COVID-19 in the Industry: Professor Paul Kwant on Music and Entertainment Business

Artists and managers are re-emerging with livestream, house concerts, and virtual opportunities.

As the spread of COVID-19 continues to keep us in quarantine, it is also profoundly impacting the industries around us. Among those most effected is Music Entertainment Business. To help us understand how the changes are shaping his field and classes, Ferris State Professor Paul Kwant discussed the trends he is seeing.

Professor Kwant explained that in many ways COVID-19 put the industry on hold. Since a lot of opportunities to perform have been cancelled, it has had an effect on paychecks and experience. “The live space has been the bread and butter for a majority of our students,” he said. “When you have venues like 20 Monroe Live, and the Intersection, Pyramid Scheme…a lot of these venues offer our students internships and part time employment opportunities.” Even radio and music streaming services have seen decreases in use as individuals turn to video-based services like Netflix. Life has also changed for larger or more established acts or artists, who may need to put out more creative content in order to stay afloat financially.

However, with a little bit of creativity, Professor Kwant explains that the industry can pull through. “Artists and managers are re-emerging with livestream, house concerts, and virtual opportunities,” he explained, citing the development of hologram concerts and mediums like Stageit, where audience members can leave tips for performances. And while they may take a little extra digging, internship opportunities certainly do still exist. “I had six new students find secure virtual or remote internships this week,” he said regarding the job search.

We’re built to be social, so I don’t know about the larger colosseum concerts…but I definitely think that outdoor concerts could be the saving grace for late summer or early fall.

Artists are also using the time to create new content and are finding new ways to collaborate from a distance. This allows us to look into the spaces and lives of artists. For example, Brad Paisley is taking the time to get to know his supporters by joining their Zoom calls. Professor Kwant also expressed that the quarantine is a good space to institute change: “I think it’s a time to step back and reflect on the things that have worked well in the past and the things that can work well in the future. What’s nice is there isn’t an immense need for pressure and doing all things ‘right now’. We have the time to do it right.”

Professor Kwant also suggested that the ripple effect from the virus will keep impacting Music Entertainment Business for a long time to come. One way this is evident is in large concert venues. “I do think the dynamic of the major event concert is going to change,” he expressed. In particular he brought up temperature scanners and disinfectant sprayers that are being produced for the entrances to larger events. “They are really looking at different technology to overall make the concert experience more personal, more safe and inviting,” he suggested. “I think they are really going to start putting these practices in place soon.”

After the quarantine ends, Professor Kwant mused that there may be a large surge in live music. “Personally, I think people have been cooped up for weeks, and they are going to want to get out and see some type of music,” he said. “We’re built to be social, so I don’t know about the larger colosseum concerts…but I definitely think that outdoor concerts could be the saving grace for late summer or early fall. And if not this summer, spring or summer 2021.”

Students rise to the challenge…you all are a technology-based generation, you have been multitaskers since you were born.

In the classroom, Professor Kwant has relied on email, Canvas, and support staff to communicate with students. He conveyed that what has been most difficult is adding a personal touch to the content. By switching content to Canvas early in the year, he felt fairly prepared and could upload YouTube videos, voice recordings, and support documents. “It kind of feels like a lecture, but you can’t really see the student reactions…are they sleeping through it? Are they enjoying it? Are they yawning?” he said of the process. There is also the difficulty of covering complex content in the new environment; Professor Kwant specifically cited role playing and learning how to control a sound board as difficult tasks to complete via video conference. “We’re missing that hands-on component that we’re really known for,” he explained.

But there are perks too: including flexible class hours. “If I’m an online student…if I’m an evening person, I can do my homework at night,” he explained. “So I think that’s been a benefit for the students.” Since technology has been different for everyone, he has also added flexibility to his courses in some ways. But regardless, since the switch to digital classes students have to put in time to connect with material in a more intentional way. “Students rise to the challenge…you all are a technology-based generation, you have been multitaskers since you were born,” he said, suggesting that these circumstances have been a bit of a crash course in task management and efficiency.

If history shows itself like it has in the past, the industry has always come forward stronger then it was before.

In addition, the flexibility has been helpful for instructors. “I’m blessed to be surrounded by faculty members and program directors that really care about their students,” he said, crediting his colleagues for the smooth transition.

When looking to the future of his program, Professor Kwant hopes that students will open up and socialize more. “I’m hoping that students will value socializing with each other more,” he explained. “We’re all in this as a group and we can really benefit from relationships in our industry.” As he learned from his own personal college experience, these connections can prove extremely valuable down the road. When the program comes back together, students—and people in general—may band together and place new value on human interaction. “I miss feeling the energy from our students. We have a whiteboard with silly polls in our office…that makes it feel more like home.” The Music and Entertainment Business program is also the only program that has a lobby area for students to hang out and refine their craft. Going forward, Professor Kwant hopes the space is utilized even more.

To the students affected by COVID-19, Professor Kwant has a few words of advice: “Hang in there…we’re going to get through this. Let’s take this time to reflect on who we are, where we want to get in the industry, and how we want to get there.” He particularly recommended taking a beat for self-reflection and further exploring the industry you are interested in. “We have the luxury of a little extra time right now,” he said, mentioning that this pause could be invaluable to our future careers and self-development.

Ultimately, while it feels like everything is on hold right now, it will not last forever. And, as Professor Kwant said: “If history shows itself like it has in the past, the industry has always come forward stronger then it was before. I think [after the quarantine] there will be many exciting new opportunities.”