Image by Harut Movsisyan from Pixabay

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.

Will the Music Industry Change Post-Pandemic?

I’m still surprised when I realize that career musicians with substantial bodies of work never get to stop thinking about money. They are artists who write songs that move me and add color to my life, so I forget that they are grounded in the same working-class struggles as workers in any other field.

Looking at what Bandcamp has built and how it has willingly transformed itself to help musicians during the pandemic is heartening. Hearing and participating in conversations about what needs to change has also raised awareness of the many areas in which our neoliberal/capitalist structure fails to meet people’s needs.

Will anything change enough to make a significant difference? It’s apparent through researching this article that the music industry is a testing ground for technology and marketing. It’s a business where the artists themselves are simply elements in the experiment; their work creates a focal point for directing and controlling consumer behavior.

If any area of our economy should make a creative shift, doesn’t it make sense it might be in the arts? Regardless of what the music industry’s business side has learned from the pandemic, the musicians are responding with the same sensitivity and insight that informs a great song.

“I am actively experimenting with how music can be embodied in a less capitalistic framework,” says Louise. “Yes, some of these things are to sell, but I hope that they can help deepen the ways listeners experience music’s sacredness and healing power.”

Louise’s goal is a noble one, but don’t we listeners already get that from the musicians that matter to us? There’s a long string of songs that have helped me get over breakups, deaths, and other calamities that one must endure. This year, meeting new unknowns caused by COVID-19, it’s happened more times than I can count. What else has the emotional resonance to do that?

Thinking back to my conversation with that Dutch artist in a bar in Amsterdam, his initial statement is flawed. Yes, art created in the US may have a certain resonance from circumstances related to economic survival, but there’s no underlying psychosis. That implies an inability to discern what’s real. US artists know what’s real; the problem is being able to access what they need.

Works Cited

Anderson, Tim. “Theorizing the social musician“. Focaal. 17 April 2015.

Antidope. ” Destructive Creativity: Art and Late Capitalism”. aNtiDoTe Zine. 9 November 2018.

Bandcamp Daily Staff. “Artists and Labels Offering Donations, Special Merch, and More Today”. Bandcamp Daily. 3 June 2020.

Baym, N. K. ” The Swedish Model: Balancing Markets and Gifts in the Music Industry”. Popular Communication, 14(1). 2011.

Bazinet, Jason B., et al. “Putting The Band Back Together: Remastering The World Of Music”. Citi GPS: Global Perspectives & Solutions. August 2018.

Beaumont-Thomas, Ben. “Third of British musicians may quit industry amid pandemic”. The Guardian. 22 September 2020.

Biron, Carey L. “‘One paycheck away’ from homelessness: housing inequality fuels U.S. protests”. Reuters. 3 June 2020.

Blistein, Jon. ” House Covid-19 Relief Bill Updated With Provisions From Save Our Stages Act”. Rolling Stone. 29 September 2020.

Chiarito, Bob. ” 90 Percent Of Chicago’s Independent Music Venues Will Close Because of Coronavirus, Desperate Owners Say”. Block Club Chicago. 21 September 2020.

D’Arcangelo, Sam. ” Report: Median Musician Income In The United States Is $21,300 Per Year”. Live For Live Music. 28 June 2018.

Diamond, Ethan. “An Update on Bandcamp Fridays”. Bandcamp Daily. 29 September 2020.

Diamond, Ethan. ” Support Artists Impacted By the Covid-19 Pandemic”. Bandcamp. 3 July 2020.

Duszynski, Maciej. ” Gig Economy: Definition, Statistics & Trends”. Zety. 19 May 2020.

Fellman, Susanna. “The ‘ Nordic model‘ of capitalism”. 28 May 2019.

Ghoshal, Neela. “Transgender, Third Gender, No Gender: Part II”. Human Rights Watch. 8 September 2020.

Gramlich, John. “Americans have heard more about clashes between police and protesters than other recent news stories”. Fact Tank. 16 September 2020.

Haque, Umair. The New Capitalist Manifesto: building a disruptively better business. Harvard Business Review Press, 2011.

Hesmondhalgh, David and Leslie M. Meier. “What the digitalisation of music tells us about capitalism, culture and the power of the information technology sector”. Information, Communication & Society. 28 June 2017, pp. 1555-70.

Heyman, Stephen. “Sweden’s Notorious Distinction as a Haven for Online Pirates“. The New York Times. 17 June 2015.

Hirsh, Michael and Keith Johnson. “A Tale of Two Rescue Plans“. Foreign Policy. 24 April 2020.

Ingham, Tim. “The Major Labels Are Starting To Find Life Tougher In Sweden. Is This A Wake-up Call For The Future?” Music Business. 30 September 2019.

Kaldor, Mary. ” British democracy has been hollowed out by neoliberalism – and Brexit will make it a whole lot worse”. The Independent. 12 August 2019.

Krukowski, Damon. “A Tale Of Two Ecosystems: On Bandcamp, Spotify And The Wide-Open Future”. NPR. 19 August 2020.

Leight, Elias. “There’s a Musician’s Union. Many Musicians Are Unaware — or Unable to Join”. Rolling Stone. 6 May 2019.

Lopez, German. “How Trump let Covid-19 win”. Vox. 22 September 2020.

McManus, Drew. “Another Orchestra vs. Unemployment Incident”. Adaptistration. 25 January 2012.

Morcom, Anna. ” Music and capitalism – an introduction”. 1 April 2015.

Pettit, Tara. “Jackie Venson Making Texas History on the Guitar”. Spectrum News. 11 March 2020.

Ravens, Chal. ” Good Vibrations: how Bandcamp became the heroes of streaming”. The Guardian. 25 June 2020.

Savage, Mark. “Hundreds of musicians protest outside Parliament“. BBC News. 6 October 2020.

Salazar-Winspear, Olivia. “Macron announces extra aid for French arts sector battered by Covid-19 crisis”. France 24. 6 May 2020.

Shorto, Russell. “Going Dutch“. The New York Times Magazine. 29 April 2009.

Stoilas, Helen. ” Trump wants to axe the NEA. Yes, again.” The Art Newspaper. 18 March 2019.

Swash, Rosie. ” Online piracy: 95% of music downloads are illegal”. The Guardian. 16 January 2009.

Tissenbaum, Marc. “Marisa Anderson’s New, Weird America“. Flagpole. 11 May 2016.

Washington Post staff. ” Resources to understand America’s long history of injustice and inequality”. The Washington Post. 9 October 2020.

(uncredited) “Creativity Connects: Trends and Conditions Affecting U.S. Artists“. September 2016. Center for Cultural Innovation for National Endowment for the Arts.

(uncredited) “The European Social Model: Can we still afford it in this globalised world?” European Economic and Social Committee, European Union. 2018.

(uncredited) “This new, independent distributor wants to democratize the music industry”. Press release. 17 September 2018.


Interview responses have been edited for clarity.

Editor’s note: Our current CMS is not allowing us to enter author bios in their byline field. So for now, we’ll provide Marc’s bio here:

Marc Tissenbaum received a B.A. in Journalism from Marshall University and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Vermont College. he has written about music off and on over the years for Flagpole ( a weekly entertainment paper in Athens, GA), Paste, and Magnet.

He is a lifelong musician who quit playing live shows and recording about 20 years ago but has maintained an active improv and songwriting practice and maintained friendships with many career musicians.

He is also an aficionado of traditional music and its evolution in cultures around the world and has traveled to such diverse locations as Bolivia, Cuba, Turkey, and Morocco making field recordings and meeting musicians.