This article uses data from concert-diary to analyse the impact of this year’s Covid-19 restrictions on classical concert activity in England. The website concert-diary.com is a listing of (mainly classical) concerts, primarily in the UK. Any concert promoter is able to submit details of their events, so, whilst not covering all UK concert activity, the listings include a wide range of small and large concerts, in various formats and genres, from across the country. Historical data on the site goes back to the year 2000.
Data was collected from concert-diary by searching 1-week periods from the start of 2019 to the end of 2020,1 and noting the number of events listed in England. The geographical restriction was to ensure that the data corresponded to a homogeneous set of Covid-19 restrictions (apart from regional differences). Four searches were performed for each week, one with no search term (thus listing the total number of events), and three with the words “cancel”, “postpone” and “online”. In what follows I have treated both “cancel” and “postpone” as cancelled events.
It is likely that some events contained more than one of these terms – e.g. a cancelled online event, or a cancelled previously-postponed event. Some live events might also have been broadcast online. It is also worth bearing in mind that not all cancelled events will necessarily have been marked as such on concert-diary – it depends whether the promoter changed the entry – so in practice the level of cancellations is probably understated. Nevertheless, with these caveats in mind, the data tells the story of a turbulent year for live music.
The following chart shows the number of events by week. Live events are in yellow, online events in red, and cancelled events in grey. The total events for the same week of 2019 are shown by the dotted grey line. It is worth noting that there were no online events in 2019, and none marked as cancelled or postponed.
2020 started off in much the same way as the previous year. However, from the week before the UK went into lockdown on 22 March, a large proportion of concerts were cancelled (or, perhaps optimistically, postponed). It took until May before online concerts started to be advertised on concert-diary, but from the middle of the year they were dominant. The spike in cancellations in July is perhaps related to concerts postponed from earlier in the year. Despite some easing of restrictions around this time, it remained difficult or impossible to perform indoor concerts in most parts of the country, so any remaining events were cancelled before the usual August quiet period. Interestingly there was a significant spike in activity around the beginning of November, just before the start of the second national lockdown, and another (with more live events) in the run-up to Christmas.
The following three charts show these trends as proportions. The first is the proportion of cancellations – over 50% from April to July, but falling back as promoters switched to online events (as well as becoming generally more cautious). The second shows the proportion of events that were online, which has been around 80% for most of the second half of the year, with a brief dip in late summer when live events once again became possible in some parts of the country. The third shows 2020 activity (live and online) as a proportion of the previous year. There has been an 80% fall in the number of concerts this year compared to last (and perhaps 95% in the number of live concerts, if we allow for the proportion online).
Because this data only covers the total number of events, it does not take account of factors such as the size of the concert. It is likely, for example, that concerts taking place later in 2020 were primarily for small forces, with few (if any) events for large orchestras or choirs. It would be possible to refine this analysis to examine this issue and other similar questions (such as variations in different parts of the country, the types of venue, or the repertoire being performed).
Even in normal times, it can be challenging to break even financially with a classical concert, especially one with lots of performers or an expensive star soloist. The sharp drop in activity in 2020, combined with smaller audience sizes, lower ticket prices for online events, and additional costs and risks associated with the Covid-19 restrictions, is surely likely to prove catastrophic for many artists and performing groups.
At the time of writing, with tightening restrictions and talk of further lockdowns, there is little prospect of a recovery in live concert activity in the immediate future. Maybe this time next year the data will show some recovery in the market, but until then it is hard to say how much has permanently changed.