The last month or so has been a weird time. It’s been so hard on so many people, but one area it’s hit particularly hard and close to home for me is the music industry. I had never thought about a world where I couldn’t escape all of my problems at a live show, and now being thrown into that reality has left me with a severe case of whiplash. My Chemical Romance was supposed to reunite and save 2020, but now I’m here praying to the rock gods that this is over before their Boston show in September and not next fall like one health expert has said. Even as I’m writing this, I’m trying not to remember that I was supposed to be at my favorite local band’s show right this second.
So yeah, this has been hard for music fans. But there’s no doubt that those working in the industry in any form have been hit twice as hard- not only losing their passions in live music but their jobs in it as well. From the biggest chart-topping bands to your neighbor who works security at one of the local venues, the effects of COVID-19 have been devastating. The music world is at a standstill. Shows that big-name artists, venues, and their teams have spent millions on are pushed back- or worse, canceled. Local artists and industry or venue workers are jobless, their limited opportunities to make a living deemed far from essential. So what do we do? How can we keep a little bit of life in the industry while things are shut down? And how can we make a smooth transition to normal? Or, a new normal?
Honestly, no one really knows. But I’m here to offer some tidbits that might help out someone somewhere.
Where possible, do what you can for your local music scene. This could happen in a lot of ways. Did a group or artist just drop an album? Buy it. Maybe if you have the funds, now could be a good time to buy that cool floral hat of theirs that you’ve seen people wearing. Can’t afford to purchase a copy or merch? Stream it and tell your friends. Give them some free promo on your social media.
Do any of your local venues double as bars, restaurants, or breweries? See if they’re offering takeout meals or drinks! This is probably their only means of income right now and is just as easy as UberEats or DoorDash, and ten times easier than going to a grocery store right now. If you had tickets to an event at a small local venue, maybe consider donating the ticket price to them so that they can stay afloat instead of asking for a refund.
Local economies are where the consequences of being on lockdown are being felt the most and will most affect people you know. Smaller bands and venues are the most at risk of not making it through the end of this period and could use the most love. This isn’t to discount what the entire industry is facing, but I guarantee your local band of college kids just trying to get through the last few weeks of online classes don’t have the same resources to stick it out that the band that was playing a soldout show at the closest arena to you (before it got postponed, that is.)
In an emotional Facebook and IGTV video, Jackson Holte of Missoula, MT rock and roll band Jackson Holte and The Highway Patrol confessed “The best thing you can do for us right now is order a record and we’ll sell you one. We took a big gamble this time around on playing the shows and selling the record before it went up online in the hopes that we would incentivize people to actually buy the hard copy and now that’s not happening. Now that’s gone. I’m out six months of work, and- it feels unprofessional to say the number, but it’s a big ol’ number. It’s a ton of money, and … you know, I don’t make any money doing this. I have no social esteem, I don’t get free shit everywhere I go. I don’t get laid all the time. All I have gotten out of this process are these 10 songs, and all you can really do for me is listen to them.”
Josh Rhines of Fate’s Frontier echoed Holte’s thoughts, stating “The best thing everyone can do to help now is to search out new, upcoming, and independent artists. Find new music you love, and support those who make it. Share their Facebook page, buy their merchandise, tell your grandma about their new single!”
Though Rhines’ band operates remotely on a global scale to begin with and social distancing hasn’t changed their routine much, they still feel the effects of a crippled industry.
Support Your Favorites (Ohana means family.)
Former Vinyl Theatre singer Keegan Calmes said it well when he tweeted “I’m no longer a touring musician, but I feel for all artists who have had to cancel tours. Typically these tours barely keep the artists afloat until the next album and tour cycle. Stream their music, engage with them as best you can while of course taking care of your loved ones.”
When I asked if he thought there’s any way entities like record labels, streaming platforms, or anything similar could help artists, he replied “Everyone is tightening up their budgets. I would hope so, but in all honesty it’s looking like we need to take care of our inner circles as best as we can.”
There are so many bands that have made me feel like I’m a part of their inner circle- a part of a family. Badflower, Twenty One Pilots- they’re sure to make it known how much they care for fans. They wouldn’t be here without fans, and many fans might not be here without them. Like before, buy merch and music if you can. If you can’t, stream their music. Make your friends listen to them while they have nothing better to do. The more you’re able to support your favorite band, the better they’ll be able to bounce back with new music and tours.
However, the family is bigger than you and the band. The people who are hurting the most on the family tree are touring crews. While the bands themselves are probably able to get by on royalties and publishing once they reach a certain point, there is absolutely nothing coming in for crew members without tours to work.
To fight this, artists that have the exposure and resources to are releasing songs and specific merchandise that give proceeds or a percentage of them directly to crews. For example, when streaming Twenty One Pilots’ new single and widely proclaimed quarantine anthem “Level of Concern” or purchasing their Crew Nation hoodie, a portion of proceeds will go to Live Nation’s crew relief fund, Crew Nation. Similarly, Nathaniel Rateliff just released a t-shirt and sweatshirt with a design originally intended for his next tour that is on sale now. All proceeds from this purchase will go directly to his crew. Your favorite artist might be doing something similar, and this is a cool way to represent some limited edition merch and to give back.
Livestreams & Innovation
For me, live music is an addiction. There’s nothing quite like the high of a particularly great show, nor quite like the strange low of a post-concert depression. There is one thing keeping me from completely going through live music withdrawals, though: livestreams. From your coworker at Barnes and Noble going live on Instagram with his ukulele to your favorite band performing straight through each of their albums, livestreams are giving artists chances to express themselves while giving listeners who can’t go to shows a way to pass the time.
Some groups, like Jackson Holte and the Highway Patrol, aren’t about it.
“I don’t think we’re gonna livestream. At least not the full show. Performing artists, much like the Spanish Inquisition, rely on the element of surprise, and we’ve worked really hard on a new show. I’m not willing to give it away quite yet until we get a chance to book some rooms and play it out” Jackson says in his COVID-19 video.
Which makes sense, it does. But with the possibility of the live music industry being KOed for up to a year, that’s a long time to go without performing. And a long time to go without interacting with your fanbase in the next closest thing to a live show. Which is why the overwhelming majority of musicians are streaming as much as they can get away with.
Many communities are finding ways to promote and monetize these shows in a similar way to concerts. Entities like the Montana Area Music Association (or MAMA) are creating local livestream dates and times and sending them out to their email databases with links to virtual “tip jars.” MAMA is also in the process of creating a weekend fundraiser, with live music all throughout Thursday, April 30th and Friday, May 1st. Donations they receive from this will be put back into the music community in Missoula, MT and throughout the rest of the state.
The amount of digital music festivals springing out of nowhere has also been impressive. Block by Blockwest taking place on Minecraft and Stagecoach’s Stagecouch on Instagram Live and SiriusXM are just two examples of the extremely creative ways musicians have come together for fans. Many of these are accepting donations that are going towards organizations like MusiCares or the World Health Organization. Other forms of collaboration have come from bands like Deal Casino, who hosted the three-week “Quarantour” on their Instagram Live, performing and collaborating with bands like Badflower and The Wrecks.
Margi Cheske, the president of Fantasy Records, has been blown away by the creativity and collaboration in and between musicians she’s seen come to light because of Coronavirus.
Fantasy Records, a member of the Concord Record Group with acts like Tanya Tucker, Nathaniel Rateliff, James Taylor, and Lukas Nelson, has certainly taken a hit along with the entire industry. Revenue from live music is obviously in the tank, and physical sales are hurting, but Margi remains optimistic. Before talking to her, she had just received an order from Target for James Taylor’s new album. She says their biggest challenge is figuring out how to market music without touring for maybe two years. This is especially difficult for her team, as the majority of her artists rely so heavily on touring. While they have to find new ways to do things, Margi said she’s excited to see what new innovations and ideas come out of this difficult time.
Livestreaming is something that Margi’s seen her artists and friends take and run with. Lucius was mentioned as a group that she had noticed coming up with some really interesting and fun livestreams. Fantasy artists like Nathaniel Rateliff, Grace Potter, Lukas Nelson, and friends like Brandi Carlisle have been streaming as often as several times a week and raising thousands for organizations from amFAR to FarmAid.
Large Scale Relief
So now you’re thinking “but I’m just one person, what can I even do?” It’s all so much to process and we’re all just doing our best to adjust to this “new normal.” Luckily, there’s a number of larger organizations using their resources to help those in need that they can. If it’s easier to follow their lead or to use them as inspiration, I’d encourage you to do so!
Crew Nation is the relief fund for touring crew members put together by Live Nation. It was created to help touring and venue crews who depend on shows to make a living. Live Nation is giving $10 million to the organization- an initial $5 million donation and then matching the next $5 million raised by artists, fans, and employees. To support Crew Nation you can donate, purchase merch, or support artists who are supporting Crew Nation like Twenty One Pilots. Visit their website for information on donating, purchasing apparel, or getting help.
The Recording Academy’s charitable organization MusiCares is offering $1,000 grants to music professionals who have been impacted by COVID-19. Many musicians are raising money for this foundation, or you can donate directly here. You can also apply for a relief grant!
Sweet Relief is providing funding to music-industry professionals who need money specifically for medical reasons. Not only are they accepting donations, but they are selling merch and auctioning one-of-a-kind items to help reach their goals to help others. Check out their site here to donate, purchase merch, or apply!
Arts and Culture Leaders of Color Emergency Fund
For self-identified BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), the Arts Administrators of Color Network (AAC) is offering $200 to artists and artist administrators who have been affected by COVID-19. Donate or apply here.
UK based Help Musicians has a comprehensive guide to helping musicians get through this, with links to every UK resource imaginable. While many resources won’t be helpful to US musicians, they still offer sound advice that would be worth checking out wherever you’re located.
Musically Fed was established in 2016 by Maria Brunner of Insight Management in Scottsdale, AZ. On top of creating marketing strategies for musicians like Béla Fleck and the Flecktones and George Thorogood, Maria began gathering leftover catering from national tours with Musically Fed and delivering it to local veterans’ and homeless shelters, working on tours with the likes of Shawn Mendes, The Lumineers, and Fleetwood Mac. Now, they’re directing their efforts towards helping families in the music and entertainment industry. Their April 22nd benefit event served 30 families from Rhino Staging out of Tempe, AZ. Musically Fed was able to provide these families over 160 meals, along with 30 boxes of non-perishable food and produce. Musically Fed has been doing some really amazing things for the last few years, and they’re definitely an organization to keep your eyes on and open your wallet to if you can!
There’s so much help available out there. If none of these do it for you, check out these resources with a ton of organizations listed between them by NPR, Billboard, and Celebrity Access. If you need help don’t be afraid to ask for it, and if you can help don’t be afraid to do it.
Music has long been a tool to bring people together. As has disaster. While so much is in chaos in all of our lives right now, there are so many opportunities to grow together as music lovers, as local or national music scenes, and as people. We can grieve for lost art, but we can also be excited for the art and innovation that will come out of the forced creativity that COVID-19 has brought us. This won’t last forever. It might even be a little bit funny in two years when you’re standing on the barricade at a show while your favorite musician performs “Corona”- a song that they wrote while quarantined.
So once again in the words of Jackson Holte- “So long as there are shitty little dive bars that’ll let me put up a PA in the corner, I’ll be there. And I hope we’ll all be there together soon.”
I’ll be there. Hope to see you there, too.