coronavirus

‘It Could Be an Incredibly Quiet Year’: 18 Artists On Bracing for Post-Coronavirus Life

“I’m essentially not making any money this month.” Photo: Getty Images

If you think the coronavirus pandemic’s only affected massive festivals like SXSW and Coachella and big-scale tours like Billie Eilish’s and Cher’s, think again. As more metropolitan areas take necessary steps in an effort to contain the virus’s spread, thousands of smaller acts are having their entire year — and, in many cases, their only source of income — completely wiped out. Even in the best-case scenario, the spate of nationwide event postponements and cancellations will likely affect concert bookings until the end of the year, drastically changing the live-music landscape for the rest of 2020.

Over the month and beyond, we’ll be speaking with artists about how the coronavirus has affected their livelihood, as well as what they anticipate the future of the touring industry to be in the near and long term. Here’s what they — including Yungblud, Tokimonsta, Wired, They Might Be Giants, Code Orange, Black Lips, and many more — had to say about the difficult road ahead.

TOKiMONSTA (Los Angeles, CA)

“We were aware of this in January enough to make jokes about all of it, and now it’s not a joke anymore. Whether this disease is really gonna have an impact on our health, it’s really about everyone’s reaction to it. It puts a lot of people at risk, especially our loved ones who are older. For me, as a touring artist where the bulk of my living comes from touring, it’s a lot to deal with. Ultra and SXSW got canceled, I was supposed to fly to France for a photo shoot, then it got moved to New York, now it’s canceled. So now I’m home, which is cool because at least I can write music, but I’m essentially not making any money this month, which is tough as a musician. This career is already really volatile. I’m established at this point, so I have money saved, but that’s not the case for many musicians starting out. I’m hoping at some point that people feel safe enough to want to go outside and to shows again, but to not know when that will be makes me feel uneasy.”

Yungblud (London, England)

“Everything’s been canceled left right and center, and we can’t leave where we are right now [California]. It’s been pretty crazy that the world has put the brakes on. It’s almost as if we’re in a glass box and someone’s playing a trick on us that we can’t get out of. When my shows were canceled, I was gutted. It’s genuinely why I do it — not even the show, just meeting everyone afterwards gets me going. To have that taken away from them, as well as me, was gutting; I was upset, I couldn’t fathom it. But when something upsets me, I always go, ‘How the fuck can we fix it?’”

“I woke up one morning after my shows were canceled and was like, ‘You know what? Fuck this.’ I need to feel that connection and noise, that energy. There’s gonna be no literal noise from the audience, but there’s gonna be noise online. You’ll be able to comment on the livestream. I’m gonna be playing songs, gonna bring some of my friends out, do some skits, and do a late-night show — like a rock and roll version of fuckin’ Jimmy Kimmel. Try to give people a bit of positivity, laughter, and emotion.”

John Flansburgh, They Might Be Giants (Brooklyn, NY)

“We’ve had a bunch of sold-out shows that were booked over the next weekend and the weeks after that. Our booking agent was pretty proactive and smart about realizing that the scope wasn’t going to just be momentary, so we’ve done all the rescheduling that we need to do, but it’s really hard to know how long this is going to go on. I won’t get into financial specifics, but I’ll say that if you’re looking to hold on to your dough, it’s always a smart idea not to be in a rock band. But our financial situation is one of the least important things about this. I’ve been broke for most of my entire adult life, so I’ll be fine. I think what’s happening in the country is a much bigger deal. I think this is gonna be a lot worse than it needs to be because we don’t have the [real] adults running things.”

Jami Morgan, Code Orange (Pittsburgh, PA)

“It’s just been total fucking stress, basically. As soon as we heard what was going on, we started formulating what our plan was gonna be. We’ve been working on this livestream [from Pittsburg’s Roxian Theatre, with no audience, via Twitch on March 14 at 9 p.m. ET] all fucking day and yesterday. We saw this as a wall and a door, to start something new for everybody. It’s an interesting scenario, because we have the venue locked down already and we’ve worked on every minute of the production for months. It’s gonna be a full-scale concert — not just us at practice.

It’s hard for a band like us, because we’re right on the line of what constitutes a large gathering. We’ve been working for two years on this new record every single day, and we’ve spent every cent we’ve had and were given. We were preparing to make some money on the road and come out of the hole that we’ve already been in. But this new record is also about what is happening. It’s about living in an overcrowded, overconnected, and underconnected world, and having to look at yourself to analyze yours and society’s actions to see what’s going wrong. And look where we’re at!”

Meklit (San Francisco, CA)

“All of our East Coast dates are canceled, and the rest we’re taking one step at a time. I’m trying to be grateful that this didn’t happen when I was already on the road, because what I was really terrified of was getting stuck somewhere. This also would’ve been my first tour with my baby, who’s almost 8 months old. We definitely took a hit financially. These are tours we planned at least a year in advance. You’re relying and planning on that income.”

“I am in a different situation, though, because I got a touring grant from South Arts specifically for these East Coast dates. I’ve been reassured that the grant is intact and they’re not gonna ask for the money back. The grant gave me flexibility to pay the musicians well and pay a babysitter on the road, but I didn’t realize it would also give me the flexibility of covering for losses like this. It’s still hard on my band, though, because they were expecting that income, so I’m paying them a cancellation fee. What the grant enabled me to do I have to pay forward to my musicians.”

YAKO (Hong Kong)

“I was in the middle of a 50-something show tour in Asia; I’d done over 20 shows already, and we had to postpone the rest of it. We have to wait until everything settles down to get back on the road. Obviously I won’t be earning money from the postponed tour dates, and it’s affected my income, but I’m still okay. A lot of bigger festivals have been postponed, so we’ve lost those shows too, but I have more time to stay in the studio and make new music right now. It’s not really bad, it’s not really good, it’s more just about preparing for the next chapter of my career at this point.”

Mia Berrin, Pom Pom Squad (New York, NY)

“We put out an EP independently last year, and I’ve been really gunning for a booking agent for the last three years. SXSW was this really exciting opportunity for us because we felt like we were on the precipice of something bigger. Our expectation at SXSW was to break even; we were getting paid for a few showcases, and it was going to cost around $3,000 to go. That’s a huge investment for an independent band to make, and it’s the nature of the beast. It’s all kind of depressing and complicated to be thinking about myself and my career when there’s so many more dangerous things happening. But it also means I’m not making money, and all the things I’ve worked so hard for, for years … I have no idea what’s gonna happen.”

“I’m thinking about how bands are gonna take over the digital space, and how live music will translate to livestreaming. The internet is so vast, and my concern is how people who are developing their careers are going to survive. Being a viral sensation is the thing that people want, but I don’t remember the last time an indie rock star went [viral] on one song, or a live video, or a piece of content. There’s less and less room for developing artists in media, so how are we going to grow? I’d worked so hard on my live show — that was gonna be my way of going viral, only in real life.”

Jake McMullen, Louis Prince (Nashville, TN)

“The record just came out, and we planned to push it at SXSW, but that’s canceled. We were gonna go to Treefort, and now that’s postponed. We were supposed to do a few headline dates in April in New York and L.A., and those will probably be pushed back as well. I kind of feel like we should just postpone all of it in general. It’s the smartest thing to do. If people who make millions of dollars are postponing things, there’s no reason a little indie artist should try to run around doing things while people are quarantining. I’m trying to figure out now how to get creative online. We’re talking about livestreaming a show, if we can figure out a way to do it properly. You hope people focus their attention on buying records or merch.”

Wire (London, England)

Colin Newman, lead singer: “We just realized we have to cancel the rest of our tour. We were supposed to play in Cambridge, Massachusetts, tonight and then two shows in Canada, but right now it’s gonna be easier for us to just go home, join the rest of the world, and hunker down in place. The tour started on very much a high note, and then after our Atlanta show we realized that 150 people didn’t show up. In Williamsburg, the sales were less than they should’ve been because of what’s been going on, and then half the crowd didn’t turn up. It felt like it was getting to the end of what we’re able to do right now.”

Graham Lewis, bass: “The picture’s changing so rapidly that it’s extremely difficult to predict anything. The wheels just came off the tour for us. Looks like we have to pack up and go home, which is not what we want to do at all. A really good friend of mine in Belgium said they’ve closed all the bars and restaurants. Who knows what’s about to happen? We’ve already had a couple of festivals that have canceled. I live in Sweden, where there’s been a terrible stomach flu going around, and that was striking people down for four or five days. What can you do? You isolate, wash your hands, wash your floors, keep your windows open, get fresh air, hydrate, and get through it. But this has become something else, hasn’t it?”

Frazey Ford (Vancouver, British Columbia)

“A few nights ago, I texted my manager and said, ‘I think we should cancel the Seattle show,’ and then the whole tour was canceled. We’re trying to figure out the complexity of what we’re gonna do with our ticketholders — are we rescheduling, are we refunding people? I’m not a germophobe, and I really had no fear about this virus until a couple of days ago. I really just didn’t take it seriously. So I’m in shock, honestly. We just got back from a tour, and I didn’t think about it one time. So much mainstream media is fearmongering — I’m one of those people — but then I read the science on it and I was like, OK, this is actually very serious. The reality of it struck me quickly.”

“The U.S. tour isn’t a huge financial loss to us, but we have a big tour in Europe scheduled for May that will be a big loss, especially to my band members, who rely heavily on touring. It’s also a loss of joy. Times are so tenuous already that an evening of music can be healing and bonding. It takes people out of themselves. If we’re losing that right now, it’s culturally very devastating. It’s so strange to think of everyone I know not touring. I don’t mind the idea of slowing down and creatively refocusing myself, but I’m very aware that this is not good for my career. If the climate is that artists can’t tour at all, then this whole thing where we’re giving our music away to streaming sites for free might not work.”

Liam Parsons, Good Morning (Melbourne, Australia)

“We were doing a round of touring that was going to take us to Europe in May, plus SXSW. We played four shows into the tour, and we started realizing that everything was slowly starting to get canceled. I feel like everyone in the industry was pretending that it wasn’t as bad as it was for a while. So we had a day off in Las Vegas, found out our L.A. show was canceled, and then our Albuquerque show was canceled, and the Europe tour started looking unlikely. Also, we didn’t want to get stranded in Europe. We’d rather be back home in Australia, where we have health care and could get treated.”

“We took a massive financial hit from this. I haven’t sat down and done the math yet, but we’re at least down $10,000 on money already spent. In terms of lost guarantees and potential merch sales, around $25,000. We also left our jobs before we left, so we’re going back to nothing. I can’t imagine it’s a great time to find a job right now. Our visas run out at the end of September, and they’re too expensive to reapply after they expire, so if we reschedule these dates, I’m hoping we can do so before then.”

Cole Alexander, Black Lips (Atlanta, GA)

“We’re the kind of band that usually plays sick and never misses anything, but this seems more serious. At first I was like, ‘You’ll have to drag me kicking and screaming into the biohazard chamber before I cancel a gig!’ But my mom works at the CDC, and after talking to our drummer [Oakely Munson], too, we figured it’s better safe than sorry. If you’re dead, you’re not gonna make any money. But we will continue to try to play as many shows as we can, because it’s our livelihood and we enjoy it. Also, we’re not so popular that our shows typically constitute large gatherings. I’m wondering how people will adapt. Will shows go underground?”

Marisa Dabice, Mannequin Pussy (Philadelphia, PA)

“My fucking tour just got canceled ten minutes ago! Everyone is being sweet and kind to each other, and we’re trying to make the best of it that we can, but the news is pretty devastating. We just lost all of our income that we were gonna be living off of for the next six months — somewhere in the ballpark of $80,000, and that’s a modest estimate. We were in a fortunate position in that everything we were doing was setting ourselves up to take the summer to record in the fall. We had the Best Coast tour, a little bit of time off, Coachella, shows with Idles, more Coachella, and then touring home — but all of that is going to be postponed now. Livestreaming shows feels really fucking lame to me. I don’t want to do a performance for a computer. Part of being a punk band is living off the energy of a live crowd. It’s a symbiotic relationship. You can’t replicate that. Is it something we’d try? Maybe, but it doesn’t seem artistically appealing.”

“Everyone I know is on edge. I think everyone’s still processing it. This isn’t just affecting bands, too — it’s industrywide. There are so many people involved in live performances, and it’s affecting all of them. A lot of these decisions that are happening are out of our hands. We have to put our head down and follow orders. It wipes out an entire source of revenue for many artists. There’s no safe area where you’re allowed to exist outside of this, which is what’s so unique about this situation. Usually when something like this happens, it mostly affects the arena acts, but now it affects the small-font acts too. But the rooms have been packed, and the audiences have been so happy to be there up to this point. They’ve been showing up to party because it’s the last show they’re gonna be going to for a long time.”

Yumi Zouma (Christchurch, New Zealand)

Josh Burgess: “Waking up yesterday morning, there were a lot more shows then than there are now. What’s really weird for us is that the developments aren’t taking place over a couple of days — it’s every hour. Our booking agent keeps calling us up and saying, ‘Well, there goes another gig.’ The promoters and the venues are as in the dark as anyone else, too.”

Christie Simpson: “A lot of venues have been like, ‘It’s going ahead, it’s fine,’ and then we get an update saying, ‘Never mind, we’re closing.’”

Charlie Ryder: “I’ve never been so invested in local-government tweets.”

Burgess: “We’ve been talking about holing up in my apartment and livestreaming shows. We have a new album just out, too, and we have a bunch of dates booked in September that now seem like a bad idea. Who knows what’s gonna happen in September? We’re so in-the-moment right now that thinking ahead is hard. But every show in our tour was sold out, and we were really planning to make a step up.”

Simpson: “This felt like a big moment for us, the first stepping stone in a massive year for us. We’ve invested a lot of time and engaged so many other people in this new album. But we’re lucky to have a digital following, especially when the world is so connected. A lot of people have reached out to us to say that our music has been very soothing over the last several days.”

Emma Kupa, Mammoth Penguins (Cambridgeshire, U.K.)

“We were due to fly to America on Tuesday for SXSW. We had a mentorship appointment booked with one of the industry members, and we were gonna do some day parties as well. We found out the festival had been canceled, and we made the decision as a band to not go. All that hard work and anticipation for nothing. We’d even done some gigs to raise money for it that pretty much covered the flights, which I’m not sure we’re gonna get the money back from. We’ve probably lost between £1,000–2000 from this. That money could’ve paid for a good amount of recording. I’ve just confirmed a few gigs in September, but I’m not gonna spend a lot of money on gigs until we know the situation better.”

“I have incident and public-liability insurance, and we got travel insurance as well, but because the U.S. or the U.K. aren’t telling us not to travel right now, they can’t pay out, so I’m hoping that over the weekend either government will decide to tell us not to travel. My bandmates are really disappointed, and there’s no guarantee that [SXSW] will happen next year or that we’ll even be able to go, because it’s so much work to get there and I’m not sure I can do it again. It could be an incredibly quiet year for bands.”

Goldroom (Los Angeles, CA)

“I have a tour confirmed in Mexico for the end of April/early May and can’t decide whether to announce it or not. I’m currently finishing up plans for a summer tour and wrestling with when and if to announce that as well. It’s clear that larger shows now through the end of April should all be canceled, but the uncertainty around the timetable after that is really causing huge headaches. Not only is it affecting travel planning, flights, and hotels but also whether or not to be spending ad money to promote the shows. The uncertainty is killing stuff that’s booked for the late spring and summer.”

Nadia Reid (Port Chalmers, New Zealand)

“I just woke up to a decision. A few of our other New Zealand friends were heading to Austin and decided not to, and now we’ve made the decision too. Everything feels like it’s up in the air — I have a show in New York, an extensive U.K. and European tour. I’ve never experienced anything like this before, and it’s heartbreaking, because there are so many implications for everybody and a domino effect. It’s also hard to know what’s reality and what’s just hype in the media. If the U.K. tour gets canceled, that’s a huge chunk of my year gone. I’ve been on the phone with American Airlines and I’m not sure we can get refunded for our U.S. flights, so that’s thousands of dollars in the air. The money stuff is a real bummer, but this is a real threat healthwise, too.”

“We played in Wellington last night to 600 people, and I felt a strange energy in the room. It’s good for people to be together in these uncertain times — providing that it’s okay healthwise. Coming together during uncertainty is helpful for people. I’ve been on the phone a lot with musician friends here, and we’re all saying that we don’t know what the right thing to do is. It’s a really difficult thing to cancel shows. We’re freaked out, and we just want to do the right thing for everybody.”

Sarah Lipstate, Noveller (Los Angeles, CA)

“Unfortunately, my tour in France with Iggy Pop in April has been rescheduled for September. Solo performances for my project Noveller are also being postponed or canceled altogether. When the Iggy tour initially came about, I had to back out of doing a live score for a theater production in Houston. With the tour postponed, it’s looking pretty bleak in terms of opportunities to recoup the loss. It’s a devastating blow, financially. Initially, my U.S. booking agent tried to fill in my schedule with Noveller dates and got me a great offer for a gig, but now that’s being postponed or canceled. I’ve been told that current insurance coverage doesn’t include viral pandemics, so no compensation is to be expected.”

“It’s clear that musicians aren’t going to be able to rely on live performances to make money until this pandemic is under control. I started reaching out to gear companies that I work with and asked them to keep me in mind for marketing campaign opportunities. A lot of the time, I get paid in gear for the promo videos I do. I’ve already had to start selling some of the more valuable pedals from my personal collection to cover living expenses. I’m trying to reestablish communication with filmmakers who’d previously reached out to me about scoring their projects. It’s a hustle. Everyone I’ve spoken to is anxious and frustrated. Some friends with postponed tours are lucky enough to be getting compensated by their bands. Most of us are definitely freaking out about the sudden loss of income and the uncertainty that lies ahead.”

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How 18 Musicians Are Bracing for a Post-Coronavirus World