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We Asked Musicians How They’re Handling The New Normal

While the halting of public gatherings is helping to slow the spread of coronavirus and flatten the curve in cities around the world, it’s taking a serious toll on artists and performers. In times of crisis, it’s easy to lose sight of the real human stories behind the headlines, statistics, and trending hashtags. We thought it was important to share some of those experiences first-hand. These aren’t just stories in the news or on social media — they’re the experiences of real people. Here are some of those experiences.

Making An Album Is Expensive — Touring Was The Payoff. Now What?

Due to a shift toward streaming services over the last decade, musicians rely on touring now more than ever. So it's no wonder the current ban on travel and gatherings is having such a dire impact on a bottom line that was already dicey.

In the old model, where fans purchased albums, artists could recoup some of their recording and release costs off pure sales, but in the streaming era, most musicians are starting off in the red, trying to make it into the black with each show they play.

Alissa White-Gluz, the metal vocalist behind Arch Enemy, was alone on a writing retreat in the mountains in early March when conversations around quarantine and self-isolation due to coronavirus began to get serious in North America.

Leaving her retreat, Alissa headed into a different kind of isolation. This time, quarantined in Canada, away from her band, whose members each live in different countries, and her partner who’s in America.

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Alissa has been using Patreon to help support and self-fund her music for just under a year, and in that time, she has fostered a thriving community of close to 400 patrons. She shared that the industry wide shift from physical sales to online streaming influenced her decision to embrace membership. “Something musicians are always thinking about is how are we going to make up for the lack of album sales?’” Alissa explains. “Making an album is this huge, up-front investment, and we don’t even expect anyone to buy it, because now it’s available on streaming platforms. We adapted to that by touring more, so even losing just one [event] is devastating. The fear of something like this happening is always there.”

Declining revenue from live performances isn't only terrifying for musicians, it's also an absolute nightmare for the people who make those events possible.

"There’s so many different moving parts and such a trickle-down effect when you cancel one show."

“When one band is going on tour — it’s not just the band, it’s the management, the agent, the crew, the local venues, photographers, promoters,” she says. “There’s so many different moving parts and such a trickle-down effect when you cancel one show. The only silver lining is we live in an age where everybody is accustomed to the idea of streaming, everybody is accustomed to the idea of connecting to people from their home, through their devices. So I think it’s important right now to take that leap and enter that world of streaming and social media.”

Along with live-streaming options, like virtual meet and greet sessions, her patrons receive Instagram video shout-outs, discounts on merchandise, and early access to her content, allowing her and her fans to stay connected online, if not in person while not being able to connect in person.

Harnessing The Power Of Live-streaming

Musician Nika Danilova, who performs and creates as Zola Jesus, is an active Patreon user. Thanks to her more than 600 patrons, she's able to keep creating the darkwave goth-pop that once made her a staple of elite Brooklyn-based label Sacred Bones Records.

In fact, Nika was just about to embark on a massive recording session for her next album, the follow-up to 2017’s Okovi, when the drastic measures instituted to halt the spread of coronavirus changed those logistics dramatically.

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Zola Jesus performing at SXSW 2019. Photo by Nico Loayza.

“It’s been frustrating, because I had this huge recording schedule planned for my next record,” she says. “I was about to go into the studio and get everything started. Now that’s put on the back burner until it’s safe to travel again. Amidst the fear, anxiety, and frustration, I’ve tried to stay productive and create new projects for myself. I ended up starting a website with my friends called Koir (koir.tv) which is a centralized event calendar for live-streams! That has kept me distracted for the time being.”

Much like Alissa, Nika is also diving into the world of technology. She’s been working with the founders of Koir, web developer Erik Zuuring and musician Devon Welsh, in hopes of empowering artists and creating more sustainable models to support their work.“My heart goes out to all my peers who had to cancel tours,” Nika said. “I hope koir.tv will help in some way, otherwise I really hope we can find other ways of thinking outside the box about what musicians are capable of offering. At a time like this, we really need to come together.”

"At a time like this, we really need to come together."

Furthermore, Nika also hopes that the current crisis, and the historic impact it is undoubtedly going to have, will help the music industry at large embrace structural change. “I feel like this is a crucial period in history,” she said. “Not only for the music industry but for the modern world at large. We have an opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t. We have an urgency to re-evaluate our systems. I am hoping through this, musicians will find ways to become more autonomous and self-sustainable, while fans will feel guided towards directly supporting and fostering the art that they love.”

Creating Stability and Connecting Through Community

If there’s any musician that understands the importance of community, it’s Raye Zaragoza. The singer-songwriter began using Patreon in 2018 as a way to not only fund her music, but create a record label to release it, too. The sense of community she’s developed with her more than 200 patrons has gotten Raye through the uncertainty of COVID-19.

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Musician and Patreon creator, Raye Zaragoza.

“So many of my patrons have stuck around since the very beginning,” she shares. “It’s more than just crowdfunding, it is community. It is a great resource right now because you don’t need to have an upcoming release or new music or anything other than you and your own creativity to start one! Supporting an artist by buying something directly from their website or signing up for the Patreon is so much more valuable. And if you don’t have the means to do so, comment/share/post about your favorite artists! It really helps.”

One of the biggest impacts COVID-19 had on Raye was the cancelation of SXSW.

"I spent about a week in total panic when SXSW was canceled," she remembered.

“I let myself freak out. I felt lots of feelings. Paced around my apartment. And then it slowly turned into acceptance and action. None of us know how long this will go on, so we have to adjust and make a plan.”

In the meantime, Raye is encouraging other artists to start Patreon campaigns of their own, and staying up to date on hers. She also reiterates that even if you don’t personally have the funds to support an artist financially, just sharing the information and being present as a supporter can have nearly the same impact as donating a couple of dollars a month.

“I’ve been getting so many messages from friends saying they wished they had taken my advice on starting a Patreon sooner,” she said. “I am thanking my lucky stars every morning that I’ve been building mine for two years — it prepared me for this madness. My greatest advice would be patience. And to start as soon as possible.”

Want to learn more about how you can support or garner support as a musician during the pandemic? We recently shared resources for both fans and creators for supporting the artistic community during this time, and Patreon’s Head of Music, Joe Barham, also shared revenue-driving strategies specifically geared toward music-driven creators. Learn more about how we’re adapting to the new normal, here.

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