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When Will the Gigs Come Back?

The segment of pro audio most visibly hit by the pandemic has been the sound reinforcement industry, with thousands of live sound pros out of work overnight, with no gigs ahead for the foreseeable future due to tours put on pause, shuttered venues and bans on large gatherings.

How are you? These days, that’s a welcome and yet loaded question. If you’re reading this, you’re still above ground and that’s not a bad start. I say that only partially in jest though, because let’s face it—there’s not a lot of room for kidding around these days.

As I write this, we’re a little over a month into the U.S. COVID-19 pandemic, with essential businesses across the country either still closed or getting by with employees working from home. For recordists, that means taking on any work they can scrape up and tackle alone in private/home facilities. Many post audio pros are likewise working from home with mixing rigs taking over their living rooms. Senior content producer Steve Harvey caught up with numerous professionals for his cover story and other tales recounted in our Recording and Post/Broadcast sections—stories that highlight the frustration of the times and the sparks of ingenuity that overcome obstacles in our way. Some of the solutions shared are admirable and others are just plain amusing, but they all illustrate the human capacity to persevere in hard times.

Related:
How Pros Are Livestreaming During the Pandemic, by Clive Young, April 22, 2020
Audio Post Perseveres Despite Pandemic, by Steve Harvey, April 20, 2020
Software Tech: Livestreaming in the Age of Pandemic, by Craig Anderton, April 17, 2020 

The segment of pro audio most visibly hit by the pandemic, however, has been the sound reinforcement industry, with thousands of live sound pros out of work overnight, with no gigs ahead for the foreseeable future due to tours put on pause, shuttered venues and bans on large gatherings. With high-profile squabbling between politicians on when and how to reopen the country (and the occasional pandemic expert trying to get a word in edgewise), it’s hard to tell when gigs will grace stages again.

Venues are closed not only for the safety of audiences but the crews as well, though it’s a tough pill to swallow when the bills are piling up. That said, I’ve talked to a number of live sound pros over the last month who either contracted COVID-19 or knew someone who had, and the general consensus is that a pile of bills is a comparative luxury to being at death’s doorstep. I recount one such story as an example in our Sound Reinforcement section this month.

At this moment, the mayors of New York, Los Angeles and New Orleans have stated they don’t want any big events—major league games, concerts and the like—held in their cities until 2021, while Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health is now suggesting that fall 2022 might be the earliest that large events return if we don’t find a vaccine before then. Harvard cites that as a worst-case scenario, but the thought of 18 months without arena-packing, shed-swelling tours is enough to send a shiver down the spine of the most tour-hardened road warrior (not to mention the audio manufacturers who keep them armed with gear). No cities or states have actually said they are banning large gatherings that far down the line—but that’s only as of mid-April as I write this.

Related:
Roadie Rescue Aims to Aid Pros Who’ve Lost Gigs, March 19, 2020
Live Nation to Aid Concert Production Pros, by Clive Young, April 3, 2020
Recording Academy Establishes COVID-19 Relief Fund, March 18, 2020

With scant information currently available to the public and the lack of any stated (much less agreed upon) plans for reopening the economy, for now it looks like non-essential businesses will start to go back to work in stages across the summer, which means well before a vaccine is available—so COVID-19 and the brutal statistics it engenders will still be with us. Nonetheless, that means live sound vendors who have diversified with system design, installation and AV integration divisions will be able to at least partially go back to work.

It’s also a fair bet that bans on gatherings and events will slowly be lifted with increasingly larger headcounts allowed as we measure the cause-and-effect of doing so, which means local and regional live sound providers will probably be the first to come back online, tackling small gigs, weddings, corporate events and the like. While everyone is aching to stop sheltering and start having fun again, will the public feel safe enough to go out? Will it actually be safe enough? That remains to be seen. When will the gigs come back? Not a second too soon—except it might be.

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