Ohio singer-songwriter Angela Perley began March by canceling her band’s important first showcase appearance at South by Southwest, followed by a 100-capacity hometown show, and eventually the rest of her March concerts. On Sunday, Ohio’s governor closed the remaining music venues in the state. She’d just played a show and knew it would be her last for a while.
“I honestly feel overwhelmed and stressed thinking about my future as a musician at this point,” the singer-guitarist said. “The [coronavirus] pandemic has made me learn how completely unprepared I was for something like this to happen in my lifetime.”
Like many smaller independent artists, Perley makes her living by playing bars, the latest in a string of music venues to ban gatherings. Now she doesn’t know what she will do. Coronavirus isn’t just hitting her in the wallet, but also emotionally. She said she’s trying to stay positive and has a support system and community, but it is nonetheless difficult not to feel anxious about everything at this point. The winter is a slower time for most musicians, while in March many of them start to kick into high gear for the busy season—April through October.
“I’m already living gig-to-gig with little to no savings, large student loans, and fairly high credit card bill and debt from my daily lifestyle and band expenses from basically being my own ‘small business’ or ‘label,'” she said.
Many of her artist friends are in the same boat. Because it’s difficult to land a steady 9-to-5 job, they rely on the food and service industry to provide a side income. But now many restaurants are also shuttered and there’s no income.
“That is also taking the same hit as us right now,” Perley said.
“I am seeing peers move super quick to online streaming shows and benefits where people can donate and have already seen a lot of people organizing fundraisers for musicians and small businesses, so things are moving very quickly in attempting to get through this. It almost seems too quick, though, and I feel conflicted and like I still need time to just process everything before I think about my next steps.”
Perley has set up PayPal (firstname.lastname@example.org), Venmo (@Angela-Perley) and a personal account at her site’s online store to collect donations and stay afloat for now.
The impact of canceling thousand of concerts—all concerts—nationwide is having a far greater impact than on artists. It takes many people from club bookers and sound, instrument and lighting technicians, to the people who sell merch, drive production trucks and buses, tour managers in charge of artists’ schedules and the managers in charge of artists’ careers.
Audio engineer Paul Klimson, who alongside his wife, runs Theory One Productions in New York, was under contract by Alicia Keys’ management for several spring concerts.
“Those [shows] went away and that equaled out to about $10,000 of work that disappeared in one phone call,” Klimson said. The fateful day was March 9, when many large tours came tumbling down like a line of dominoes. His next contract, for a world tour, is for early May. “That’s on the bubble.”
Much of the work hangs in the balance of the country’s biggest show producers. “The AEGs and the LiveNations swing where our life goes,” he said.
Klimson got his start in Nashville, working sound for Tanya Tucker and “every Christian rock, punk artists that came through Nashville.” He got his big break with John Legend before spending several years on late-night TV with Jimmy Fallon, where he mixed monitors for all of Fallon’s show’s performers. Going back to TV is one of his fall-back plans, if the national quarantine continues. He may also look to fashion shows and Broadway.
Klimson said he’s faring better than many of his colleagues in the industry, whom he refers to as his “crew family,” who have to live from gig to gig. One friend, a father of four with a stay-at-home spouse, was in the middle of planning a gig at Coachella, and he’s now working construction. Another buddy in Texas was a carpenter for Madonna’s European tour.
“He’s gone back to construction crane work,” Klimson said. “If the country shuts down even more, then those jobs go away as well. … We can pivot very quickly when it comes to that stuff, but a lot of our main options are gone.”
Jessica Diamond, who manages Atlanta pop band Davis and the Love, made the tough decision to pull the band off the road Tuesday morning as it was heading for a concert in Destin, Florida.
“We had a venue. They were going to play a St. Paddy’s Day festival and they did not want to cancel it,” Diamond said. The beachside, outdoor performance had several hundred fans in attendance. The band really needed the money.
“I had to really figure out whether it was good for their health to be there, but also what money they needed to make right now—because everything else is getting canceled. So I just literally pulled them off the road an hour ago,” she said. Several hours later, the city ended up pulling the plug, anyway.
Diamond has a second stream of income, working in marketing. That job is heavily reliant on the the restaurant and retail spaces, and that income will also be taking a hit, financially.
“Anyone working in management right now; if you’re not at the 1 percent, top level, you are just trying to make ends meet and giving everything you have to these artists,” she said. “You have to have multiple income streams.”
Artist managers don’t have any visibility past June 1 at this point, she said. She doesn’t know what will happen past that time. Still, she does see one benefit for Davis and the Love—and artists everywhere. The band has a finished album that it will be releasing in the next two to three weeks.
“The only thing people can do right now is listen to music and watch movies. We can’t leave our house. We need music … more than ever. People are so bored right now,” Diamond said. “Anything that [artists] announce right now is going to have more attention and more eyes on it than it has ever had. I’m trying to tell the guys, ‘Be thankful for this two-month break, because it’s going to put eyes on our album.’ All of our time right now is going to be innovative. We’re going to concentrate much more on social media. We’re going to have much more time to create content. I’m going to be doing live videos of them doing acoustic stuff, some teasers leading up to the album release. … It’s the silver lining.”
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.