The coronavirus outbreak has been devastating for live music. Nationally-touring bands and local musicians alike have canceled shows, which are a primary source of income for artists and others who make their living from live performances. In these trying times, there are still ways to support your favorite musicians.
Buy music, t-shirts and other merchandise.
The easiest and most direct way to support artists is to buy their music and other merchandise such as t-shirts, stickers, and hats. Many bands sell downloads of their music on sites such as Bandcamp, as well as records and CDs available for mail order.
It’s important to note that bands receive much more money from sales of merch than they do from online streaming.
Jordan Mayland, who works for the Des Moines Music Coalition and is the lead man for the Des Moines band Volcano Boys, says the band has made about $1 from online streams this year via Apple, Spotify, and YouTube. Whereas they’ve sold a number of digital albums recently, receiving about $8 an album.
“Streaming is super cool. We put it out there for a reason, and that’s for folks to be able to experience our music anyway,” says Mayland. “But when people dig it, I would hope they would download the album for a reasonable price. A little goes a long way, and for many bands not being able to promote via live shows and bring that experience to the fans and concert goers, a download sale is a really big deal.”
When it comes to buying music, everyone has a format they prefer, but buying physical media (usually records and CDs, but sometimes cassettes) can help the band in other ways.
“Selling physical merch is always super helpful because it gets it out in the world, frees up storage space, and is a return on investment,” says Alyssa Leicht, who manages the band Hex Girls. “You pay up front to order t-shirts, records, and CDs and get money back with profit when they sell, whereas digital sales don't require as much of an ‘up front’ investment.”
Follow your favorite artists on social media and watch their livestreams.
For those not able to buy music, following your favorite artists on Spotify and social media still helps and can pay dividends in the future.
“(Buying from our) web store puts food on the table right now. Follows on Spotify build the audience and reach for future growth,” says Trevor Polk, who plays keyboards in the band Halfloves. “Both of these are ‘gathering-free’ and directly support musicians’ two most important needs: to live and to connect their art to their community.”
Donate the cost of the tickets you bought to those canceled shows, if you can.
“Offer to refuse the refund as a donation to the venue/artist. Or take that refund, and go buy a t-shirt,” says Brian Johannesen. In addition to his own music career, Johannesen is also a talent buyer for Big Grove Brewery, Dead Coast Presents, and the Mission Creek Festival. “Keep an eye on the shows getting canceled and then go check out those bands, and if you like them, buy something! Also, if you know bands that were going to tour, but they got canceled, share their music with your friends/followers and encourage them to buy stuff if they like it.”
Take online music lessons.
Outside of touring and making albums, many musicians in Iowa are teachers. Education of all kinds has been disrupted by this crisis, and that includes private music education. Do you find yourself suddenly trying to fill a lot of time at home? Dust off the instrument you have in your closet, and pick up a new hobby.
“The majority of ‘full time musicians’ in Iowa are able to make a living in music only because they also teach lessons,” says Forrest Heusinkveld.
Heusinkveld teaches drums at West Music in Coralville to more than 40 weekly private students and also plays in The Diplomats Of Solid Sound and The Uniphonics.
“If students are unwilling to come for in-person lessons, and unwilling to convert to Skype or Zoom lessons, and this lasts more than a few weeks,” he says, “Iowa won't have any full-time musicians because our gigs are getting canceled, and most of us get little to no revenue from royalties.”
Check on your friends who work in the music industry.
It’s likely that the impact of this pandemic is only going to get worse. We’re all in this together, and it’s important to remember that your artist friends are also likely struggling with the news of the day beyond how it’s affecting them financially.
In an email to fans when they announced closure for the time being, Wooly’s, a venue in Des Moines, wrote this on their Facebook page.
“We are optimistic and hopeful this will be behind us soon… In the meantime, you can show your support to the music world by purchasing a ticket, buying a record, ordering a t-shirt from your favorite band. PS. Help your neighbors where you can. If you know someone that struggled with anxiety or depression, check in with them.”
I couldn’t have said it any better.