How Technology Might Help Live Music Survive COVID-19
Crafty entrepreneurs and forward-thinking inventors might just smooth the way for a return to concerts and club shows amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
They face an uphill battle, both against an easy-communicable pathogen and general worry: A recent survey showed that just 27 percent of avid fans said they'd return to public venues before a vaccine is widely available. Four in 10 Americans said they'd be willing to wait, even it takes more than a year, according to the Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll.
Reliable vaccinations will actually take longer to develop. Even the prospect of widespread testing and contact tracing is uncertain. That means the suspended music industry – which has come to rely on packed live performances in the streaming age – will have to get creative in order to survive.
Financially, staying shuttered until it's perfectly safe simply isn't an option. The question is whether they can do enough to make fans comfortable with returning to confined spaces for a collective experience.
Some measures meant to provide greater protection for customers and staff are obvious, like the potential for mask requirements. Public hand-sanitizing stations – which three in four Americans said were needed in another April poll conducted by Morning Consult – will likely become far more prevalent.
Other options range from the bold to the wildly expensive to the frankly weird.
For instance, temperature screenings could be part of the ticket-taking process, though the logistics of that are complex and still being worked out. (Sixty-five percent of those in the Morning Consult poll support this option.) Workers taking individual temperatures could be putting themselves at risk of contracting COVID-19, and the painstaking process would inevitably lead to longer lines.
That's led some to more deeply explore emerging walk-through thermal imaging technology, where high-resolution cameras can reportedly detect temps to within a half-degree Fahrenheit. Only people with fever, a potential warning sign for infection, would be pulled aside for additional screening.
A Look at Thermal Imaging Technology
CrowdRx provided this technology at a pre-shutdown corporate event sponsored by Samsung. Flir, the world's largest thermal-imaging technology company, has since reported a 700 percent increase in demand for its product, according to The Telegraph.
Others might implement touch-less technology or install more germ-resistant materials than standard stainless steel. Antimicrobal sprays are being developed to specifically target the novel coronavirus. Autonomous cleaning robots are already being used elsewhere to continuously disinfect public areas.
Still, that kind of high-end technology would likely be reserved for mega-venues hosting the likes of the Rolling Stones, rather than cash-strapped local spots. Individual thermal imaging units, for instance, reportedly range in price from $2,000 to $40,000 each. More intimate spaces like theaters and clubs will likely have to stick with a more measured approach, like an enhanced sanitation regimen.
They'll have to be transparent about those efforts. A whopping 66 percent of respondents told Performance Research recently that they've become more concerned with cleanliness in the wake of a global quarantine.
"Before we open those doors, we have to create new standards and a new seal of approval that show people we actually took the extra steps to sanitize the building — the seats, concourse, restrooms, concession stands and the clubs — and screen our employees when they come into work," Tim Leiweke, CEO of the Oak View Group entertainment facilities firm, told Variety. "That certification has to be standard; it has to be something that people can tap into through their phones and social media, where they understand exactly what standards we have and how we met them."
Almost 60 percent said crowding and close contact with strangers was now in the front of their minds, according to Performance Research. So, some venues might discuss spacing people further out, perhaps a few seats apart or on every other row.
Outside, walk-through disinfectant machines are apparently becoming a trendy new element in this layered approach to fighting the virus.
How the CleanTech Full-Body Disinfection Channel Works
CleanTech has engineered a device with BioEm Air Sanitizing Technology where an automated temperature check is followed by a shower of sanitizing mist. The machine is currently being tested at the Hong Kong International and the AsiaWorld-Expo convention center and concert hall. Company officials say this process kills viruses and bacteria in just 12 seconds.
They're not alone. Resource West Incorporated's PathogenSafe Sanitization System is also designed to provide wide-area delivery of four different germ killers – alcohol, ammonium, bleach and hydrogen peroxide. There are two unit sizes: a larger model for stadiums and outdoor venues, and a lower-trajectory option for smaller spaces.
Xtreme Manufacturing is offering its own twist, called the Xtreme Disinfectant Cube. They teamed with Maddox Defense, a company that has developed human decontamination solutions in the U.S. military's fight against biological warfare.
"It produces a fine mist that goes right on you," Randy Gonzalez, Xtreme's vice president of sales, told Pollstar. "You raise your palms and lift your feet one at a time. When you come out the other side, you're basically sanitized from any bacteria as you enter the facility."
Once inside, fans can utilize Ottogee's smart-wristband technology, which includes a proximity alert and contact-tracing system. Company officials say the data component can trace the virus' origin if a wearer becomes infected.
Of course, none of those measures protect you from getting sneezed or coughed on during your favorite band's set. That's where design companies like Production Club come in.
Their superhero-worthy upper-torso protective apparatus, called the Micrashell, could allow concertgoers to gather without having to stand six feet apart. The company describes this invention as a "virus-shielded, easy to control, fun to wear, disinfectable, fast to deploy suit that allows socializing without distancing."
Production Club has paired it with a clear-shielded air-filtration helmet that includes a wireless voice option and specially designed loading chambers to consume drinks or vape. Lights on the Micrashell could indicate a fan's mood or display messages.
The half-body design is also being hailed as a solution for that inevitable moment when nature calls. "It would be a huge pain to have to take it off every time you needed to go to the washroom,” Production Club's Miguel Risueno told Fast Company. "We also tried to make sure that if you wanted to have sex, it's also something you could do."