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Artist Dispatch: The reality of COVID-19’s effect on working artists’ careers

Artist Dispatch: The reality of COVID-19’s effect on working artists’ careers
Artist DispatchMay 21, 2020

COVID-19 has undoubtedly disrupted many industries, including our beloved music industry. Album releases have been postponed, and all live shows have been canceled until an unknown later date, putting artists’ already tenuous livelihood on shakier ground. But, things aren’t all doom and gloom. Artists are working harder than ever to share their music and connect with fans through creative livestreams, quarantine collaborations and more. 

We wanted to get a real glance at what it means to be a musician during this time, so we gathered a group of Sofar alumni, spanning Sydney to Seattle to Toronto, to weigh in. Twice a week, they’ll be sharing their thoughts on different topics related to this crazy time we’re all in. 


This week we asked them:

How has isolation/stay at home changed or influenced your music career? How many live shows or tours have you had to cancel due to COVID-19? How have you as an artist been affected? 

My career no longer looks anything like it did for the last 20 years. I built my life around being a live performer, generating anywhere from 50-90% of my income from playing events. 

I can’t even begin to count all of the lost work because often, I would be asked a week or two ahead of time to perform at certain events, sometimes even just a few days before. That is the nature of being a full-time local gigging musician. I can say that my last show was March 12th at a storefront theater in Chicago, and from that weekend forward at least 20 planned shows for spring summer were canceled. 

For the time being, teaching a few online classes has been a help, but most of the small revenue I am generating comes from streaming live on Facebook and Instagram. Though, I do fear that as time goes on, my supporters and audience, who are also all affected by this, won’t be in a position to support in that way so it doesn’t feel exceptionally sustainable.  Only time will tell I guess.

- Vivian Garcia, Chicago

I had nine amazing shows lined up, including two where I was going to bring my band with me to a Sofar Sounds show for the first time. I had also booked my first ever music festival, which was canceled for this year, but will be happening again in 2021, so I am very much looking forward to that. 

I have also been working on a grant-funded 4-song EP, and was lucky to finish that studio time up before self-isolation. I will be releasing the songs, with some music videos, over the summer, and can’t wait to share those with the world.

- Tissa Rahim, Vancouver

I've not played a show in a while, now. This is the first time in my life since I was 16 that I've not played a show in a month. I never took breaks. I was always on the go getting asked to play or finding new places to play. Everything I had on the go was canceled. Fortunately, I was just moving to a new city, so I wasn't expecting more than 10 gigs a month. If I had been in a more dependent position, it would have been way worse.

- Kiaran aka Kubla, Toronto

We had to cancel every single show we had booked through June 2020. Roughly around 26 shows. This also included sending out our booking requests for hosts for our second annual living room tour that has been mostly hosted through individuals who have frequented Sofar Shows. We lost most of our income and future income and while the adjustment has not been easy, we’ve been managing at hustling where we can. 

- Myra of Stereo RV, Seattle

We had to cancel a two-week tour through the Northeast US along with several house shows, Sofar shows and weddings. As musicians, our job is literally to bring people together under one roof and cultivate connection through music — to have that be against the law at the moment feels really sad. Of course we have the internet and livestreams/Zoom concerts/etc., but it's just not the same. To be in one room and to feel that energy moving throughout the crowd is so special. We really miss performing live and connecting with people face to face. Another huge piece of that is income. A large percentage of our income as musicians comes from the live environment: selling tickets, selling merch, etc. We've been greatly impacted by that for sure.

- Kathleen and Aubrey of LVDY, Denver

I think we're all the same situation in that we've had to cancel all shows/tours for the most part of the year. I work on deadlines and now that there are no deadlines it's hard to stay motivated. I used to book the studio two months in advance to force myself to write an album in that time and then have it released in time for a tour a few months after that. With no live shows scheduled in the foreseeable future I've had to work a lot harder to motivate myself. But I'm doing fine, I've accepted the situation now.

- Taylor of Brekky Boy,Sydney

Basically every show of mine from the middle of March to the end of September has been either canceled or rescheduled, including an official showcase at SXSW. That was a bummer. I’m still hoping to release my second album in late September or early October of this year and be able to go on tour after that.

- Yasmin Williams, Baltimore

As far as future content goes, I think it’s helped a bit, but I think it set me back with the project I had finished already. We had SXSW week pretty stacked with shows. I was hype to play some new stuff ‘cause I had taken a break to write for a bit. But I think this extra time has helped a lot artistically.

- Clarence James, Austin

This isolation has just made me appreciate what I love to do even more and has motivated me to work even harder. This Corona outbreak actually happened while I was out on the road with RC& the Gritz. We were able to finish the tour but other dates were canceled. Also had events of my own that were canceled as well. This isolation has just allowed me as an artist to step even more out of my comfort zone of creativity and I love it, but I’m ready to get back to the norm. 

- Miracle Foster, Dallas

Thanks to these artists for sharing with us, and we’ll be back next week to talk with them about what’s inspiring them during this time.

In the meantime, join us daily in Sofar’s listening room for livestreams, where you can donate directly to the performing artists.