How to Help Musicians Who Cannot Perform Live Due to COVID

Guitarist singing into microphone

The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated musicians’ and songwriters’ ability to earn a living. Live concerts, once the primary way for artists to make money, have been canceled with no indication of when musicians can perform again. It’s not only the musicians themselves who are affected by the pandemic – the concert industry stands to lose billions and individual artists may be forced to leave the industry.

As the Recording Academy explained in a letter to Congressional leaders, “[t]hese cancellations don’t just affect famous featured artists and headlining bands. They impact thousands of songwriters, session musicians, live musicians, backing vocalists, audio engineers, studio mixers, and other individuals who make a living by making music.” Touring managers, instrument technicians, lighting technicians, soundboard operators, venue operators, and others have also lost their income.

While recording studios and collaborative spaces have been innovative in finding ways to partially re-open, musicians’ and songwriters’ ability to write and record new music has been substantially curtailed, further squeezing their ability to make ends meet.

Independent venues, a backbone of music’s infrastructure and anchor point of the local music scene in towns and communities all around the country, have been hit especially hard, with many closing for good, and others on the brink of closing or selling off.

Fortunately, fans and audiences can help musicians, songwriters, and venues during these difficult times. While we can’t support our favorite artists at live performances, we can still support them through many other channels. Here are some ways you can help musicians weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tell Congress to Ensure Relief Reaches All Workers and Businesses, Including Musicians, Songwriters, and Venues

Mixed Earners Unemployment Assistance Act of 2020

COVID-19 relief efforts, such as the CARES Act, provided desperately needed assistance to many Americans unemployed as a result of the pandemic. However, as implemented, the unemployment assistance often fails to take into account the multiple streams of income musicians and songwriters cobble together to earn a living. For example, a musician might work as an independent contractor, recording music as a session musician, while at the same time working as a W-2 employee waiting tables. Some states have misinterpreted the new federal law as only allowing for calculation of unemployment benefits based on a single source.

Write Congress today asking for clarification that accounts for all sources of income. It would make a huge difference in the lives of working-class musicians and songwriters.

Save Our Stages Act

After months of being closed, independent venues are hanging by a thread, and need help now. The Save Our Stages Act would provide funding for six months to help “keep venues afloat, pay employees and preserve a critical economic sector for communities across America.” This funding is intended for small, independent venue operators, promoters, and talent representatives. Venues have had to remain closed longer than other businesses as their crowded indoor spaces may increase the spread of COVID. This Act would help preserve these venues for future live performances.

Write Congress today and ask for immediate assistance for independent music venues by passing the “Save our Stages Act.”

Heroes Act

The Heroes Act would authorize $10 billion in grants for independent venues, producers, promoters, and talent representatives. Importantly, venues could use that money to pay rent, mortgages, utilities, insurance, and other expenses that continue even during pandemic closures.

Support Funds that Help Musicians

Several industry groups have organized emergency funds for musicians put out of work by the pandemic. Many of these funds accept donations from the general public and have application processes to ensure their funds are distributed to qualifying artists in need.

Some funds that focus on musicians are:

You can also share resources with your favorite musicians, such as:

Be Mindful Music Fan and Consumer

Buy Music

Streaming music can help increase artists’ paychecks, but you can make your support go even further by purchasing your favorite musician’s music directly from their website or on platforms like Bandcamp, where the artist will receive a higher payout per album purchased.

Streaming services generally pay artists $0.00318 to $0.00551 per stream. As NPR explains, imagine your favorite artist has lost $10,000 from canceled performances; based on a generous $0.007 per-stream rate, it would take at least an additional 1.4 million song streams for the musician to make up that $10,000 in lost earnings.

On the other hand, if an artist directly sells their albums for $10, they would only need to sell 1,000 albums to cover that $10,000 loss. These direct sales and higher payout rates are much easier to accumulate to offset losses from live performances. Bandcamp even has a promotion on the first Friday of the month where it waives its share of sales so artists can get 100% of the sales of their music.

Buy Merch

Musicians can make a good amount of money from their merchandise, especially from sales at live performances. With live performances canceled, artists are experiencing affected merch sales. You can still purchase artists’ merch online, and you can help artists more by purchasing directly from their own online store.

Merchandise distributors take a cut of sales, so buying directly from the musician puts more money in their pockets. Some musicians are even tailoring their merch to offer creative options during the pandemic.

Attend a Virtual Show

Musicians are live streaming performances as a replacement for live events. Billboard and The Verge have compiled lists of virtual concerts that you can watch from the comfort of your own home. Some performances are free while others offer paid tickets. You can also watch your favorite musicians live on social media platforms like Instagram Live.

Donate Directly

The most direct way you can help a musician is by donating to their Venmo, PayPal, Cash App, TiPJAR, or other money transfer account. You can choose a platform that doesn’t take a high fee, so the musician receives the largest percentage of your donation possible. Musicians often have their usernames listed on their social media accounts.

Become a Patron

Patreon allows musicians (and other creators) to get paid by offering fans unique content in exchange for pledging small amounts per month. By becoming a musician’s patron, you can directly support the musician financially while also enjoying more of their work, from digital extras to one-on-one lessons and other bonus content.

Patreon gives musicians an opportunity for a reliable, consistent income stream with flexibility to customize pricing tiers and rewards. Musicians can offer reward tiers for as low as $1 per month and Patreon only takes a 5% fee.

Boost Their Online Presence

While you can support your favorite artists by streaming their music and liking their social media posts, you can take it a step further by actively boosting their online presence. For example, on Spotify you can pre-save songs, “like” songs, and follow artists so their songs have a better chance of being placed on the platform’s algorithm-generated playlists. Artists with record label and publisher backing can push to be placed on these playlists, but smaller musicians need your support to be promoted.

You can also boost your favorite musicians’ presence on Instagram. Saving or sharing their posts boosts musicians’ visibility on other feeds, much more than “liking” the post does.

Spread the Word

While there are great ways to financially support your favorite musicians, you don’t need to spend money to help them out. You can spread the word about your favorite musicians on social media to help expand their fanbase and lead others to their music.

Looking to learn more about helping musicians during the COVID-19 pandemic? Check out the Economic and Professional Initiatives to Assist Creators During the Coronavirus section of News & Events.

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