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How Musicians Are Surviving the Pandemic — and the Music Industry

Nine US-based musicians discuss surviving and adapting to the changing music industry in our extraordinarily challenging time of pandemic shutdown.

The Club Quandary

While streaming is an abstraction to many people, going to clubs to see shows is tangible. It’s what we love and how we most strongly feel and connect to the music. Even though it’s off the table for now, and clubs, too, are struggling, do we need to step back and rethink how that model works?

“Making music, making songs, playing a live gig, traveling to play a gig, making a recording, none of this means you should get paid,” says Lewis, once again proving to be an outlier in the debate.

“The artist’s job is to blow minds. Period,” he says. “The artist’s job is to be as essential as food and water and shelter, transportation, sex, and companionship–by any means necessary. Perhaps based on quantifiable investments of time and money (like skill and equipment) but with no more correlation to those things than how tall you are. If the artist does his or her job, then the artist is like water. People don’t need to be begged or cajoled into drinking water, or attending a gig of an artist who is essential to them.”

DeCicca once more provides the counter-argument, defending small venue owners while balancing that with the often unrecognized contributions bands make to a community’s economy.

“A venue pays rent, insurance, salaries, and a million other things,” DeCicca says. “I don’t know any small venue owners that are getting rich or like the model they’re locked in, to survive. But it is a problem when the door or sound person regularly earns more than a band of four or five players, and neither of those jobs deserves less pay.

“But this is where we begin discussing values,” he says. “Patrons need to get used to paying more for gigs in smaller venues and caring about that entertainment. But now we’re getting into toxic conversations of ‘exposure’ and inflation and art. Most venues can’t afford to curate music; they mostly host genre-specific popularity contests to keep the lights on. Because that’s what people, in general, want: to see their friends, have fun, and sing along. They aren’t going out to be stimulated in the same way that I might need, and that’s fine.

“It’s important to recognize that even bands that don’t make money to help drive the economy,” DeCicca continues. He points out that when people attend a show, they spend money in other ways such as buying drinks, going out to dinner, and paying for parking or transportation.

“Monetarily, this is the only distinction between musicians and other artisans, like weavers, potters, painters,” DeCicca says. “Working musicians create a lot of jobs which help communities thrive. That is not reflected in a door deal and three drink tickets, but I’m not sure whose responsibility it is to compensate them.”

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