Coronavirus forces Greenville musicians to get creative in sharing their art, earning a living
The coronavirus pandemic has slammed just about every sector of the economy, but the music industry is feeling the punch more acutely than some others.
Some musicians have day jobs, but for many, their income largely depends on performing in clubs and music halls. Those performances often lead to sales of T-shirts, stickers, and music downloads, and sometimes they generate hardcore fans who follow the band’s music for years to come.
But during a time when all the venues are closed, it’s not easy for artists to get their music out and earn a living.
Greenville artists are no exception. Some musicians are panicking, others are praying, and most are diligently writing music and performing it any way they can.
Singer-songwriter Nathan Angelo has had to cancel all of his live shows from mid-March through mid-May, and he expects that the cancellations will extend even longer. “I’m probably like a lot of the folks who rely largely on live performances for a large portion of my income,” Angelo said.
These past several weeks haven’t been easy, so how has he been coping? “I’m praying a lot,” Angelo said with a laugh.
For Niel Brooks, who plays solo and with the band Mourning Dove, things have been scary. He teaches guitar lessons, but most of those are on hold because students either don’t feel like they can learn as easily through a Skype session or because they can no longer afford the lessons.
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“It’s been really weird,” Brooks said. “Mostly, I’ve been trying to make stuff, just like recording, writing, making some videos. I made some instructional videos and put them on YouTube, that kind of thing.”
Performing concerts via live stream, on Facebook or Instagram, with a “virtual tip jar” that allows fans to pitch in financially, has become a popular way for musicians to play.
Brooks did a live stream recently with his band Mourning Dove and several other bands. Each band had an hour to play live on Instagram and Facebook; the event was called the Alone and Scared Fest. Brooks said he was touched and a bit “blindsided” by the fans who contributed to the virtual tip jar.
Even so, Brooks still finds himself fretting. “I’m having about one panic attack a day,” he said.
Angelo has been exploring the options open to him through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Security Act, CARES for short, which is designed to help musicians and other music-industry workers stay afloat during the shutdown.
Angelo performed his first live stream concert recently, and viewers were “very kind and generous, and that was very helpful and encouraging. The encouraging aspect was just about as beneficial.”
Monty Craig, who performs as a solo artist and with the band the Carousers, has been performing nightly Facebook Live concerts, in which he shares Venmo and PayPal info for other musicians so that fans can offer a bit of financial aid to artists whose main source of income is on hold.
“It’s like everything gone, all at one time. Super scary,” Craig said.
The Greenville folk-rock duo Brother Oliver is better situated for the pandemic-related shutdown than a lot of artists because the group just finished a three-year touring cycle and had already planned to take some time off this spring.
“But our plan was to start playing shows again in April,” said Andrew Oliver, who performs with his brother Stephen.
While they had to cancel those April shows, it helps that both Olivers have day jobs; Stephen works at a bank, and Andrew owns a couple of small businesses.
“So we didn’t take the hit in March as hard as some other bands have taken it,” Andrew Oliver said.
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During the downtime, the Olivers have been focused on digital content, as a way to stay creative, remain connected with fans, and generate a little revenue.
That includes social media ads with music the band has already recorded and creating playlists for Spotify.
“When something like this happens, that’s really all that’s left for bands, the digital medium,” Andrew Oliver said.
It also has the potential to get their music in front of new listeners, who might become long-term fans.
Craig also works with licensing agencies that buy music to use as soundtracks for reality TV shows, so he’s hoping that will generate more jobs as networks scramble to offer additional programming for all of the people looking for new TV shows to watch while they’re social distancing at home.
Angelo has been writing songs via video chat with friends in other cities, which is helpful for the musician’s creative output and for the fans who will eventually hear it, Angelo said.
“There’s a little bit of a crisis of meaning. As a songwriter, you spend a lot of time thinking about the meaning of it all, or the way that art can free you from the moment, or help you to enjoy the moment a little bit more and not think too much about down the line,” Angelo said.
A year ago, Angelo wrote a song called “New Normal,” for a forthcoming album. The song explores some of the more challenging experiences of his life, and he said it’s even more relevant now than when he wrote it.
“Everybody has been saying this (phrase), ‘new normal,’ every day, and I’ve got this new song I’m dying to share with them. … I think more people will actually really understand it and feel it a little bit deeper than they would have if we didn’t all have this collective communal suffering.”
It feels like a dark, scary time in the music world, but Andrew Oliver can see a bit of light in the distance.
“Right now it’s just kind of a shock to a lot of people, and I think there’s going to be an afterglow, definitely, especially when society opens back up. People are going to have a new appreciation for life, for being able to play shows, go to shows. I think there’s going to be an afterglow, for sure, creatively. It’s going to feel so fresh; that’s what’s going to be nice, how fresh it’s going to feel when people can go back to normal life. And I’m sure a lot of musicians are creating some amazing things right now with the time they have indoors.”