What can you do as a gigging musician in the face of Coronavirus?
If you’re a gigging musician, you’re probably hurting right now. Your livelihood depends on travel and public events, neither of which are advisable during the COVID-19 pandemic. Health experts and governments are encouraging “Social Distancing” (avoiding non-essential contact with larger groups) to fight the spread of the virus.
Weeks ago that meant enormous festivals and conferences were being cancelled — things like SXSW and the ASCAP Experience. But now we’re being asked to avoid even small public gatherings, which means musicians are cancelling house concerts, club appearances, or even playing music at the local coffee shop.
Wherever you are on the spectrum between nonchalance and panic, it’s clear that Coronavirus will drastically reshape the way we live for the next few months at least, and that’s something to take seriously. Gigging musicians have either chosen or been forced to accept a huge financial loss on behalf of the larger public good. There’s no getting around it: That reality absolutely sucks.
While it’s difficult to paint much of a silver lining on the situation, we do want to offer resources, advice, and encouragement where we can, in hopes that your unexpected downtime can be used in other productive and helpful ways.
Also, check out our most recent episode of the DIY Musician Podcast that recaps some of the things below.
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Nothing can replace the live gig experience, but online concerts can be entertaining in their own way.
Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard has decided to go live from his home studio every day for the next few weeks. Thousands of other musicians are doing the same.
If you have a sizable following you could even do a series of private live-streams, one for every tour date you cancelled. If you’re an emerging artist, I’d advise you to make all your live stream broadcasts public just to build on whatever engagement is happening.
Check out these live-streaming options:
- Instagram Live for musicians
- The complete Facebook Live toolkit for musicians
- Twitch for musicians
- YouTube Live
Yes, there are paid platforms for live-streaming, but right now your audience is stuck at home and using the platforms they’re already on — Facebook, Instagram, and so forth. Go where THEY are.
7 things to remember about live-streaming
- Just hit the GO LIVE button already — If you’ve never gone live before, you’re probably nervous. You’re gonna suck. You’re gonna sweat. You’re gonna be awkward. So just get on with it. Every time you go live you’ll get better. But you’ll never get better if you never start.
- It’s not REALLY a “concert” — Live streaming is more casual and interactive than a concert situation where you’re on stage and the audience is quietly consuming the music. So… be casual and interactive.
- You don’t have to stress about production value — Again, this isn’t a concert. Your messy bedroom might be an even more effective background for a live stream than setting up some fancy home studio, because it feels authentic.
- Ask a question after the first verse or chorus — When you go live, play a little bit of a song and then engage your audience early-on, prompting them to respond in the comments. This shows engagement, which prompts the platform to share the live stream to more viewers.
- Do something eye-catching right from the start — Our eyes are conditioned to ignore live streams where it’s just someone holding a guitar. In 2019 when I was doing a lot of live-streaming, I would start many of my broadcasts holding a stuffed alpaca up to the camera and talking in a very strange voice. As one friend put it, “I had to see what the hell was going on because it looked like you were holding a toilet bowl cleaner.”
- Team up — Some platforms allow you to have multiple participants in a broadcast, so you could have a co-bill or mini-festival online.
- They don’t all have to be performances — Telling stories, asking questions, being silly, teaching people… there’s lots of other things to do besides playing songs.
Check out episode #231 of the DIY Musician Podcast for a more in-depth discussion about live streaming and the equipment I used to make my live-stream concerts happen.
Show fans how they can support you
Now is NOT the time to worry about “begging” and looking “desperate” as an artist. These are extraordinary circumstances, and you might need help. Your audience is likely to understand and respond when you ask for their assistance.
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When you do ask for help, be specific and give them clear directions and options. Send something like the list below to your fans via email and social media, or share the images in the Instagram carousel above with your audience (they’re downloadable HERE).
Some things that fans can do to support the musicians they love:
- Buy a t-shirt, hat, or other merch from the artist’s online store.
- Buy a CD/Vinyl/Tape/USB/MP3, whichever music format is most useful. This puts more money in the artist’s pocket than streaming.
- Listen to your favorite artists on streaming platforms, since every play is monetized.
- Share links to your favorite tracks and create a post or video about why this music means so much to you.
- Add a song to your playlist.
- Send an encouraging note directly to the artist. That means more than you’ll ever know.
- Include their song in your own videos.
- If you have design skills, design them a cool shirt or poster that they can sell.
- When touring does resume, buy a ticket and help them pack out that venue.
- Contribute to their crowdfunding or Patreon.
Check out Instagram’s stickers — and avoid #Covid-19 hashtags?
Facebook and Instagram have partnered with the WHO to help users spread facts and limit misinformation. Here’s what they suggest:
You can share official @DudeWithSign PSA memes
Cultural phenomenon @DudeWithSign partnered with the WHO to create an official PSA meme campaign that you can share with your followers on Feed and/or Stories.
- Download or repost images from his feed and share them in your emails / IG posts
- Add a swipe up link to: https://www.who.int/
Use NEW IG Stickers and Quiz Effects
- Use the new ‘#Thankstohealthheroes’ Sticker, now available in your Stories sticker tray.
- Stay tuned for the “Soapy Hands” and “Spread Facts Not Germs” camera effects, with more to come.
Please note: We’re also strongly encouraging you to avoid using COVID-19 hashtags at this time – as these may be used to share misinformation.
Be thrifty (most touring musicians have got this down already)
This is a strange one for me to be offering as “advice” at a time when so many people are hoarding, rationing, or both. But I mention in just as a bit of encouragement.
Lots of touring musicians I know are used to working with tight budgets.
Yes, right now those musicians are facing quite a bit of financial instability. At the same time they’re some of the best-equipped people I know to face that challenge.
Not that it makes it any easier, but being practiced at limiting your expenses can serve you well through these times. So, ya know, carry on.
Experiment with Moog and Korg synthesizer apps — for FREE
Moog and Korg have released some of their apps for free, knowing that plenty of musicians are stuck at home with unexpected downtime.
Crowdfunding or Patreon
You’re probably worried about disappointing your audience if you cancel gigs. But certainly most of your fans will understand, especially as the scope of the spread of Coronavirus becomes more clear.
Crowdfunding has become a common way to support a particular creative project, but it could just as easily be used to to support a favorite artist through uncertain times. Check out Bandzoogle’s commission-free crowdfunding solution, ongoing patronage platform Patreon, or project-based platforms like Kickstarter.
Consult your union or local music organizations
Get free legal advice from a VLA
If you need any legal help right now due to broken contracts, cancelled tours, or anything else, consult your nearest Volunteer Lawyers for the Artists organization.
Research small business relief funds
Your town or city might have a program to assist local businesses in times of need. Call your town hall or chamber of commerce.
Take your community online
Conversations at the merch table or drinks at the bar afterwards are, again, irreplaceable forms of fan engagement while touring. But the Internet gives you OTHER ways of engaging that might not necessarily have as deep or personal an impact, but that can go further in terms of reach and volume in a time of “Social Distancing”:
- Host a Twitter listening party where everyone starts playing your latest album at a predetermined time. Then you post a bunch of pre-written tweets about the music and converse with fans.
- Start a TikTok dance or lip-sync competition. If some of your fans are choosing to stay home more often these days, they might love the chance to practice a dance and get their bodies moving.
- Write a pandemic song. I did (because we need a little humor during all the madness)!
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If you’re not hitting the road, maybe it’s time to record your next album or shoot your next video. If there’s a big project you can do from home that you were initially putting off because of concert commitments, now your calendar is freed up.
Of course now you might also have to adjust HOW you’d tackle that project on a budget or for free.
Rest and reset
Been a while since you just slowed down? Maybe the best way to use your time is to NOT use it in terms of music productivity. Read a book, catch up on sleep, cook more meals.
Advance your skillset
Need any continuing education credits? Want to finally watch those videos about music marketing? Enroll in an online course. Watch YouTube tutorials. This can be a time of learning.
Take some freelance gigs unrelated to music performance
Can you do temporary remote work in other areas? You probably have skills that someone needs (digital marketing, design, mixing, etc.) Take some of those jobs, but be aware of the reality that most musicians probably can’t pay “full price” right now.
Create a healthy WFH routine
Working from home presents some interesting challenges, now more than ever. Here are my top ten tips for people who are new to telecommuting.
Move your body
As long as you’re keeping a distance from people, you can still get outside and workout. It’s extra important right now for health and sanity. If you’re stuck inside, take some Vitamin D and visit free sites like Do Yoga with Me.
Check out MusiCares and other COVID-19 relief funds
Here are some other organizations that are helping out right now (list courtesy of No Depression):
- Music Health Alliance
- IBMA Trust Fund
- Grand Ole Opry Trust Fund
- NC Artist Relief Fund (North Carolina)
And another list courtesy of She Shreds:
I Lost My Gig (for locals affected by SXSW cancellation)
Visit THIS amazing list of resources
Our friends at Folk Alliance have put together another impressive and growing list of resources and assistance funds for musicians during this pandemic. Check it every few days for updates.
International resources: If you’re in Canada…
… check out this directory of resources for musicians.
SOCAN announced emergency royalty advances to songwriters whose ability to sustain their income has been compromised by the impact of the crisis on the music industry.
If you’re in the UK…
The Arts Council of Wales published this article.
Help Musicians UK published an article with numerous resources for musicians to get assistance with their physical and mental health.
If you’re in the EU:
Attend a webinar on sustaining health and community during the Coronavirus crisis
If you want to hear from some experts from the music community and take part in a discussion about how musicians can stay healthy and support one another, go to this webinar on March 18th.
Celebrate the small kindnesses
In these strange times when we’re all waiting for big solutions, it’s important to shine a light on the smaller acts of kindness that connect us — so we feel encouraged to do what we can.
Here’s just one of many examples: Ron Olesko was offering free 30-second radio ad spots on Folk Music Notebook for genre-appropriate musicians who had to cancel tours.
I’m sure there are thousands of similar examples across the world, in every genre. Shout them out on social. Share the love. The little things matter, especially when you add them up.
If you’re in a position to help financially, first consider donating to the artists you know are hurting. But also know there are plenty of organizations out there doing the good work of supporting musicians and artists. The list below is also courtesy of She Shreds:
Be ready to jump back into booking
It’s way too soon to guess when the earth will spin again. But when it does, we’re gonna need music and connection out there in the physical world. Of course that means paying gigs for you, but it also means your audience will be able to take part in something vital that they might’ve taken for granted.
What are some other options?
I’m sure touring musicians have thought of a bunch of other possibilities. If that’s you, please leave your thoughts and comments below.