Safety strikes a chord: A refocus on travel in music

The music industry is evolving into the virtual space with safety now a top priority, says CEO and founder of indie label Heads Music Madeline Nelson.

Heads Music CEO Madeline Nelson. Image credit: Supplied
Heads Music CEO Madeline Nelson. Image credit: Supplied

Traveling was part of everyday life for Madeline Nelson, whose U.S indie label Heads Music represents artists including Wyclef Jean, until COVID-19 hit.

Since then, she said it’s been a very strange feeling trying to balance the business of recording and promoting musicians in a country that is effectively in lockdown.

“We’re always on the road, it’s the core of our business honestly so it feels strange, it feels really weird to have been at home for this long,” she said.

While it’s been a tough learning experience for those who’ve traditionally relied on performing at independent venues, Nelson said many have embraced the restrictions with a renewed sense of creativity.

“Indies have had to learn forever to be agile and how to pivot and do things for themselves and I really see indies grow in a time like this,” she said.

“I see many artists getting even more creative, because even though they were doing things online, now they have to figure out how to do more, now they have to make up for what they can’t do on the road.

“That is a drastic shift on the live performance front and on the music release front.”

Making and recording music at home has become the new normal for many musicians. Image credit: yanyong/iStock
Making and recording music at home has become the new normal for many musicians. Image credit: yanyong/iStock

Safety over convenience

Nelson said she’s been told not to start booking in tours for her artists until at least June, but said she wouldn’t be surprised if that date gets pushed back even further.

And when that happens, Nelson said, safety will take a greater priority over convenience for artists.

“What we’ve talked about a whole bunch is that we will do much more ground transportation than we have been doing,” she said.

“You just feel so much safer that way than being in the big airports or being on a flight with a whole bunch of people and having to wear your mask for that long of a period of time. 

“That’s going to be the biggest shift for us, is just thinking so much more about what really is the safest version of travel, thinking more about safety than convenience.”

Nelson said the importance placed on safety when traveling won’t diminish in the future, even when the virus is no longer a dangerous threat.

“What we have learned is how easy it is to catch any kind of virus, there’s all these precautions that we just were not taking…to keep ourselves safe,” she said.

“When we started using Blacklane we saw such a huge difference…everybody is safe, everybody has always had hand sanitizer in the car.

“There’s a huge difference when you’re able to be with a car service that is thinking safety first for you, even when you’re not thinking of it yourself.”

A new way of thinking

Could the tour bus make a comeback? Image credit: juananbarros/iStock
Could the tour bus make a comeback? Image credit: juananbarros/iStock

Nelson said ground transportation might also evolve to re-introduce the tour bus, which she remembers fondly from her days working with R&B group Blackstreet.

“Back in my Blackstreet days, we had this incredible tour bus where we built a recording studio in the back of the bus so…we could record on the road,” she said.

“DJ Khaled, when I was working with him, for a long time…(he) would only travel by his tour bus, he wouldn’t fly.

“I really believe the tour bus is going to come back hard and heavy.”

In the same way artists should be diversifying their transportation options, Nelson said it was also time for musicians to start working on diversifying their music promotion platforms and embracing their online audience.

“We have figured out that this is a real thing, these virtual shows, this new level of intimacy, this ability to bring a crowd to you at any time by just clicking on your phone, this works as well and people have been monetizing this now,” she said.

“I do not think it will replace it (live shows), I do think it’s going to join it, these virtual performances are going to remain a thing even after we go back to doing live shows.”

Disclaimer: Wyclef Jean was previously a Blacklane brand ambassador.


Amy Mitchell-Whittington

Amy is an Australian journalist living in Berlin. She covers a range of topics, with a special interest in tech and science.