Online subscriptions and charity donations are easy ways to give the gift of sound this year.
By Rachel Felder
In a holiday season when it may not be possible to hand someone a CD or a boxed set of vinyl, you can always order these gifts online.
But other, potentially more creative options for music lovers abound. Many are particularly well suited to concert fans who have missed going to live events for most of this year: You can give them an online subscription to watch a live or filmed performance in the socially distanced comfort of home, or honor them with a donation to a music hall that is struggling to survive.
The appeal of watching music performances online, while especially resonant this year, isn’t limited to the pandemic. “Even before all the drama, there was a real sense that there are a lot of people who can’t make it to New York or London,” said Susannah Simons, editorial director of Marquee TV, a British-based online streaming platform, available worldwide, for classical music, opera, theater and ballet. “Why should they be denied the opportunity to see these great performances?”
Subscriptions provide access to recorded performances from venues including the Royal Opera House in London and the Teatro Real in Milan and by institutions like the London Philharmonic Orchestra. And while Ms. Simons would not disclose how many the company had sold — a year’s access is currently $90 — she said the number in 2020 more than tripled between March and October over the same period in 2019.
A gift subscription to what the Berlin Philharmoniker calls its Digital Concert Hall, available worldwide, offers both livestreamed performances and archived videos; the $169 price for a one-year service includes a DVD with concert footage.
Idagio, the Berlin-based classical music audio-streaming service, added live concert footage, to be purchased per performance, to its offerings in May. And in mid-November, the site began selling $200 gift subscriptions for a 12-month package that includes unlimited access to its audio streams and concert footage. (The service is available in many countries but some, like Japan and China, are not included.)
For fans of more contemporary music, there are sites like Qello Concerts by Stingray. Its offerings include music documentaries and archival performances by artists like Madonna, Beyoncé, Bob Marley and Childish Gambino; the Montreal-based service, available in more than 160 countries, is $99 for a year’s subscription. And Le Poisson Rouge, a club in Greenwich Village, recently added a subscription option to its website, where concerts by emerging artists like Sunflower Bean and Samia can be viewed worldwide, live and on demand, for $20 a month.
Some websites, like Dice and Nugs.net, offer gift tickets to one-time viewings of live shows online; these concerts are sometimes filmed in an empty theater. Pop artists like Billie Eilish and Niall Horan have also offered virtual tickets to livestreams on their websites. Buying this type of online access as a present, however, can be tricky.
“One challenge is that these livestreams are announced not very far in advance,” said Hannah Karp, Billboard’s editorial director, “so if you want to do early Christmas shopping you might not know what concerts are going to be out there after you give your gifts.”
Audio-only sites like Spotify and Deezer, in spite of their popularity, aren’t well structured for gift giving. “One of the fastest-growing forms of music service are family plans, so you’re automatically covering your immediate family members with unlimited, all-you-can-consume music if they’re in your own household,” said Chris Bierly, a partner at Bain & Company, a management consulting firm. “You wouldn’t give a subscription to your kid, because they’re already covered on your family plan.”
Perhaps with this in mind, Spotify doesn’t offer gift subscriptions to its ad-free premium service, although individual subscriptions can be purchased through third-party gift cards. Apple gift cards can also be used to buy its music-streaming service. (These prices vary by country.) Qobuz, a French website, offers gift subscriptions ($30 in the U.S. and Britain; €40 elsewhere) for two months’ access to its high-resolution music streaming in a dozen countries.
For concertgoers who miss being surrounded by other music fans, there are gift options that help support venues while they’re closed. The 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., for example, sells items like branded tank tops ($15) and bandannas ($10). Melkweg, the Amsterdam concert hall, sells T-shirts (25 euros, or about $30) and tote bags (€10).
“Merch has been an absolute lifesaver for the whole music industry,” said Beverley Whitrick, strategic director of the British charity Music Venue Trust.
“Particularly with a view to Christmas,” Ms. Whitrick continued, “it’s a great time to think, ‘Well, I can’t go mosey around the shops and look for X, Y and Z, but I can buy something fantastic to wear from an artist or a venue.’”
Ms. Karp at Billboard said: “It’s a way that fans can transact with their idols since they can’t actually go see them live. At least you can buy stuff and have that connection. That has become a big thing this year for some artists.”
Or, if you would like to help challenged music halls by making donations in someone’s honor, the National Independent Venue Association has a relief fund for U.S. concert spaces; the Music Venue Trust takes donations for British ones. And donations to Wigmore Hall in London support the chamber musicians who appear in performances that are streamed free on its website. “We’ve created a model where we can pay the artists, because so many of them had no work for at least six months,” said John Gilhooly, the hall’s director.
Another option is a gift subscription to a monthly service like the Rough Trade Club, which sends members a CD or LP each month. Run by a respected chain of record shops in Britain and the U.S., it offers delivery worldwide; price depends on the subscription length and release format. Its curated selection of releases tends toward critically acclaimed alternative-rock artists, like Idles, Weyes Blood and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever.
Among the other record clubs is Vinyl Me, Please, a Denver-based business, which offers a selection of genres, and the Retro, based in Glasgow, Scotland. These ship to many countries, although there may be import duty charges when the package arrives each month.
Although many in-person concerts have already been announced for next year, the appeal of music online — and the need for musicians’ support — looks unlikely to wane.
“I’m not optimistic on early resumption of live events in music in 2021,” Mr. Bierly of Bain & Company said. “I think it’s going to be quite some time before the live part of the industry is back to what it once was.”
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