As venues are closed and public gatherings are limited, artists are finding themselves in an increasingly precarious situation.
Cities and states across the U.S. are making the tough but necessary decision to order all non-essential businesses to cease or alter operations in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Governors of both Michigan and Illinois, New York, and New Jersey, among others have ordered all bars, restaurants, gyms, movie theaters, casinos, and other large gathering places to close. On March 17, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio limited places that sold food and drink to delivery and take-out and closed all entertainment venues.
These mandates, while life-saving, are likely to prove devastating for touring artists, many of whom rely on live performances for the majority of their income. Aside from the financial losses associated with canceling a tour, artists also lose the opportunity to gain exposure on the road, or promote their latest album. Months of planning and potentially thousands of dollars in travel expenses have suddenly gone down the drain—the cost of which some artists will absorb themselves—putting many of them out of a job for the foreseeable future. A recent survey co-authored by The Creative Independent’s Willa Köerner and musician René Kladzyk found that only 17 percent of musicians surveyed said they were always able to pay their bills every month, a statistic that doesn’t bode well for musicians suddenly bereft of an income.
While there have been mutual aid efforts and relief funds set up for artists—including the COVID-19 Relief fund from the Recording Academy and its affiliated charity MusiCares—there has been no comprehensive response from the Federal government to date addressing the epidemic’s impact on the nightlife sector specifically. And while President Trump has signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act into law, which grants paid sick leave to some workers who wouldn’t otherwise have it in the form of tax credit, it remains to be seen if the Senate will pass a bill extending temporary, federally funded unemployment benefits to people outside the program’s current coverage, like hourly workers, gig workers, and self-employed workers.
Abroad, both the United Kingdom and Germany have pledged support for the arts industry through grants. While New York City Night Mayor Ariel Palitz has been collecting information on the impact of the closures through a survey and City Council speaker Corey Johnson has proposed a plan to extend expand unemployment insurance eligibility to freelancers, gig workers, and more, as of publication, the City has yet to reveal how it plans to support individuals in the entertainment and restaurant industries who have lost work.
As some artists scramble to reschedule tour dates, there is still a lot of uncertainty as to how long this will last—the CDC recommends that events of 50 people or more be canceled or postponed for the next eight weeks, far longer than any current closure period. AdHoc decided to check in with a handful of touring artists—including Deeper, Mannequin Pussy, and Adult Mom—about how COVID-19 has impacted their lives and how fans can best support them during these destabilizing times.
Today only until midnight PST, Bandcamp is waiving their share of revenue. A number of labels—including Fire Talk Records and Wharf Cat Records, which Deeper and Bambara are signed to respectively—are waiving their cut as well so that 100% of digital sales go to the artists.
Drew McBride & Kevin Fairbairn: We’re just a couple days removed from being in the middle of a tour with Corridor, and we’re still in a state of shock at how quickly everything has changed. Mentally, we’d been prepared to be on the road for four months straight, and this has effectively cut out the next two months, possibly more. The ripple effect from this will be felt for months, possibly years.
This upcoming Fall and Winter will be hyper-competitive for booking shows—there are only so many venues in a given city any night when scheduling a tour. If a venue previously would take a risk on an up-and-coming act for a night, they will now opt for more of a sure thing. The ecosystem for up-and-coming bands will be hurting for a long time to come.
It’s no secret we mostly make our money off of touring, so merch sales will be the best way to support us in the interim.
You can buy merchandise from Deeper on Bandcamp.
Weeping Icon: This was a unique experience for us touring musicians. We had prepared for months to take a long bulk of time away from our careers in New York in order to promote the album we released in September, get in front of new audiences, and make new connections with people we may not have otherwise had the opportunity to connect with. We were really looking forward to seeing the bands we were going to play with, to see new spaces, places, and make new friends. We feel privileged to have had that opportunity in front of us, but after a week out, it became clear how imperative it was to turn back and isolate at home. It was difficult to experience the cognitive dissonance of wanting so badly to continue, when it’s so dangerous to the most vulnerable to do so.
Our instincts have always been to come together in our most perilous times, so it’s understandable why many people reacted late to the advice of experts. It’s been extremely sad and sobering to watch this all unfold, but watching our community share resources and supporting one another in every conceivable way has made us feel more connected to our local communities in New York and to music/art communities beyond.
If anything, this has showed us how precious the opportunity is to come together and share our passions, to organize and do charitable work for the greater good, and to just talk, laugh, hug, and move our bodies together when we need it. No matter how badly the tiers of government fail us, there will always be thousands of people working to make things better. It gives us faith that no matter what happens to the economy, and despite the opportunities lost, music and art aren’t going anywhere.
You can support Weeping Icon by buying from their Bandcamp.
Blaze Bateh: We, unlike many of our friends, were fortunate to have completed most of our tour before shit really got bad. That being said, the financial blow of canceling an entire leg, including our record release show at Music Hall of Williamsburg, was pretty heavy.
I supposed the biggest impact of this for us will be what it does to the three European tours we have this Summer. Our whole year has been structured around these tours, and with the virus presumably peeking in June in the UK, I expect we’ll have to try and reschedule everything. But not all hope is lost.
You can support Bambara by buying from their Bandcamp.
Stevie Knipe: Our shows with Palehound started getting canceled while we were in Oregon, intending to make our way up to Portland from San Francisco. There was a very cautious and anxious energy from both bands on the tour about COVID-19. Information kept changing and varying in intensity, and we were constantly talking about it, trying to figure out what the safest move was.
After our tour was officially canceled, we drove all the way back to New York from Medford, Oregon, which took a few days. We have of course lost a lot of income because of this, and I am also a part-time school teacher, so all of our incomes from various sources have completely been frozen.
The best way to support us is to donate directly to our PayPal, firstname.lastname@example.org, and buy our merch and music today on Bandcamp.
Peter Katz: So with the spread of COVID-19 and the ensuing pandemic, our nationwide tour with Strange Ranger and Ian Sweet was canceled, with tentative plans to postpone. It was a very clear decision once we left and shows started to drop on us, and the news kept projecting worse and worse outcomes. Limiting our contact with each other became paramount, and asking people to leave their homes to go to a crowded room to watch a band became trivial very quickly. We luckily weren’t too far from home; being from NYC, we had only made it to Baltimore—day two of tour—so turning around was easy enough. Still, we suffered heavy losses with merch payments, projected income from almost a month of shows, plane tickets, and rental fees—not to mention the losses our booking agent and our personal income took that we would typically make from performing.
It’s safe to say we are going to do our best to stay safe and flatten the curve as much as we can on our end, and that takes priority over promoting our music, so we are basically just laying low for the time being. We have plans to [make] merchandise available online either through Bandcamp or through Big Cartel, so check back for those links. We also have plans to release a small group of recordings we made last Fall—basically alternate versions of some A Healthy Earth songs. So keep an eye out for those.
Maybe I will do a virtual set, if anyone would enjoy that. Otherwise, I’m happy laying low, trying to work from home (I teach guitar lessons to youth in NYC, so we are transitioning to a virtual set-up), and looking for ways to support other artists and keep my community safe.
Weirdly enough, the most direct way you can support us is by buying merch from us, or listening to our earlier albums The Eyes Sink Into the Skull and The Hands and Feet Turn Blue on Spotify, or buying them on Bandcamp. Our [former label] still has ownership of our masters (a process we are trying to ameliorate, but is taking a while), so listening to our self-titled album, or A Healthy Earth, unfortunately doesn’t directly support us at the moment.
Music is amazing and vital and important, and we need to rally around each other and work together. At the same time, I understand that there is something much more impactful at play, and safety is of the utmost importance. Whatever you do, make sure you are supporting healthcare workers and other members of the community that don’t get to stay home and self-isolate. Take proper precautions and check in with loved ones. Thanks for listening and supporting. Please be safe!
Marisa Dabice: Processing? I don’t think I’m there yet. What’s the first stage of grief? Denial? Yeah, that’s about where I am. I’m not ready to fully accept what’s happened, or how much we’ve lost as a band. Financially, this is devastating, but emotionally, I know we’ve gone through worse. We’re lucky to be part of a music community that genuinely cares for each other and offers to help in times of need. I’m taking stock of the good things we have and cursing myself at the same time.
Before tour, I was kind of lamenting that we were touring so much that we didn’t have time to explore new ideas or write new music. Well, the jokes on me, because now I have more time than I ever needed.
I’m planning to make some music videos during the time off, cook a lot, learn as much as I can, record demos. The irony is that creativity is kind of like quarantine. In order to create something, you need to isolate yourself and devote yourself to the work. That’s all we can do for now.
I remind myself that nothing is truly “lost”—it’s just postponed. The tours will be rescheduled; the festivals will come back. It’s just wild right now. Literally the entire gig economy is at a standstill. It’s so much bigger than a band or a tour; it’s worldwide disruption. I can’t think of a time when so many people have been affected.
I hope this doesn’t come across as twisted, but that’s where I find my comfort right now. I know this is so much bigger than us so I don’t feel alone in how difficult it is.
You can support Mannequin Pussy by buying from their Bandcamp.