I vividly remember receiving the terrible news from the director of the nonprofit performing arts center where I was running a small concert series. Not nearly enough tickets had sold for one show in particular, and it came at a difficult moment for the center. The loss they would incur would be too much to justify for a small program like ours, and we’d have to cancel the show.
This was the day of, mind you.
One of the selling points for musicians coming to play for my series was that they’d be paid well. I pushed early on to more than double the average pay for artists from where it was when I inherited the series.
Up to this point we were successfully bringing as many ticket dollars as we were paying the artists, if just barely. We didn’t have to make a profit, but we just couldn’t cost the center too much money.
Any money, really. And this was looking like it could be a significant loss for us. I didn’t know what to do besides call the band and deliver the bad news.
The band leader at the other end of the line did not give up so easily. He fought back, and we poured over the contract together and brainstormed any ideas possible for pulling this off. When I went back to management, I begged that we just lower the pay a little bit, and vowed that the band and I would find people to attend the show, however we could.
In the end, we did make a surprising amount of money back in beer sales, and we had enough ticket holders to just about cover the cost. And it was an awesome show. The performing arts center was inspired by the band leader’s passion, as was I.
But it wasn’t passion, was it. It was honest desperation. The life of a touring band is full of incidents like this. These are the people in our lives who are supposed to emanate joy onstage, night after night, and yet musicians tend to live some of the most uncertain existences in our modern society.
Obama’s health care overhaul was aimed squarely at groups such as this, America’s freelancers. Which is fantastic — the paradigm of the corporate desk job is not so stereotypical in our day and age. More people work for themselves than ever, including musicians.
But musicians need large groups of people to show up to get paid, and that ain’t happening now. Health care is an expense, just like rent and groceries.
This week, I beg of you: Think about the local musicians you count among your friends, or that you go to see at the local clubs and music venues. These are members of an important, yet still very unprotected segment of our society, and this COVID-19 deal is hitting them as hard as anyone I know.
Today, there are zero gigs for any musician, anywhere. The unique circumstance of our time has severed these people’s income streams immediately. Every musician you know has just been laid off, with no severance pay.
Do this. Come up with a list of your favorite local bands or musicians off the top of your head. I know you’re quarantined at home and are already out of stuff to watch on Netflix — you have time.
Visit each one of these bands’ Instagram pages, Facebook pages or websites and:
1. Buy records and merchandise
2. Contact them for video chat lessons
3. Look for other ways to simply donate to help them pay rent
A band I follow, The Ballroom Thieves, from Boston, wrecked their van at the beginning of this month on a massive multi-car slide/pile-up during an ice storm on I-80 in Wyoming. And now their upcoming gigs are cancelled, and the bills are coming due. They’ve reached out via Instagram to share their Venmo and PayPal information, and as a side note to any musicians reading, I would recommend checking out their message and following suit.
So many musicians really need help right now. Lord knows they’ve helped us all feel great a time or two in the past.