These are strange times, indeed.
COVID-19 has changed the world completely. And it only appears to be getting warmed up. Everything we’ve known about our lives is changing more and more every day. There’s no such thing as routine right now.
Everyone is hurting in one way or another. People are being told to stay home and do their work from there, if possible. Anything involving drawing a crowd has been put on indefinite hold or cancelled altogether. Money is being lost hand over fist, mostly by people who can’t afford such a thing.
Musicians and those connected to the music industry are among these people.
Spring is upon us, which means it’s time to gear up for outdoor concerts and festivals, the bread and butter of the working musicians. Great weather, quality music, crowds in the thousands, records and souvenirs to sell … and none of it is happening. Nor will it happen for quite some time.
The optimists among us believe we can be back to normal by June. I am NOT a medical expert, so I can’t speak to the accuracy of such a thought. Personally, however, I’m not so sure.
And so my musicians sit at home, losing money and unable to make a living.
It’s not just the musicians we need to worry about. Promoters are taking a bath, too. Leonardo Pavkovic, owner of MoonJune Records, told me he is looking at a nearly $400,000 loss because of the cancellations and unsold merchandise. Club owners and their employees, sound engineers, techs, roadies … everyone is getting hammered.
I can only imagine how many of these people were operating basically hand to mouth. This gig earned them enough to get to the next one, which got them to the next one, and so on. And now everything has been brought to a grinding halt.
Not everyone is bringing in Beyonce, Jay-Z, or Taylor Swift revenue. There is absolutely no chance 99 percent of artists are making any kind of living from record sales. The more callous among us believe most musicians are making untold millions, and have blown their fortunes on drugs and expensive trinkets. Under the old musical model, that might even be possible.
But labels don’t give out advances any more, because those advances were based primarily on future record sales. And you had to be in the top tier to receive such a deal, anyway.
The vast majority of the musicians I admire are not on that level in terms of label support. Most don’t even have a label, which actually works to their advantage, since that is one less piece of the pie to share. But there has to be a pie. And right now, there isn’t one.
A musician friend of mine reminded me that there is, in fact, a level or two between “millionaire superstar” and “starving artist.” That’s where most of my musicians live. They may not be rich, but they can make a living. They can live in a decent home, support their families, and have a reliable bit of transportation in the driveway, even if it isn’t particularly flashy. They’ve learned ways to cut back on the expenses of The Big Rock Tours, and have managed their money in such a way that they can actually make music as an occupation.
But that kind of life is dependent upon being able to go out on the road and play gigs, which is currently a non-starter.
Music is my world. Musicians make that world possible. I wanted to do my part to help. So I started buying more music. I spent time and money in my favorite record store, where I was hopefully supporting both them and the musicians. I found some stuff on Amazon, where I hope the artist gets a little cut. Most importantly, I spent some time on Bandcamp, the absolute haven for the independent musician.
Last week, Bandcamp waived its fees to musicians for 24 hours, allowing them to retain 100 percent of the money spent by fans. This was a wonderful gesture, and it was reported that fans responded in droves. At one point, the Bandcamp server actually crashed due to the volume of fans using the site. Sometimes, I believe there is a little hope after all.
My contributions felt like a drop in the bucket. But hopefully, my contributions along with others made it possible for a couple of artists to keep the lights on for one more month. With a little luck and voluntary compliance, we just may get out of this thing soon, and our favorite musicians can get back out on the road where they belong. As much as I appreciate seeing them play for relative fun from home on social media, I know they’d rather be out there, playing to the cheers of their fans.
Rest assured, when the time comes, I’ll be there.
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