Coronavirus: Fans turn to online streams to get their dose of music concerts

Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli rehearses in an empty Duomo square on Easter Sunday. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - On Easter Sunday this year, Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli performed Amazing Grace to an uncharacteristically empty square in front of the Duomo cathedral in Milan, Italy, as part of Music For Hope - a free 30-minute concert for a world under lockdown.

While there was no one there physically, millions from around the globe were tuning in to watch the concert's livestream on YouTube. At its peak, there were 2.8 million concurrent viewers, making it one of the biggest musical livestream performances of all time and the largest simultaneous audience for a classical livestream in YouTube history.

Whether it is a global event like Bocelli's Music For Hope and the recent star-studded One World: Together At Home, or an intimate weekly livestream session from American band Death Cab For Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard's home studio - the face of concerts, tours and festivals has changed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Neither major, international music highlights like Coachella and Tomorrowland - nor concerts on the local front, including those by Green Day, A-Ha and Stormzy - have been spared, with cancellations and postponements announced.

But not all is lost. As the pandemic continues to keep much of the world indoors, there are now free music shows one can view from the comfort of home as artists, also homebound, use platforms like Instagram Live, Facebook, YouTube and Zoom to stay connected to fans.

Some, like rock bands Metallica and Radiohead, are digging into their archives and sharing never-before-screened full-length concerts in their entirety.

It seems going online has galvanised the artists as well.

In a pre-recorded message before one of the streams, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich said: "I hope that everybody out there is doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances... I hope that Metallica is helping at some level with all the craziness that you guys are going through - it's certainly helping at this end."

And Death Cab For Cutie's Gibbard told Rolling Stone magazine the weekly broadcasts have "given (him) purpose".

He said: "In these uncertain times, it's been really helpful to me and my mental health to know, 'Okay, it's 4pm, I got to have a job. I can't disappoint these people. I have to get on the computer and play music.'"

Several public health experts in the United States have said that concerts will not be safe to attend "until fall 2021 at the earliest", so watching gigs online might be something music fans have to embrace.

Avid concertgoer Arisya Sulaiman, 32, likens these unfiltered livestreams, which are generally stripped of fancy production, to "intimate bedroom sessions". So far, she has caught streams by the likes of American pop stars JoJo and John Legend, and Malaysian singers Yuna and Sheila Majid, mostly via Instagram Live.

"The sessions are so candid, down-to-earth and relatable. They may not be (full) concerts, but they are a new level of fan service," says the post producer. The last gig she attended was by London jazz group Ezra Collective on March 3 at 222 Arts Club.

"It's still a world away from the experience of watching the artist in concert, because you don't have the professionals to balance the audio, but the dialling in by other artists to collaborate live is cute," she says.

Some fans go the extra mile to turn watching from home into an event. Marketing manager Lily Kim, 29, sets calendar reminders and has "strobe lights and drinks on standby" as she tunes in to the weekly livestreams by Belgian dance music festival Tomorrowland.

Meanwhile, tech editor Chesca Tan, 29, has been looking forward to watching Japanese rock band One OK Rock, who are streaming six past concerts via YouTube Premieres until the end of May. The band's gig at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on May 9 has been postponed.

"To get in the mood, I definitely need to watch it on my TV in high definition and have the speakers up to get the full experience - as much as a living room can provide," says Ms Tan. "I also have my friends on FaceTime beside me so we can try to cheer together."

Keep yourself entertained with these concerts you can watch while in isolation.

Warner Music's PlayOn Fest

The Warner Music Group is hosting a virtual music festival to raise money for the World Health Organization's Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund, with a three-day livestreaming event comprising footage from their vault for a one-time only viewing.

Kicking off at midnight on April 24, the 72-hour run will feature performances by over 60 of the label's stars, including Ed Sheeran, Cardi B and Lil Uzi Vert.

There will also be never-before-released footage, including from Coldplay's Sau Paulo stop on their A Head Full Of Dreams Tour in 2017.

Watch it here.


Legendary American heavy metal band Metallica are showcasing some of the best performances in their catalogue via full-length concerts streamed every Monday (United States time).

A pre-recorded message by one of the band members kicks things off, where they share an anecdote about why the show or set list was special.

So far, shows ranging from Copenhagen in 2009 to Paris in 2017 have been streamed.

Watch it on their Facebook page or here.

Calvin Harris - Love Regenerator Livestream

Superstar Scottish DJ Calvin Harris is taking it back to his roots - and away from the festival-friendly electronic dance music - playing uptempo house music and plenty of previously unreleased material under his new Love Regenerator alias, as he livestreams from his home.

He has released three streams so far, with each session lasting between 1½ to two hours. While streaming, Harris also interacts with fans and takes requests.

Watch it here.

Gary Barlow: The Crooner Sessions

Take That frontman Gary Barlow has been showing off his list of famous friends and collaborators via his almost daily duets, performed over a video call.

Released at 5pm (British time) every weekday, his list of guests so far have included former Take That member Robbie Williams, former One Direction member Niall Horan, and music industry veterans like Cliff Richards, Lulu and Brian May.

Watch it on Twitter or Instagram and here.

#StayHome with Radiohead

The English band is releasing a new full concert every Thursday evening until social distancing is over, starting with shows from Dublin in 2000 - circa the Kid A album, where they had several songs about isolation - and Berlin in 2016.

Watch it here.

#KeepMusicAlive sessions by Timbre

The Timbre group, best known for its live music venues, is recruiting its house bands like NationOne and The Switch Gang to continue to serenade you with cover songs almost daily via "virtual music jams" at 8.30pm. Head to their Facebook page for more information.

Watch it here.

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