I did my first in-person interview since March last week, at the interviewee’s request, a sure sign that the music business is finally inching back towards normality.
Despite the social distancing and extra precautions involved, the resulting chat was a reminder that, sometimes, you can’t beat a bit of good, old-fashioned human interaction. Despite all the sterling work done over Zoom, Teams, Hangouts et al over the last few months as the music industry continues to work from home, some of that connection inevitably gets lost when the person you’re talking to is on a phone screen rather than in the same room.
Nonetheless, the restrictions aren’t about to go anywhere, and – with fears of a second wave of coronavirus growing across Europe – the industry is taking steps to virtually replicate some of its essential functions.
With proper gigs still off the agenda beyond the odd experiment, and even those now pushed back, I’ve enjoyed the recent trend for virtual showcases (particularly the ones where they deliver snacks to accompany your viewing). But, despite the delights of Melanie C sending round a pie and a pint, it’s still not quite the same as crowding into an intimate venue, catching up with the industry and experiencing the music exactly as it was intended.
The longer we stay apart, the bigger the danger that the industry’s vital human connection becomes a thing of the past
These are the obvious signs of the changing music industry under the new normal but, in truth, the human side of the biz was already being phased out of many sectors. The rise of streaming platforms means algorithms usually win out over personal recommendations, and you can expect AI to play an increasingly prominent role in composition and songwriting. Even in A&R, once the industry equivalent of putting everything on a single spin of the roulette wheel, many decisions are now guided as much by raw data as they are by gut instinct.
That's not always a bad thing, but the longer we stay apart, the bigger the danger that the industry’s vital human connection becomes a thing of the past. How many innovative ideas or game-changing strategies have been lost due to dodgy WiFi or the lack of spontaneous water cooler conversation?
We’ll never know but, as we wait for restrictions to finally ease, it’s important that the industry remains in touch with hearts and minds as well as eyes and ears. By all means continue to Zoom in, just make sure you don’t zone out.