When The Touring Stops (COVID-19 And Live Music)
It's like something from a dystopian concept album.
Governments and corporations are trying to keep calm collected faces as everything around them is starting to turn to chaos. Countries are closing their borders, there's panic buying of pasta and toilet rolls, painkillers are disappearing quickly from pharmacies, the media keeps unleashing a tsunami of unrelenting bleak and depressing news.
If you'd asked me before all of this started happening what would be the cause I'd probably answer some severe act of terrorism or aggression that's triggered such an extreme flight or fight response, or, jokingly, the start of the zombie apocalypse.
I never would have guessed it would be something invisible to the human eye.
The CDC (Centre for Disease Control) website has said "the virus has been named “SARS-CoV-2” and the disease it causes has been named “coronavirus disease 2019” (abbreviated “COVID-19”)" and it's already been described as a pandemic spreading from China to the UK in a matter of days.
The reason we're writing about this on a music website is simple; the effects of this outbreak are without precedence. There were mentions of shows starting to be cancelled about a week ago. Madonna who pulled the last two dates of her Madame X world tour in Paris. Pearl Jam announced they were going to reschedule their US and Canada tour that was due to start next week. As I write this in my local cafe on a Saturday morning news reports are starting to come through about the UK government putting legislation in place to stop large gatherings of people.
These are uncertain times for everyone in the music .
Musicians and fans alike are wondering what is going to happen next. In an article for Rolling Stone (read here) they report how there are two different types of insurance for gigs; promoters insurance and musicians. The article explains that promoters insurance typically doesn't include pandemics in their cover. Artists insurance is even more restrictive with some musicians saying that recently insurers have started updating their policies to say that COVID-19 is NOT covered.
What does this mean for bands? Basically they're going to be out of pocket as a lot of things are paid for in advance and some of the costs can be quite staggering (Fish, former frontman of Marillion, posted an in depth breakdown of touring costs and logistics in 2013 - read here). For a lot of bands now, touring, and specifically the sales of merchandise, is what pays to keep a band running. With physical sales of albums dropping due to an audience now consuming their music digitally, the sales of tshirts and the like have become an important revenue stream for artists.
The same goes for the tech guys and crew involved with gigs. Like the musicians they work alongside they're classed as self-employed or independent contractors. This means if they don't work they simply won't get paid. They don't get sick pay or anything to help cover any downtime so they're immediately at risk of losing their income. Then there are the venues themselves. Larger ones have corporate sponsorship to help keep them going but your smaller, grassroots type venue rely on gigs to generate revenue to keep them going. With entire tours being cancelled you could see the knock on effect of being that some venues might not be able to recover from this.
Also, let's think of the personal risk involved. Musicians are in a place where, before and after a show, people want to meet them and get things signed. For health reasons alone, this could be catastrophic. Solo artist Gaz Brookfield posted on his Facebook page on 13th that he was cancelling all of his shows for the foreseeable future as he didn't want to feel like he was helping contribute to spreading the virus, plus "as a type 1 diabetic, I am at a higher risk of death if I get this virus" (you can read the full post here).
So, what can we, the audience, do to help?
For starters, complaining to the bands isn't going to help. Yes, it's bad that some people will lose money as they've booked hotels and travel to get to see a show, but it's more of inconvenience than anything else. If a band are looking to try and reschedule, please try and hold on to the ticket. Hopefully this will pass relatively swiftly and we can try to get back to enjoying live music as soon as we possibly can.
Another thing to do is to try and help them out financially if you're in a position to do so. A lot of bands and musicians have their own online shops so, if you're missing an album of theirs or you've been meaning to get one of their t-shirts for a while, this is the perfect opportunity to do so. Buying directly from the artist means they're probably getting a healthier cut of its sale than if you bought it through Amazon. If you you feel like popping into town, go and visit your local music store. Spending money there can help not just the band but also the local store too (they've got rent to pay as well as overheads). Go and see local bands or bands playing the smaller venues if you can. Again, helping these out will make sure that you're still going to have somewhere to go to once the virus has gone into retreat. Finally, if someone you like is using Patreon or something similar to help fund them, consider signing up. A lot of times the artists involved use these platforms as a way to keep going and reward people there with songs, videos, podcasts, etc. It's a cool way of saying you care and you want to be involved.
These are strange and frightening times. We don't know how long it will continue; it may be weeks, it may be months. Let's try to make sure it can continue once this has all passed.
Written by Scott Hamilton