Concerts, tours could become ‘virtual’ experiences following coronavirus pandemic, expert says

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As the global coronavirus pandemic forces many music industry players to navigate a new normal for artists and their revenue streams, company executives are desperately trying to drum up new and innovative approaches for generating income, especially as many musicians are struggling to find their footing during the work stoppage.

A large income driver for artists and music labels alike is the live event and concert model, which, by the current look of it, could be in jeopardy of not continuing as they once did.

Given the uncertainty of what’s to come on the touring front, Jon Niermann -- an entertainment industry expert with more than two decades of experience expanding the international business arms of EA and Disney -- spoke with Fox News about the direction he sees live concerts heading in, which, according to Niermann is virtual.

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“I actually think that is going to be one of those periods where we look back on a perfect example when they talk about unintended consequences and what has come out of this – that I do think that on the music side and artists via virtual touring and virtual fan interaction – is something that has been a really good thing that will continue to stick around,” Niermann -- who is the current CEO of Los Angeles-based Loop Media, which is responsible for providing music videos and visuals to venues such as Hard Rock Cafe, Yard House and Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, nationwide -- told Fox News on Friday.

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“I think more of the fan interaction side is, obviously, a more intimate type of gathering. So I think that's a very good and interesting positive that's going to be happening,” Niermann continued. “The touring clearly has taken a big hit and who knows when that's going to be fully pieced together. Like a Live Nation – I was reading something from [CEO Michael] Rapino about that and he was talking that it's at least six months and then smaller venues and states, it's going to be awhile. And so, therefore, I think the virtual part is going to allow artists and fans to get a lot closer to each other, in my opinion.”

Overseeing the merging of music and video games for titles including the FIFA franchise, Niermann predicts an industry that caters more to artists and their ability to reach more fans via virtual concerts and provided an in-depth look of what a similar event might look -- for the artist and the end-user, even after the return of live shows.

Mariah Carey is seen in this file photo. Music industry executives believe the future of concerts and touring will be greatly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Mariah Carey is seen in this file photo. Music industry executives believe the future of concerts and touring will be greatly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.  (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

“I think you're going to see a hybrid of both. And I think you're going to be able to see artists give more concerts because of virtual concerts. And I think they will do it and I think they will embrace it,” Niermann explained. “Let's say an artist goes down to the Conga Room in Los Angeles – where we'll use that as a stage – and then on the Loop app, you've got a virtual audience that essentially is onstage, that they can go backstage.

“The artist can choose from that virtual audience who comes on stage," Niermann noted. "The kind of interaction of just randomly selecting some fans. So there's a really great interaction that can happen with technology today and virtual fans that makes it feel real and frankly, a much better experience than maybe a hundred yards away from the stage through big speakers and screens.”

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Niermann added that he believes since there "is a lot of appetite in between those concerts to have these moments," virtual performances or what the industry is calling "sessions" will be "something that's going to stick big time.”

But before such steps can be made, Niermann maintained that rigid executives need to be willing to take larger swings and bigger risks in order to maximize monetizing new artists -- as well as established artists -- and their talents.

“Music and video games have sat well together for decades and are just continuing to grow in those areas. So I just think that you have to be able to go and connect the dots in a different way if that makes any sense than what they're used to,” Niermann suggested. “And some of the people can be really conservative – and I'm talking about executives. I was a corporate executive for 22 years and I witnessed it a lot.”

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“A lot of people are afraid to kind of rock the boat or make waves or think of new ideas,” he lamented. “It's just easier to kind of manage the company line as opposed to go out on a limb with new initiatives. So I think that we just need more people that are kind of free-thinking and willing to experiment.”

One of those experiments recently paid dividends for Niermann’s operation, which has since catapulted to new heights.

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“We partnered with Twitch initially and we did an association with MusiCares for their Grammys charity arm. So between those two, they really helped us extend their reach and bring more eyeballs to our platform,” he said. “So there's no reason that other professionals within the industry, be it management, agents, labels or networks – you can do a lot more to use this time with all the streaming going on to provide opportunities for really the rising stars.”