Planning for the future 2b: Events with a public audience

This article is part of our COVID-19: Planning for the future resource.

When and how will these be possible?

It is likely that public performances will be possible a bit further down the line than meeting for rehearsals, but the good news is that this is an area of huge concern for all music venues and festivals, from the Royal Albert Hall to the smallest grassroots venue in your area, from Glastonbury to the Presteigne Festival, and of course for all professional bands and music ensembles that earn most of their living by performing live to audiences.

These big money earners (for the UK economy) have been and continue to put pressure on the government to come up with guidelines which will enable live music and theatre to become possible once again. There are now also models to look at from other countries which are ahead of the UK in terms of Covid-19, e.g. South Korea where venues stayed open throughout, and countries where they have re-opened.

So guidance and conditions will undoubtedly come out in the next couple of months on this – the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is now consulting the sector and many organisations, including Making Music, have fed into these consultations, via Arts Council England (ACE) or specific task groups set up by devolved administrations, as has happened for instance in Wales.

Making Music has also flagged during consultations that many members rehearse or perform in venues that are not dedicated arts venues, e.g. churches or community halls. We were pleased to learn that this is something on ACE’s radar, so they have been giving the message to government that guidance is needed not just for a venue’s primary purpose (e.g. church services), but also its other community uses.

What might public events look like in future?

Looking at performers

  • All the risk factors and possible mitigations considered in Planning for the future 2a: meetings and rehearsals will apply here, and in addition:
  • Are your performers (your group members, any professional musicians) willing to be part of an event where the public are admitted? That may cross a threshold they are not yet able or prepared to cross; ascertain their willingness first
  • How can you make it safe for your group to perform with the public in the building? Look at
    • arrival/departure times
    • entrances/exits
    • toilets and hand-washing facilities – separate for performers and audience?
    • changing rooms/space to leave instrument cases/personal belongings – arrive in concert outfit, e.g.
    • address the question of refreshments – bring your own?
    • is the stage or platform large enough to keep a distance between performers and between performers and audience
  • What will the musical outcome be in terms of quality – is it even possible and is it acceptable to your Musical Director
  • Consider outdoor performances (could this be the year of the bandstand….); they might present fewer (or more easily addressed!) challenges:
    • Discuss performers bringing their own refreshments, chairs, music stands, etc.;
    • But also what would the quality of the musical output be and would your Musical Director be willing/able to make it work?
  • Remember in some places you may need a license/permission  to perform, and PRS will be due on public performances

Looking at audiences

What is clear from a recent survey of 86,000 audience members is that the confidence factor will, just as with your own group members, play a major role. And for some of us, the venues we perform in present additional difficulties – e.g. lack of ventilation, toilets and hand-washing facilities in churches and other community halls. But take heart, in South Korea venues remained open throughout and audiences never faltered, due to strict testing and contact-tracing measures which inspired visitors with confidence. So it is technically possible – but may not be entirely in your hands to make it happen, patience may be required.

  • Talk to your audiences – if you have a mailing-list, consult them; if many of them remain fearful of leaving their homes and attending public gatherings, it may not be worth your while to stage an expensive event just yet
  • Consider what experience they would have if they attended:
    • musically, you might not sound your best if you are spaced far apart and/or not up to full numbers
    • socially, audiences also come to talk to each other and sometimes to performers; if they can’t do that, will they still want to come?
    • refreshments: you may not be able to offer these initially
  • Your MD will need to feel that s/he can present a credible musical experience to audiences or they may not wish to be part of this, understandably, so as not to jeopardise their professional reputation

Hybrid live/digital

In England, the government’s blueprint for coming out of lockdown phase 2, from June onwards, foresees the possibility of performances (like sports matches) behind closed doors but broadcast to audiences. So the next step may be a performance with your group in one space, but the audience elsewhere. This is likely to be possible earlier than live events in front of a live audience, even if June seems optimistic, given the current lack of government guidelines.

  • Consider therefore: if your group is up for performing and your usual venue is happy to have you, you could stage a concert and livestream it to your audiences (and a wider public) in the comfort of their homes
  • Such a hybrid proposition (performers in one place, audience elsewhere) has the benefit of live performing together and something for your group to work towards, without incurring the additional risk containment measures involved in admitting members of the public to a building
  • Is this technically too hard? Help is at hand from Making Music and we can also connect you to professionals who can help; contact us

Other considerations

Venues: are likely to be a difficult factor to manage, as for rehearsals. You will be dependent on their risk assessments, their ability to open and manage public access, their cleaning capacity, their terms and conditions – which may not chime with your views on safety.

On the other hand, many venues cannot survive without bookings, so they will be keen to open again as soon as possible – but can they do it safely or to the safety standard that you as a group want to set for your members and/or audiences?

Consider contracts: cancellation clauses in case of a second outbreak, for instance, or if guidance changes for public events, or if one of your group falls ill and therefore everyone has to self-isolate

Contracts: as well as the usual things you would consider, just as with venues, make sure that you discuss and include cancellation clauses and/or changes and postponements with all your sub-contractors, including your music professionals.

Event-specific finances: If you can only livestream or are only allowed to sell fewer tickets, but have to pay for extra cleaning, provide additional safety measures (hand-sanitising gel etc.), is a concert still a financially viable proposition?

Planning for the future 3: Options and planning 


See also:
Planning for the future 2a: Meetings and rehearsals

We hope you find this Making Music resource useful. If you have any comments or suggestions about the guidance please contact us. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the content of this guidance is accurate and up to date, Making Music do not warrant, nor accept any liability or responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the content, or for any loss which may arise from reliance on the information contained in it.