How Covid-19 is affecting musicians, and how you can help

covid photo
Left to right: band t-shirts from Double Grave and Gully Boys, photo from the Creative Independent report, Ziemba (photo by Elizabeth LoPiccolo), Lydia Liza performing a “Corona Classic” (via Instagram Live)

Within a few short weeks, the growing spread of COVID-19 has sent waves through the music community. While social distancing and the cancellation of large gatherings are necessary to slow the spread of the virus, it’s taken a large toll on musicians’ income.

Across the US, large events like SXSW and Coachella have shut down. Bands from Best Coast to Minnesota’s the Von Tramps cancelled tours. Live shows have indefinitely been put on hold, causing photographers, booking agents, and venue staff to scramble for work.

René Kladzyk, who releases music as Ziemba, estimates that she’s lost close to $2,000 from cancelled shows and freelance work. “While I feel lucky that I’m not currently in the middle of an album release/ promo/ tour cycle, unlike some of my friends, I have had to cancel upcoming shows because of covid, and was potentially exposed to the virus at a concert I played this past weekend,” Kladzyk wrote in an email. “I’ve now been advised to self quarantine by the department of health.”

According to a report from the Creative Independent, over two thirds of musicians reported that music-related earnings accounted for only 0% – 20% of their income. However, when asked about their primary sources of income as a musician, “performing/touring” was by far their top choice.

Music Industry Report Income Graphic.png

It’s important to stay indoors and limit contact with others — doing so will save lives — but it’s also cutting out the most reliable streams of income for musicians, and it won’t affect everyone equally. “Covid-19 will undoubtedly affect marginalized communities and lower income people more intensely than affluent and more privileged people,” said Kladzyk. In these uncertain times, it’s important to redistribute our resources to help out those most vulnerable. 

It’s also clear that self-isolating is going to have long-term effects on us beyond our finances. It’s easy to feel cut off from others and like our actions can’t make a difference. But just because we are physically separated doesn’t mean that we can’t reach out and build connections.

“Our generation hasn’t ever experienced such a widespread disruption to daily life like this; it encourages you to think outside of yourself and your immediate circle,” said Kladzyk. “That’s a psychological reframing that I think will be really powerful and have broad consequences for how we (our generation, our species) understand ourselves and our place in the world. I think the psychological effect of self-quarantine and social distancing cannot be overstated. It’s big.”

So please, stay indoors and stay safe. But don’t let that stop you from supporting musicians, whether they’re in your town or across the world. Here are some ways to support folks in the music industry without leaving your house:

Buying music and merch

Buying music and merch is an easy way to put your money in the pockets of artists. Now is a great time to finally buy a CD, tape, vinyl or digital download or to snag that t-shirt that you’ve had your eye on.

When possible, buy directly from a band’s website, label, or Bandcamp. Doing so will ensure that bands and labels get the majority of the profit. Plus, Bandcamp gives fans the option to “pay what you want” so you can throw in some extra money with your purchase.

On Friday, Bandcamp waived its cut of all sales, and fans showed up, buying 15 times more than on a normal Friday. Bandcamp reported that the website sold nearly 800,000 items (compared to about 47,000 on a typical Friday), for a whopping total of $4.3 million of music and merch. This kind of collective effort shows what a difference your purchase can make — and it doesn’t have to be limited to one day!

Streaming music

COVID-19 is obviously taking an economic toll for everyone, not just artists. But if you don’t have extra money to spare, don’t worry — you can still support musicians by streaming their music.

Of course, streaming a band’s album won’t give them the same kind of economic support as buying a physical copy, but streaming has some added benefits. Your extra streams can boost artists in Spotify’s algorithms and up their chances of making it onto new playlists, which can spread their music to new fans.

Sending love on social media

Another free way to support your favorite bands is to give them a shoutout on social media. Liking a new song that just came out? Mention it in a Tweet (and don’t forget to tag the band!)

With shows cancelled and budgets slashed, many bands don’t have the money to fully promote their new music, so spreading the word online can make a huge difference. Plus, concerts are another way that bands traditionally share new music with fans, so with public gatherings being closed, recreating that community online becomes even more important.

Donating directly to artists

An easy way to financially support artists is by donating directly to them. Many artists use Patreon to accept monthly recurring donations in exchange for exclusive content and other benefits. Bands are also making their Venmo accounts more readily available, which gives fans the option of making a one-time donation.

If you bought a ticket for a show that has been cancelled, you can also ask the venue to not refund your ticket, which ensures that the band still receives the ticket money that they were counting on.

Attending a virtual concert

One of the biggest letdowns for fans and bands alike is not being able to attend concerts in person. But all over the Internet, virtual concerts and live-streamed events are popping up to keep us connected.

Personally, I’ve been cracking up over Minneapolis singer-songwriter Lydia Liza’s Corona Classics series, in which she reads the entire script of a different movie each night. As the name suggests, she’s already covered a variety of movie staples, from “Shrek” to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” with special guests like Har Mar Superstar and Gully Boys. You can find her and the Corona Classics streams on Instagram.

Music journalist Cherie Hu created a helpful virtual music events directory which compiles upcoming streams from all over the world. The directory also includes streaming tips for artists like a directory of platforms to broadcast from, including which ones offer ticketed streams. 

For Minnesota music fans, The Current is compiling a virtual gig list of local concerts. If you’re a Minnesota-based musician, you can submit your upcoming virtual events on their website.

Donating to Emergency Funds

Around the world, emergency funds are popping up to provide relief to artists and other music industry workers who have lost compensation. Cherie Hu’s virtual music events directory also includes a list of emergency funding resources for musicians.

For Minnesota-based artists, Springboard for the Arts is a great resource. They have a Personal and a Community Emergency Relief Fund, both which can award up to $500 to artists impacted by COVID-19. Springboard also has information on their website like principles for ethical cancellation, information on how to access a free phone consultation with Minnesota Lawyers for the Arts, and a crowdsourced list of other resources including grants. If you want to help, you can donate to their emergency relief fund.

Similarly, the Twin Cities Music Community Trust Entertainment Industry Relief Fund provides funding to music industry professionals, including artists, door staff, bartenders, tour managers, stage crews, and photographers who have lost income due to COVID-19. You can donate and apply for funds on their website.

One more penny for your thoughts: You can keep doing the majority of these things — like donating to artists and buying music or merch — long after the effects of COVID-19 die down.

This is a time when it appears that many music consumers are becoming more aware of how precarious funding streams are for music workers, and are willing to forego some amount of convenience in order to support the artists they care about,” wrote Kladzyk. 

This global pandemic has no doubt caused destruction across every industry, and has had devastating financial effects on musicians. But it also provides us with an opportunity to rethink how precarious musicians’ income is even without a global pandemic — and that maybe that should change.

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