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How you can support the music industry during COVID-19

Courtesy Sofar Sounds Austin

By Lia Pikus     3/24/20 8:50pm

First, it was South by Southwest. On March 6, the Austin-based festival was canceled for the first time in its 33-year run, marking the first major festival cancellation of the COVID-19 outbreak. Then came Coachella, postponing their mega-festival to October to the dismay of thousands. After LiveNation, AEG and other industry giants followed suit, delaying or cancelling all live events in the United States and a handful of other countries, not much remains in the way of live music. In the face of COVID-19, the entire live music industry has been brought to a grinding halt. 

In the age of streaming (specifically, in the age of streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music), artists have come to rely almost entirely on ticket and merchandise sales to generate the vast majority of their income. Long gone are the days of lucrative record sales and profitable physical distribution — even today’s most celebrated artists bank mostly upon tours and merch to maintain financial viability. Mass cancellations left in the wake of the virus are not just disappointing for those who were planning to see artists live - more importantly, these cancellations are financially devastating for musicians and industry workers relying upon live-concert revenue to earn their livings.

This sudden, gaping hole where live concerts used to be is only one of many spaces where arts and entertainment are feeling the calamitous effects of the Coronavirus. From live performing artists to service workers at pubs and restaurants to behind-the-scenes staffers at venues, every individual with their livelihood tied up in live entertainment is suddenly finding themselves unable to perform the basic requirements of their jobs necessary to generate an income. In a music industry newly reliant on live performance, the road ahead for artists is suddenly shrouded in uncertainty. 

Obviously, the path forward for the foreseeable future cannot lie in the continuation of live events. Putting yourself in crowded public spaces doesn’t help anyone, even if it's done in an attempt to support the arts. Yet, although the toll taken upon artists and arts workers will be momentous and devastating in many ways, there are still some tangible and important things you can do to support the arts and entertainment industry from afar. Here are a few ways, some drawn from outside sources and some brainstormed while lying upside down on my bed, to support our beloved music industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

  1. Live-stream concerts from your favorite artists: An increasingly popular trend over the past few weeks, artists have started using platforms like Twitch, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube to give virtual performances from the comfort of their own homes. Streamed performances are a good way for people to stay connected to the entertainment industry and for the artists themselves to make money, linking their payment details to the live-stream. In an article from last Friday, NPR brought together a list of publications that have live-stream event listings, so you can keep up to date on all the concerts happening each day. Thank goodness for NPR. 
  2. Donations: Related to point #1 — If an artist is live-streaming a performance (especially one without charge), a really good way to show your support is to directly donate. If the performance had been an actual live event, you would have had to pay for a ticket anyways, so think of your donation as just that. This is probably the simplest and most efficient way to support your favorite artists.
  3. Listen to the Austin 100: Every year, SXSW hosts thousands of smaller artists on the brink of being discovered, giving them the press and venue needed to propel them into mainstream careers. Its cancellation was thus not only a huge financial loss for both the festival and the city of Austin, but also a crucial lost opportunity for many of the artists set to perform. NPR (again, what would we do without NPR) thus put together a list of 100 acts that they were looking forward to seeing this year at SXSW. You can listen to the playlist, read about each individual artist or listen to a podcast episode featuring a handful of the artists on All Songs Considered. NPR’s Tiny Desk series also sent out an offering to any unsigned musician who was going to perform at SXSW to submit their act for publication on NPR’s website (follow this link to watch). 
  4. Buy merch! If you have the financial ability to do so, buying merch is a great way to support your favorite smaller artists. You know that the King Krule sweatshirt you’ve been eyeing for months? Cop it. If you were ever going to buy merch, now is the time. As supply chains are disrupted and retail manufacturers alter behavior in the coming weeks, buying physical merch may become more difficult, but you can still always buy digital products. Bandcamp has compiled a list of labels donating 100% of sales, digital and physical, directly to artists, which you can access here. You can also buy merch and music directly from many artists’ websites. 
  5. Lastly, STREAM! Every play on a streaming platform makes the artist a bit of money (although not much, which is why I put it at the bottom of the list). More importantly however, streaming and sharing music is a great way to publicize and popularize smaller artists who will probably feel the impact of these cancellations most profoundly. Use this vast expanse of downtime to discover new artists, share music with friends, make playlists, etc. The more time you spend listening to and sharing music with others, the more those artists profit (and the more populated their shows will hopefully be once live events resume). So take this as an order to just lie on your bed, make playlists and stream music nonstop. 

All of us have been and will be affected by this pandemic. Many of us have been shocked by how little we can control and by how vulnerable we feel. What we can control, however, is the support we give to others. As an artistic career is already rife with unpredictability, supporting artists - whether by donating on a live-stream, buying merch or sharing a new artist with a friend - could provide just enough stability for smaller artists to emerge from the next few months continuing to create music as the industry stumbles forward into the unknown.

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