… or how the COVID-19 virus affects your friendly neighbourhood indie artist and what you can do to help.
EVERYONE has been affected by the Corona virus – it’s no exaggeration to say that it is all people are talking about lately! But the reality of what this means for indie artists like me might easily pass by the Average Joe, so I write this public service announcement on behalf of myself and my indie muso brothers and sisters. Here is my story, so you can know what it’s like to be a drop in the bucket of the music industry – another industry now in a state of crisis.
As I write this I am in promo mode for my new single Puppy Love taken from the new album/LP You Are Here. I had a lot of stuff lined up and I worked really hard to get these opportunities in place; the C-virus has thrown a spanner in the works, big time. Here’s my tour diary charting what was, and what could have been…
Oxford: Thursday 12th of March
Rehearsal at Shonk Studios, Oxford, with Garo, Growler, Mike ‘Stickey Micky’ Monaghan and Roxys, Amy & Emma. Myself and my fellow Roxys take the train to Oxford after work (yes we juggle day jobs and being musicians – most musos do these days!). Even though it’s a ghost train, we laugh and joke as normal, and eventually roll up at Shonk Studios in West Oxford an hour later.
But as we approach, we see a familiar figure pacing anxiously with a phone held up up to his ear. Nick ‘Growler’ Fowler is promoting the gig we are playing the next day at the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre in Oxford, however the Young Women’s Music Project, who were co-promoting the event, have just pulled out!
Given the rapidly developing situation, the YWMP didn’t feel that it was responsible to put the gig on, leaving the decision of whether or not the show should go ahead solely on the shoulders of poor Growler. After much consternation, he decided not to gig for the greater good. As fun as rehearsal was, the gig was not to be. So off we trooped to the Magdalen Arms where Growler produced the glorious 2 page spread in the Oxford Times previewing our gig, amazing! But stings like salt in the wound of our disappointment, so we drank wine and pints to numb the pain until closing time.
Oxford: Friday 13th of March
We would need to inform the press, and update all social media that the gig was cancelled so that people don’t travel from far and wide & if someone needed to alter their Friday night plans they could do so. We were expecting a large turn out because sadly it was the last ever gig at the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre – plus an Oxford gig is a bit like a home-town gig for me given my history there (you can read more about that here). Cancellation = barrage of emails, text messages and whatsapping. But the show must go on, and we still had a BBC Oxford session booked in for the morning, a pre-record to go out that same afternoon on Lilley Mitchell’s show. Despite the Spanish Inquisition at BBC reception – “do you have a cough or cold? Have you been around anyone who may have had the virus?” – we’re allowed in and at least our trip to the city of dreaming spires wasn’t entirely wasted! You can listen to the session here.
Weirded out, we head to our next engagement which would be a talk at Oxford University entitled “Suffragette City: A Bird’s Eye View of the Music Industry”. The initial idea that the talk would be public was inevitably mooted, however rather than reschedule it all together, the clever people at TORCH (The Oxford Research Centre In The Humanities) decided to film myself, Amy & Emma for an informal chat about being women in the biz. We had plenty to talk about: besides pursuing our own creative projects and backing singing for such artists as Gaz Coombes and Noel Gallagher, Amy and myself also work in Music Supervision for film, TV and advertising while Emma writes top lines for international hits. Our paths are all unique but we make them work for us. This video of our panel discussion is not live yet, but I’ll tweet and share when it is live! @pineygir
One chap didn’t get the memo that our talk was no longer open to the public and we let him sit in on the filming. Not only did he used to ‘roadie’ (his words not ours – I think the term ‘roadie’ may be a little outdated these days!) but he was also was a ‘seat-filler’ at the Oscars! The producers of the televised ceremony don’t want empty seats on camera so they employed this guy, among others, to sit in the empty seats until the movie star or industry bod got back from their comfort break! Perhaps he should have a panel discussion of his own because I’d love to hear more about his line of work..!
After a successful talk, we head over the road to meet with friends for a Friday night drink, and we’re met by Julia from Happy Cakes who pops in to deliver us some beautiful red velvet cupcakes baked especially for our gig that night! We are all a little bummed out because we were meant to be sound checking so now there’s a hole in the soul of our weekend. We go our separate ways into the night, and what was meant to be a weekend spent together making music is looking more and more like a weekend apart…
Hebden Bridge: Saturday 14th of March
Our dreams of a weekend on the road dashed, Gouldy drives us back to London with all our equipment and unsold merch. All the same, we make the most of an unexpected Saturday night off and take him to God’s Own Junkyard for beers and Bowie cranked LOUD! It’s the perfect tonic for a pretty odd couple of days and in The Nag’s Head, landlady Flossy is Dj-ing 80’s classics (I think she played Duran Duran 3 times). For a Saturday night the pub is pretty empty… at least there is plenty of space for the drunk trio dancing wildly in front of Flossy.
Leaving the Nags we pass the old Tudor house and the even older church and graveyard for a visit to The Victoria. There is a band playing ‘The Eclectic Shocks’ and it gives us hope that not all fun has been cancelled! A bittersweet realisation that perhaps our show up in Hebden Bridge could have gone ahead safely after all? There was one barmaid whose sole job it was to repeatedly wipe down surfaces with Dettol wipes. The crowd at The Victoria was thin on the ground, but the band played big style like it was any other Saturday night.
London: Sunday 15th of March
Another day, another gig cancelled, this one a sold out show at the Lexington with Salad again! We decide to make the most of our unplanned day off lest we mope around and get depressed. First to Brick Lane where Gouldy could finally try the Beigel Bakery’s salt beef bagel that he’s been dreaming of for years! We walk down empty Brick Lane to Rough Trade where the usual CV-19 chat ensues with the barista: he thinks he’s already had it … We buy some records and head over to Spitalfields Market where half the vendors didn’t show up and it was about as busy as it is on a Tuesday afternoon, not heaving-busy like it should be on a Sunday morning. London is starting to feel like Shaun of the Dead.
We walk to Borough Market through The City of London and we happen to pass by the big walkie-talkie-looking building next to The Gherkin. One ordinarily has to book weeks ahead to visit the Sky Garden at the top, but we took our chances and walked right in! The lift goes so far and so fast it makes your ears pop and the view from the top is incredible: it’s a suitably dark and cloudy day, and we look down on London like the chimney sweeps from Mary Poppins… “Chim Chimeny, Chim Chim Cheroo…” I’m not sure what the few fellow tourists made of my singing! #sorrynotsorry
The wind is biblical as we cross London Bridge, the rain sets in just as we take shelter in a desolate dystopian Borough Market …! My mistake – it turns out its always closed on Sundays. At both Padella and El Pastor we are greeted with disdain but thankfully we spot The Breakfast Club and are greeted with a smile and a Bloody Mary, followed by John Travolta’s Disco Fries (w/vegan bacon).
We arrive home about the time we’d have been going on stage, sad the gigs didn’t happen, not to mention the effort that went in to planning every step of our prep. The weekend is a wash out and although it was out of our control, it’s hard not to feel like summer camp was cancelled and all the kids have to go home.
But what’s worse is my growing concern for my trip home to USA which was planned for next week!
Home: Monday 16th March
As an American in the UK, I am homesick. I have flights booked for next week to go to America for a month but the news breaks that the borders have been closed. Sensible? Perhaps. But certainly disappointing nonetheless. I was going to see Pee Wee Herman at The Beacon in NYC, I was planning some work meetings in LA, I was going to see Supergrass play The Wiltern, I was going to go to the desert to get inspired in Pioneertown & Integratron, I was going to record with Miranda Lee Richards, Correatown and Sammi Smith for our new side project ‘Heavenly Bodies’ at Palomino Sound Studio, I was going to see my family, my dad in the Pacific Northwest, my Aunt/Uncle/Cousins and Grandparents in Wisconsin and Minnesota, my Mom and friends in Kansas City, then a music bizz trip to Nashville, a bucket list trip to Dollywood, a visit to my NPR Mountain Stage friends in West Virginia, then North to see my other friends in upstate New York. I go on holiday once every 4 years so this was a big deal for me saving up and taking time out… Flights/hotels/gig tickets/studio time/meetings all booked, all planned = KIBOSH!
The price I paid for all these logistics and plans (some work, some play), mental energy spent, not to mention actual money spent that I worked hard for, just gone… opening this new can of worms revealing more logistics, more time, more mental energy drained. It’s all I can do to avoid the downward spiral… And then I have that ‘drop in the ocean’ feeling because I know all the effort that went into my trip amounts to a hill of beans in the music biz, where whole festivals and entire tours have been cancelled and this will have a ripple effect much bigger than anything I can imagine. It makes my problem seem minuscule and that’s a bitter pill to swallow; prompting me to consider the community of musicians I am surrounded with and wondering, “What next?”
The Greater Good:
For me and for grassroots artists like me these changes have been financially, logistically and mentally debilitating. For example: touring bands having to cancel their trips and visas and flights and hotels, the effort spent by their crew and tour managers is vast and nobody really thinks about that behind the scenes stuff – not to mention the financial effect that these changes in plans will instigate through lost revenue on merchandise, performance royalties and box office receipts for gigs. Film festivals like Flare have been cancelled (a film I worked on was due to premiere at Flare this weekend, my first film premiere that I music supervised, a proud moment for me nonetheless, but the screening = not happening), the media conference South By Southwest was cancelled which will have a lasting effect not only on the music industry (bands like The School crowdfunded to afford their flights and visas) this will also be hard on Austin’s local economy who rely on this as their busiest time of year. The logistics of cancelling Glastonbury Festival, or the fact that Coachella is being rescheduled in the Autumn blows my tiny mind creating chaos for festival organisers but also for every band booked, this spurs a new series of logistics and costings, and this is just stuff within my Venn diagram of the music industry, which of course will spread out infinitely like 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon making an already vulnerable, ever-changing industry more at risk and harder to sustain at an indie level and upwards.
When you expand beyond the music biz and look at how people are not out in pubs, bars, clubs, sitting in cafes, going to exhibitions, shopping in local shops, going to movies, taking taxis, staying in hotels, etc… this will curb local economies. I am by no means an expert on this subject, but I am familiar with the phrase ‘act locally, think globally’ meaning in a positive sense if you do good things for your local community (i.e recycle, buy locally to support privately owned businesses, shop-owners, pubs, cafes, etc…) that this will have a good knock on effect for the community and in turn the world (much like the 6 degrees theory mentioned above). But unfortunately, this goes both ways and there is concern that this virus panic is going to set us back in a major way long term. I’m concerned about the crisis snowballing from now. Anyone else?
What Can We Do About It?
We gotta be sensible. There seems to be a lot of panic begetting panic out there, but it’s simple. If you are sick don’t go out, if you feel okay be sure to wash your hands a lot and avoid people who are vulnerable, sick, elderly, etc… We all know this, it’s all the news is talking about, it’s what you see on your social media feeds, even if you pick up a newspaper to do the crossword and read your horoscope you can’t avoid this advice.
If you want to help your local indie musician, buy their merch. Don’t think of it as charity, do it because you want to enable indie music to continue to be created and produced for your enjoyment. Do you know it takes roughly 2,000 Spotify streams to equal the cost of one £10 CD that you buy from a band at one of their shows or from Bandcamp? This is a broader subject (i.e. the major labels, major publishers and streaming platforms are getting rich, but this does not trickle down to the artists – unless you are already a big earner like Elton John or The Beatles but even they will have taken a hit from streaming platforms vs traditional royalty streams and album sales despite the fact the system is designed to favour already-established and big-earning artists/bands – this is another issue, but it’s also part of the problem, a problem indie musicians cannot risk opting out of for fear of being overlooked). If you take away a musician’s ability to gig, tour and do promo you are taking away their primary possible way of making a living. And if you don’t champion your local businesses, said musicians will not even be able to get a waitressing job! Then what?
Spend money locally and support your community if you can. This goes for music too (please buy direct from their web sites and Bandcamp accounts) but this theory can also apply to all the people and shops and businesses in your neighbourhood. Spend your money mindfully. Inevitably you’ll need to buy stuff, so try to be local when you do. You’ll be making a difference for indie musicians and independent businesses that really need your patronage.