The life of a traveling musician sounds very romantic. Except when they’re stuck in Europe after the President launches a travel ban over a deadly virus spreading like a forest fire. That’s what coronavirus has done.
“I just lost all my income,” said Phil Jaurigui, who manages Jared James Nichols, the singer-guitarist stuck in Europe. Nichols released his new single “Threw Me to the Wolves” Wednesday, just hours before three weeks of shows in Sweden and Britain were shut down. Nichols and his bandmates were “racing” to catch a ferry Thursday to get to the U.K. and catch a flight back.
“Fingers crossed there are no issues,” Jaurigui said.
When gatherings are being canceled all over, and your income depends on people gathering, you’re out of luck when crisis strikes. Jaurigui also promotes shows and, suddenly, the well is dry, including his week of now-canceled work at the South by Southwest festival in Austin next week. Among others, he was doing a show by Soul Asylum. He was slated to do a private show by Lauryn Hill back in Los Angeles that was canceled Thursday.
I’m not sure the non-music world understood the significance of canceling SXSW. It’s not just a bunch of drunk music fiends not getting to run amok for a week. I mean, yeah … there’s that. Yes, it was a severe blow to the service industry of the Texas capital. It was also the music industry’s equivalent of canceling baseball’s opening day and the first few months of the season—which might also happen.
“I have no money coming in, personally,” Jaurigui said. “I just lost 25K.”
Which, of course, is better than getting sick, dying or bringing a bug home to for your 70-year-old parents to host.
But … it still sucks.
Deposits for trucks and vans and lodging are gone. Last-minute travel arrangements aren’t cheap. It’s a mess for so many, not to mentions the venues who aren’t selling tickets and drinks.
Nichols still can earn from people getting his music over the Internet–which isn’t a lot of money in 2020 unless an artist is selling big. Nichols has spent years earning his living on a well-deserved reputation for simply blowing audiences over with his playing.
But, now, there are no audiences to blow away, no tickets to sell, and no shirts and CDs to sell.
Playing live has always, of course, been important for musicians. But gone are the old days of major record labels dealing out seven-figure advances and using their corporate muscle to promote the hell out of their investments. The flip side of having an Internet as a conduit for selling music is there’s no financial safety net for those living on the margins of big success.
For musicians not roped to a major label, the Internet was heaven-sent. Word of mouth–word of email?—became important again. The artists who worked the hardest to promote themselves—through posted music, videos, upcoming shows, homemade merch—benefitted hugely. When this was still considered a fascinating anomaly, I wrote about a local band that, despite not having a traditional record deal and not being very big locally, somehow struck gold in a South American country. They were so big—in a country they’d yet to visit—members quit Silicon Valley jobs because they were making more money in music. There was even at least one tribute band dedicated to their music. It was crazy.
Go figure: a bunch of hard-workers making good music having the means to benefit financially. Being a great live act, ironically, became a much bigger deal in the digital age.
So while you’re now spending more time in front of your computer, stuffed inside your home trying to avoid getting sick, perhaps you can spend some of that time on new music—buying it; not streaming it. Buy a fewer ginormous packs of toilet paper and use the money to support the people who aren’t making any playing live. They may need it for a while.