The COVID-19 pandemic has hit some industries harder than others. Live events have been more or less wiped out by the distanciation measures put in place, and musicians, who’ve been told by many an Internet smartass since the Napster days to stop sweating the disintegration of the record industry and tour more, are now in a position where none of these revenue streams are available.
I’m not too worried about platinum selling acts, although truth be told, the bigger the machine, the more expensive it is to keep running. But what about the smaller bands who have a following but rely on constant touring to keep paying the bills? Or the bands that had just jumped in to try to build a career out of music? Could we see bands just give up?
Or are artists re-inventing what it means to be a professional musician, something that frankly has been underway for the last 20 years? Gone are the days of shacking up for months in a mansion in the south of France, on the record company’s dime, until you come up with ‘Exile on Main Street’. So what is the new normal? Or are they just standing pat until the old normal comes back?
So I reached out to a few of musicians to ask them how they’re handling this. To my surprise, there was an almost universal sense of optimism amongst the artists I polled. Despite being kept away from the world’s stages, their passion for music remains stronger than the hardships they’re facing.
So long as we are alive, we play.Esteban
I arranged their comments as a sort of virtual roundtable, and it is interesting to see the common ground they share, as well as their differences. They are unanimous in their appreciation for social media as a lifeline to their fans, but opinions are much more polarized when the topic turns to crowdfunding, for example. But what remains constant is their passion for music, and the impact of the loss of live shows, both financial and musical.
If you’re curious about these bands, I’ve created a Spotify playlist featuring a few tracks from each of them. Their music runs the spectrum of pop music, and each of them is worth a listen. Check it out here and it’s also embedded at the bottom of this article.
Note: Answers have been edited for conciseness. In the coming weeks, I will publish the best interviews in their entirety.
What has been the impact of the pandemic on your music career?
Liam Naughton and the Educators: I’d taken a year off my day job to go to London and meet all these great musicians and live the life I always wanted even if it was just for a year. I’d get a record out and I had all these shows lined up in Ireland and the UK. BOOM!!!! Covid-19 hit the shelves before we did. One in a hundred year event and just so happened that’s the year I chose.
Chloe Chadwick: The main impact has been no live shows which has been soul destroying. It’s been up to the music industry to start becoming more innovative than ever, and the online streaming and being involved with fans via social media has been talked about a lot, I just don’t buy it, it’s not the same as seeing people for real or performing to a live audience, real people! So it’s been kinda frustrating to see if all unfold.
Anonymus: It has changed a lot of things for the release of our latest album that was due right when this virus hit us all. We had to put a hold on everything. But after thinking about it, we decided, as a band, to only release the album in digital format. I mean we had interviews already scheduled, and our marketing plan was done,so we kept everything as it was. Now things are getting better and the album will come out after 7 months of waiting for the good timing. I think we took the best decision on keeping things how they were planned. But for the financial aspect, having shows cancelled, we have to keep everything on a tight budget for now.
Reaven: We had to cancel all our tours (Europe+USA). On the other hand, we’ve been creating a lot in the studio, finishing our next album and we made a music video on our own. So, I guess in the sad situation that every artist is facing, there were also good things
Random Ties: [A] lot of revenue streams were wiped out, mostly coming from live shows and meet & greets, but this also opened another door.
Tete Essen: Going into the year I really thought I’d be able to pick up speed with my releases and carry that momentum with me but that’s not really been possible. [W]e’ve stalled, [but] we’ve not gone off-road yet.
Esteban: We have just released our second album and we’re chomping at the bit to take this new record live! However, like everyone we’ve put the shows on the back burner for now. COVID has, for us, been a really productive period; we’ve doubled down on writing new material so we’re heading back into the studio this year to record. Next year, we’ll be recording and hopefully playing live again.
The Jailbirds: It swiftly took away our ability to make money via touring etc. We started working on more music, rehearsing for when we can get back to shows, taking the forced time off to work on things that we struggled to find time for before COVID-19 hit!
Mark Nelson: We have videoed ourselves performing in isolation from each other and had these videos played out on virtual festivals online so that’s been great. Being unable to work together in one space does mean we’ve not been able to work out new material, nor rehearse together and bounce ideas off each other.
Fatal Switch: The biggest impact has been the restrictions surrounding the live performance aspect which is pretty huge for artist discovery and revenue. So, for now we are trying to concentrate on other aspects such as social media and writing new material that will help grow our brand in the future.
Dig Two Graves: We had some shows planned and all were cancelled. The only positive is that it has given us some time to work on new material.
T-Rex Marathon: We had to put off our album release for a while because of it. The pandemic forced us to really sit down and re-evaluate our entire top-down strategy and figure out how to forge on in this new reality. I’d like to think in some twisted way maybe it’ll end up for the better? It’s tough to be optimistic these days but hey, you can laugh or cry about it so may as well just get through it.
Entropy: We started recording our latest album the day before Quebec shut down. We really wanted to get the album out during the height of this thing…..but delays kept showing up. We felt music was an out during all this crap. Pandemics don’t really give a fuck about your plans!!
Operation Offbeat: We’ve now got time for the little things, now that our schedule is a bit less strict. On the creative side, now that I’ve partly come off the idea that every note has to be 100% live-compatible, writing in the home studio is totally different. I feel like I can do whatever I want and worry about practicing later. [It] feels a bit more free, you wouldn’t always have to hold yourself back when the odd wet idea comes up!
Ren Marabou: The pandemic has opened a lot in regards to online sales, online visibility and promotion.
Little King: Well…it’s been profound, to say the least! Little King needs to tour: we were set for a ton of festival and club dates, and they crashed and burned in March. So I am left with an album from late 2019 that has never seen the stage.
Chaoseum: “We changed our plans to still be active. Our new album was out in September, but our European tour was postponed in 2021. For this reason, we made an acoustic live video and we started to write some new songs.”
We’re also avid show-goers when we’re not playing ourselves, so not getting our fix of bands playing creates a mosh pit-shaped void in your heart.Nathan Ferreira – Skyless Aeons
How do you keep in contact with your fans?
T-Rex Marathon: Social media is an absolute godsend. We’re fortunate enough that we can still contact our fans and still make it feel somewhat intimate. Before the pandemic we had some fans spread all across Canada, and for the uninitiated it’s a very big country, and so we already know how to manage those kinds of relationships at a distance. The pandemic certainly has made it very tough to stay in touch with our local community, so engaging on social media has become more important than ever.
Tete Essen: Mostly through social media, I’ve had a couple nice messages on Instagram and the like. The more you talk to certain people and the more they seem to vibe with your stuff, the more I’m likely to hit up those specifically to keep ‘em alert to up and coming things.
Mark Nelson: We keep in touch with our fans on Facebook and other social media and through our website. I have also been putting together small videos to promote my music.
Liam Naughton & the Educators: Well I call my mum twice a week. Yeah I’m pretty active on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube etc.
Tramston Valley: I’m sharing some interview links and uploading new music ideas on Facebook.
Anonymus: The Internet is there to help us out and to communicate with our fans so we take advantage of the social platforms in a positive way. We keep in touch by adding new posts on what’s going on with the band and our future projects, [and] answer all the emails we [get] from them. The band keeps on releasing promotional items for our new album, so yes we don’t have concerts for now, but the machine is still working hard.
The Jailbirds: Anytime someone send us a message we try our very best to reply in a timely manner! We love to talk to our fans and hear what they have to say, and what they’re interested in outside of music!
Fatal Switch: We are always on social media which is our main area of communication. I reply to DM’s when I can. We will be hosting more videos on YouTube as well in the future to keep fans up to date, as well as a new website.
Little King: The advent of hyper-fast social media has disintegrated the wall between artist and fan, and I love that. We are just people. I am happy to discuss music and words and politics and sports with anyone behind a keyboard: I just wish I could shake hands and have iterative conversations with those who I vehemently disagree with online. When you meet and speak to someone in person, you have way way more in common with them than not.
Dig Two Graves: Mostly through social media: we’re really good about responding to dm’s (hit us up).
Chloe Chadwick: Through my website, subscriptions, and social media.
Skyless Aeons: Facebook is the main platform we communicate on; none of us is social media-savvy enough to manage multiple online platforms simultaneously. (If you want a job managing social media, get at us! We won’t pay you anything, but we’ll say lots of nice things about you to our families)
Entropy: We use Facebook to keep in touch with our fans, and with all the free time, we have really interacted globally thru Facebook. We did a soft launch on our album and sold over 550 copies and bundled in t-shirts and moved 70 T’s in 2 weeks. We were pleased with the results.
Reaven: Through our online videos. We try also to stay active on social networks and answer to everyone. But we miss them!
Operation Offbeat: Online! Which is fine, better than nothing, but I would have to say I miss watching people watching us. A smile is worth 20 comments!
Ren Marabou: Facebook is the old reliable source of contacting fans, Instagram is great too and now even Tik Tok is a great platform for fan interaction.
I am not a huge fan of social media, though. Anyone with a keyboard can now air their opinions, no matter how uninformed or downright hateful they may be. So instead of the most thoughtful or intelligent people having the stage, instead the loudest douchebag gets the most attention. No one can convince me that is healthy for society. It’s not.Little King
Have you added new activities to compensate for the loss of live shows?
The Jailbirds: We have done a few live stream shows now, and plan to start doing a monthly show on live stream as well! Behind the scenes, we started writing over Zoom calls, and started rehearsing more on new music. We are now planning a few records ahead with all of this free time on our hands!
Tramston Valley: We tried remote recording, then released a 2nd single in July. I’m [also] studying mixing and mastering.
Reaven: We are about to create our own Music Production company, to compose music for other people, for advertisements, movies, tv shows… It will be a good way for us to experience new paths.
Tete Essen: There’s no substitute for playing live shows, I think a lot of us would agree, and it’s made me more appreciative of the fact that I’m able to.
Skyless Aeons: We toyed with the idea of doing a live-streamed set, but ultimately we don’t have the equipment for a decent-quality set up to do something like that. Plus…it’s just not the same. I appreciate the effort other bands are making to stay active, but a Skyless Aeons show is a very intimate and intense thing that doesn’t translate to a distant screen well. I want to feel the energy of the crowd and feed off it, and until I have the full ability to do that, it’s not worth it.
Random Ties: We sold handwritten autographed lyric sheets for our songs and found that our fans appreciated that.
Fatal Switch: I have always had other sources of income because even artists who have a fan base can vary quite a bit in their yearly profits. We are considering trying the live stream option to see if that could compensate us (perhaps through a Patreon) as we just released our debut album and haven’t had a chance to promote it live yet.
Little King: I drank too much, got in trouble with Johnny Law, and it was time to make some changes. Who knows if I would have been prompted to change my life the way I have if not for that and COVID? But I’ve never been healthier, more productive, or (gasp) happier. It’s working.
T-Rex Marathon: The only real new activity is a fully live-streamed show at one of our favourite venues seeing as, at least here, you’re not allowed any more than 50 people in a venue. It’s certainly different but we make do! Apart from that it’s really just been focusing on getting our album out there, promoting it, and adapting to what we can actually do. We’re noticing some bands getting really creative with how they “play live” and are a little jealous we didn’t get on some of those bandwagons but onwards and upwards!
Liam Naughton & the Educators: Nah, I still have my day job mate. I started pretty late in my music career only taking up guitar and songwriting when I was 30 years young. Since then, I’ve been trying to break away from my day job and make music my full time gig. Problem is that it’s never really made ends meet. So it’s a balancing act of doing the things I have to do and doing the things I want to. Dads have responsibilities so gotta keep paying them damn bills.
Anonymus: We do a lot of videos of us playing in our rehearsal space and also a lot of Facebook Live to keep in touch with our fans, explaining what is going on with our future plans. We did 2 videos to promote the album and we have other ones in the making. We did have the opportunity to do a virtual concert in September 2020. It’s not the best because you don’t have the crowd’s energy but actually we had a lot of fun and it reminded us of why we are doing music. It’s to share it with people and it makes us feel great about what we are doing as musicians.
Esteban: Until the technology catches up, or at least affordable technology; there really isn’t a substitute for playing in front of fans. However, we are planning and rehearsing in readiness.
Chloe Chadwick: Not really. I’m a live performer, it’s what I do best. I’ve done some live streams but it’s just not the same. Personally I think there has to be a fine balance, but if I’ve got nothing to say or share then I don’t. I don’t know how some artists are finding ways to post 5 times a day: most of the time, it’s just pointless rubbish. But I guess some fans want to see every inch of people’s lives which is fine too. I’m just not prepared to share anything that’s not worth sharing or that is too private for people I don’t know. That’s just my opinion.
Operation Offbeat: Obviously we do more new songs than we’d usually do, and we’ll hit the studio in fall 2020 again, which would have been impossible with tons of gigs in the diary. We’ll also have more song videos along with the next album.
Ren Marabou: I’ve actually had a lot of time to spend in the studio which has been amazing for my creativity. Itching to get back out on stage but I’ll have a huge amount of new material for people to hear live when I eventually do.
We did have the opportunity to do a virtual concert in September 2020. It’s not the best because you don’t have the crowd’s energy but actually we had a lot of fun and it reminds us of why we are doing music. It’s to share it with people and it makes us feel great about what we are doing as musicians.Oscar Souto – Anonymus
Have you considered a form of crowdfunding to survive? (Patreon, Kickstarter, GoFundMe, etc.)
Chloe Chadwick: No, not really, but I have taken on another job as I believe a lot of artists and musicians are having to do, unless you’re Ed Sheeran right now. I can’t see how any artist is making enough to earn a living on. It’s tough!
Anonymus: Absolutely not! I don’t see ourselves begging for money when all of us are having a hard time with this. We do what we can to get our heads out of the water and we try to find new things so we can get things going on. We still have new merchandising going on through our online store so there is still a little bit of money for us.
Tete Essen: Not really. I make as much money from this as I always have, so I put as much money in that I always have. There are better causes to invest your money in regardless, I can assure you.
Random Ties: We all have jobs in addition to being musicians and we felt fortunate to be in this situation, so we decided that proceeds from our single sales will go towards supporting social justice causes and playing at rallies to support BLM.
Operation Offbeat: No, [but] maybe we’ll try a bit of merchandise in the spring. That might get us some extra cash we can save up for the time gigs come back, and we’ll need flights and rental cars and beer and all that.
T-Rex Marathon: We’ve discussed it several times. Once the album drops, we may try and get a Patreon going or a GoFundMe for the next project but really we’re more concerned about growing our base to a point where fans want more content and are willing to pay a bit extra for some exclusive content. I think we’re almost there but just below that threshold where it’s viable as of writing.
Esteban: We’ve survived this long without too much help. Our label The Animal Farm are always there for us as partners in our projects: we are so grateful for their support. I don’t really know of these funding options, maybe here in the UK it’s less of a thing. In the past I think we liked the hard-knock approach but now that you’ve mentioned it… let’s get involved!!!
Mark Nelson: No. Unfortunately I’m not living off my music ….yet. I work in a care home at the moment as a manager so I’ve been kept quite busy during the lockdown.
Skyless Aeons: We were never in this to get rich and none of us consider it a primary source of income, so fortunately we haven’t taken too much of a hit.
Fatal Switch: I have considered this to fund future projects but I have always kept other sources of income to survive. I wish I didn’t have to but I guess that’s a bit of a double-edged sword of the industry. Most of us in any aspect of the business can be found wearing different hats to keep the project afloat. But the crowd funding options are great tools that I think every artist should take advantage of.
Dig Two Graves: Nah we’re just gonna sell so many shirts that we’ll end up with more money than we know what to do with.
Liam Naughton & the Educators: Nope, I go out there and graft like everyone else mate. I’m not really into asking people for money, too much pride for that but for those who do, good luck to ya, no judgement here. You gotta do what you gotta do to survive.
We know it’s hard for everyone, so we will ask people to support us by buying our next album.Romeo – Reaven
The second part of this roundtable will be published soon. Stay tuned!