I saw musicians canceling tours, filing for unemployment, getting jobs at supermarkets and selling extra gear to get by. With streaming services decreasing album sales, the modern musician makes most of their bread on touring. What would we do?
When I got my first reality check about the pandemic, I was practicing with my band in a Los Angeles garage. We were getting ready for our show the next day – or so we thought. “What do you mean bars are closed on St. Patrick’s Day?” I squinted at my bass player in disbelief. “So … our show is canceled?” This was the first of many wake-up calls that would change my life as a musician.
I spent the last five years as a full-time performer, playing everything from theaters and festivals to hotels and juke joints around the country. I spent my off time in studios and artist gatherings in Los Angeles. The idea of a quarantine was completely foreign to me. I told myself it wouldn’t last long and took some time to rest.
A month passed, then another month … I saw musicians canceling tours, filing for unemployment, getting jobs at supermarkets and selling extra gear to get by. With streaming services decreasing album sales, the modern musician makes most of their bread on touring. What would we do?
They say in a time of crisis, people find their strength to move mountains. The only way is forward. I decided to take action for myself and others. I kept at my podcast “Alchemy Through Artistry” and I started a pandemic artist support group online. I took a business course and the main question I posed to myself was “How can I shift everything I do online?” I started teaching zoom lessons and masterminding with other friends about how we could make the music industry a better place moving forward.
The world of livestream concerts started to light up on the internet. Musicians of all types went live on social media platforms and created their “virtual tip bucket” with their paypal link. I thought “why would someone want to watch a livestream of me in my quarantine clothes?” Emails and messages started to flood in saying things like “It felt like you were right there in our living room” or “I had breakfast to you singing and it started my day with a smile.”
One day a friend of mine was celebrating her son’s birthday. He loves music and asked if I could surprise him with a social distance concert. I set up my portable amp on the sidewalk and played as he came out, bursting with joy. I played as they danced on the grass and it sparked the idea to do this more. I started to set up my amp by the beach during sunset – calling my performances “sunset serenades.” I play as people watch the sun go down. It almost feels like I’m helping people celebrate getting through another day in this crazy world. Plus people have been generous with my virtual tip jar and smiles so it’s all around worth every minute for me.
All this has made me realize that being an artist isn’t about fame or stressing to get as many people as possible to a crappy bar gig. The connection I felt with my fans over the course of the pandemic has lifted me to new levels of hope. It keeps me remembering that we are only the change we create ourselves.
Artists are now realizing they can make a name and living for themselves without having to sign a restrictive record deal or contract. With the age of the internet and the hearts of the people we are free to be the artists we have always wanted to be. People really do care. People really do want to hear the music, whether it’s livestreamed or bought on CD from your website.
So if you see a livestream, tip them what you can. If you can buy a musician’s merchandise, please do so. By supporting artists in this way, you allow us to continue to shape new systems and ways to build a better world.
This Voices story was written by Sarah Rogo. Sarah is a musician and artistry coach playing and teaching around the world.
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