The performing arts, such as music, dance, and theater, are age-old forms of expression common to nearly every culture on Earth. In civilizations throughout history, talented people have performed for viewers with instruments, movement, or voice. These arts have traditionally served live audiences in a physical space, so it’s no surprise that amid today’s technology, many have questioned how the arts can adapt to a digital future.
Economic data does show a decline in public spending for the arts over the past decade. Nonetheless, the industry had continued to grow, albeit slowly, prior to 2020. When COVID-19 arrived, however, the arts took a huge hit. Pandemic lockdowns put tens of thousands of performers out of work as arts organizations had to close, and many were never able to reopen.
Though it forced a worldwide exeunt from the stage, COVID-19 could not draw the final curtain on performing arts — because as they say in the business: “The show must go on!”
The Show Must Go On(line)
Creative people are not ones to go down easily. Artists, organizations, and creative brands have all found novel ways to connect with their audiences online. As it turns out, the same technology that some critics bemoan as stifling to the arts has actually allowed for a revival in the wake of COVID-19.
When lockdowns kept so many people inside and online, actors turned on live feeds, musicians put on virtual concerts, and dancers gave instruction through video. By trading the physical stage for digital platforms, many performers and the organizations they represent were able to thrive during the pandemic by joining the emerging creator economy.
Enter: The Creator Economy
The creator economy is defined as a class of freelancers and businesses that create value by making content. This includes activities other than performing arts as well, like writing, graphic design, or computer programming. With the abundance of digital media forms available, creatives of all kinds can make use of their talents in the virtual marketplace. Opportunities for performers and arts organizations in the creator economy include:
- Virtual events
- Live Streaming
- Video creation
- Social media
- Teaching and coaching
Performers Going Virtual
Although many performers went online out of necessity during lockdown, the pandemic may have just accelerated the existing trend of arts and entertainment moving increasingly online. The digital shift has brought both challenges and opportunities, but there are many examples of artists and organizations adapting their talents successfully:
- A number of dance studios now offer live and on-demand dance classes online. This creates more jobs for professional instructors and makes it possible for anyone to learn from home.
- Music Theatre International is a global agency that introduced options for licensing, virtual ticketing, and live streaming musicals in 2020. The company continues to provide these services for school and community productions, allowing theaters to potentially increase their audience sizes and revenue.
- Marquee TV is a streaming service modeled similarly to Netflix but catering specifically to the arts, such as theater, dance, and opera.
- Virtual concerts, already well-established before COVID-19, have continued to grow in popularity with digital platforms. The metaverse game Fortnite, for example, has hosted virtual performances by real-life pop stars, including Travis Scott and Ariana Grande.
- Though not a traditional performing art, video game streamers perform a type of live act when gaming and engaging with viewers in real-time. The livestream audience is poised to surpass one billion people thanks to the work of creators on platforms like Twitch and YouTube. As for Twitch, the platform has found success in helping streamers build their brand, by allowing them to start streaming quickly and receive payments easily.
Advantages of the Virtual Performance
With the pandemic finally waning, many performances have been able to return to the stage — good news for artists who crave the buzz of a crowd and the glow of the spotlights. But the virtual scene remains as popular as ever and many performers have kept their venues online, enjoying the many advantages that digital platforms have to offer.
1. New Players on the Scene
It’s not just established professionals and organizations that are finding success. Social media has enabled an entirely new generation of digital natives to express their creativity online. These young creators are ushering in modern ways of performing online: dances on TikTok, video blogs on YouTube, or streaming gameplay on Twitch.
2. No Auditions Necessary
As is the case with many industries, the internet has helped break down barriers to access to performing arts. Entry into creative professions has been difficult historically for marginalized groups and for people of lower-income backgrounds. The reasons for these challenges are numerous and complex, but some significant factors are the time and means required to attend auditions, rehearsals, and performances.
These barriers are not so stark for internet stars, however, who can perform from their own homes and build their own following with no auditions necessary and no mandatory schedule. Thus, easier access and a potentially huge online audience have opened up much more room for diversity in the digital sphere than the traditional arts industry ever had.
3. Multiple Ways To Monetize
The arts are not known for yielding particularly lucrative careers, with the exception of a relative handful of the very biggest stars. And while the creator economy isn’t exactly shattering that paradigm, it is allowing more people to make money from creative pursuits.
A number of online platforms offer built-in models for monetization, allowing creators to earn through revenue sharing, subscriptions, or patronage. These platforms include:
4. Affiliate and Influencer Partnerships
In addition to direct monetization, creators can earn money through partnerships with businesses or other organizations. These collaborations can take any of several different forms, including:
- Affiliate marketing: Creators earn a commission on sales completed through sponsored links.
- Influencer marketing: Creators (or “influencers”) make endorsements in their own style to appeal to their unique audience.
- Referrals: Creators promote through word of mouth, and customers may use a code or other input to indicate the referral.
- Product placements: Creators showcase the use of products within the content they create.
5. More Niches for Creativity
With the ability to reach audiences worldwide, performers have much more room for creativity and for pursuing unique interests. With the right platform and methods of monetization, a small but dedicated following might be enough to earn sustainable revenue. Therefore, instead of seeking viral fame, niche creatives known as micro-influencers can find success with a relatively tiny fanbase.
6. Engagement With Fans
As any business professional knows, customer engagement is crucial to every marketing strategy, and today’s digital environment demands attention to engagement on a variety of channels. Similarly, audiences have come to expect high levels of interaction with creators, even in real-time during live performances.
This may seem somewhat ironic, considering that in-person shows typically preserve a “fourth wall” between performers and the audience. Musicians may engage frequently with the audience and interactive theater exists, but the traditional norm on stage is to act quite separately from the audience.
This is not so much the preferred route on today’s digital platforms, where comments and chats enable nearly constant interaction between creators, brands, and fans. This creates distinct advantages such as the ability to personalize content, adapt quickly to changes, and build loyalty with one’s audience.
7. Scalability for Brands
Businesses can enjoy all the benefits of virtual performance through content collaborations with creators and performers. As a brand, managing a growing influencer network may mean dealing with artists and creators from around the world. Scalability of this sort requires global solutions, but it is the best way to leverage the online creator economy, multiplying reach and revenue with creators through a shared audience. Potential advantages include:
- Reaching new markets of consumers;
- Improving diversity and inclusion within a brand’s audience;
- Increasing sources of value and streams of revenue;
- Enhancing brand engagement and customer loyalty.
The Future of the Creator Economy for Performers and Organizations
Traditional performance is not being replaced. There is still demand for concerts, dance, and drama in theaters around the world in the same way that traditional brick-and-mortar businesses will always have a place in communities. So while some artists and brands may never need the internet to survive, many more can thrive in the $15 billion social marketplace that is only continuing to grow.
In light of the ongoing digital transformation, there is a poignant analogy to be drawn for both artists and businesses. They can choose to keep their places on the old stage, but the new stage offers much bigger roles. You can learn more about how to scale and budget for your businesses influencer programs in 2023 with our Influencer Payments guide.