Assessing COVID-19’s Impact on Contemporary Musicians

Jacob Felix Heule of Voicehandler (Lenny Gonzalez/Courtesy of the artist)

Even under normal circumstances, by nature of producing non-commercial art, contemporary and experimental musicians often lack the same type of financial resources that other commercial artists have. This financial fragility is laid bare in times of crisis, and unfortunately, musicians are deeply struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the financial hit, musicians who are accustomed to a tight-knit, collaborative community are faced with isolation and the loss of the social opportunities their career usually provides.

However, as evidenced by the abundance of online offerings, emergency grant programs, and the plethora of personal and artistic zoom meetings, our community is adapting and finding ways to connect. Perhaps, the spirit of inventiveness and the DIY-attitude which experimental musicians are used to relying upon, uniquely prepares our community to utilize creative problem solving despite limitations.

This is not to understate the intense challenge and need we face right now; musicians, and the arts industry at large, are most definitely taking a critical hit. To fully understand the depth of the problem, C4NM and Lisa Mezzacappa, in partnership with Intermusic SF, Jazz in the Neighborhood, and Bird and Beckett Books and Records, surveyed 425 musicians on the impact of this crisis. These 425 musicians reported a total of 5,000 concerts canceled (a number which is rising), and reported $1.5 million in income lost (a number which will rise to $4 million if summer events are canceled). Considering that 425 musicians are only a fraction of contemporary artists working in the Bay Area, one can understand the magnitude of the problem. Musicians overwhelming report that these negative impacts may force them to pursue another career, leave the Bay Area, and/or incur debt to pay routine expenses. The full report on the survey can be found here.

Based on our survey data, and interviews with local artists and art leaders like C4NM Co-Founder Brent Miller, KQED published Isolation and Lost Income Rattle Struggling Experimental Musicians on April 16th, 2020. “No corner of the local music scene is spared harm, but the pandemic restrictions uniquely threaten independent artists in the experimental, jazz and improvisation community. Many of them live gig-to-gig on teaching, performing and audio engineering opportunities, all of which are diminished. Few derive meaningful income from physical merchandise or streaming. Layoffs are also hitting their day jobs: arts administration, music technology, food service, record stores.”

As always, C4NM aims to support musicians however possible. This includes increased online offerings like C4NM Encore Concerts – a broadcasted new music series, artist resource kits, and communicating our survey data with arts funders and local organizations so that they fully understand the impact and can utilize the information for funding opportunities as necessary.

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