Tefo Nombolo, balancing performance and fan interaction might change her mind about paying for a virtual show. As with all live events, the run of a show is paramount as artists go deeper with fan interaction. “I would pay because I know the artists need the money but normally I would not because the experience is just not the same,” Nombolo said. “What would persuade me to pay is if artists engage the audience more and make them a part of the show. For example, a shout-out from the artist would be great.”

For corporate executive Aobakwe Rakhudu, a virtual show can never measure up to the communal sway and sweat of an in-venue experience. He watches little television and doubts if he will ever pay for a virtual show. “My suggestion, however, is that I would pay if the virtual is showing on a screen at a venue and the same show is taken to a different location with fewer crowds,” Rakhudu said. “For me, it is about the crowd. I would get bored watching a show alone on my device.”

Founder of the Botswana International Music Conference (BIMC) and industry veteran, Seabelo Modibe, says the industry is currently in a reset mode as everyone is currently strategising. COVID-19 came and showed that the industry was not as developed in Botswana as it is in other countries where it is operating.

“As long as artists don’t have a digital strategy and don’t engage professionals to that end, they might as well be doing this music for themselves,” said Modibe. “This strategy also helps artists to convert their current followers into consumers of their craft. The year 2021 has overhauled everything we know and we need to approach things differently.”