Throughout the last few months, COVID-19 has had an intimate and growing impact on lives and industries across the globe. The number of cases in the U.S. now surpasses 240,000, and people across the states are increasingly practicing social distancing to help prevent the spread of the disease. While self-isolation is a necessary and proven tactic to “ flatten the curve,” it also threatens industries that depend on in-person gatherings and live events, affecting many local musicians.
Across the nation, musicians have been forced to cancel and postpone a variety of musical events. The majority of touring artists have canceled upcoming appearances, and large music festivals like South by Southwest, Ultra Miami, and Coachella have faced a similar fate. Many recording studios across the country have also been forced into temporary closure as artists, like millions of others across the nation, participate in self-isolation.
The cancellation of music events not only presents barriers to the industry as a whole but to individual artists themselves — especially those that don’t have significant funds or a large national following.
The cancellation of music events poses a unique threat to local artists, many of whom rely on in-person performances for their income and social traction in the industry. Without these events, they will likely face both social and financial hardships that will undoubtedly have ripple effects in years to come.
The importance of social distancing and the desire to support local artists presents a unique paradox, as support often comes in the form of concert attendance. However, this doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to support local artists from the comfort of our own homes.
How to support local artists — from afar
Making playlists — the ultimate quarantine activity
While the Corona virus-imposed social isolation is not necessarily ideal, it does provide a unique opportunity for us to clear our heads, engage with our creative spirits and spend some deeply personal time exploring new music and new artists. And, in today’s widely technological world, it is easier than ever to do so.
While we may be unable to see local artists perform in person, we can still support them by streaming and familiarizing ourselves with their music. This can come in many forms. For me, it meant taking a bit of time to create a new playlist that featured my favorite local artists, both from my hometown and my college town. I also reached beyond Spotify’s “Top 50” playlist in search of artists I had never before heard of, or maybe ones that I had heard but never paid much attention to. Every day, I make an effort to familiarize myself with new tunes, artists and musical styles that I never would have found on one of Spotify’s popular curated playlists.
As a music fanatic, I am happy to spend hours upon hours scouring Spotify for hidden gems — but that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. If you lack the time, resources or desire to make a new playlist for yourself, many artists and organizations are offering up their own curated playlists that explore a variety of genres and tunes.
Exploring unknown music also extends beyond just Spotify itself. Today, many upcoming artists release projects and EPs on Soundcloud, Bandcamp and a variety of other music streaming websites. Exploring these websites can be another great way to step out of our comfort zones all while providing support to artists who need it.
Audiences are much more likely to listen to music or artists if they are familiar with them or can connect to them on a personal level. So, in digging for new and relatively unexplored artists and familiarizing ourselves with them, we increase the likelihood we will attend their events and stream their music in the future.
Artist livestreams — concerts from your couch
I’ll be the first to admit that making playlists on Spotify doesn’t always match the thrill and excitement of attending a concert. Concerts, especially for local artists, are defined by a sense of community and vulnerability that can’t always be emulated through music streaming websites. However, as artists increasingly cancel their live events, many are taking to the internet to share their performances via livestream — and it can be a great way to get to know them better.
With livestream concerts, there is little-to-no social risk when it comes to the spread of the virus — audience members can attend their performances without ever leaving the couch. They are usually convenient, affordable and provide a feasible way for people to watch their favorite artists in action.
While many artists are providing free livestreams, others use virtual concerts as a way to raise money — either for their own benefit or for the benefit of others. Recently, British indie artist The Japanese House donated the proceeds from a virtual concert to The Outside Project, a London-based LGBTQIA+ organization that runs a shelter and community center.
If you can’t afford to pay a large sum for a virtual concert, not to worry — many artists are offering access to their performances on a “pay what you can” basis.
And, the best part? These performances aren’t very hard to find. In places like Pittsburg, PA, and Austin, TX and Brooklyn, NY local media outlets have taken it upon themselves to keep audiences updated on upcoming livestream concerts and events. Bigger outlets like Pitchfork have created calendars that share virtual events across all genres and interests. Additionally, many artists are offering up livestream information through their own websites and social media accounts. NPR even offers a Google Form that allows people to submit livestream concerts to be considered for their ever-growing list.
As I said, it can be hard for a virtual concert to match the thrill and excitement of an in-person one — but it also adds something new. Because of social-distancing, many artists stream from their own homes or small studios. This offers a chance for audiences to watch their favorite artists in a comfortable and vulnerable environment without the glitz and glamour of larger concert venues.
An excuse to splurge on merch
As both a music fanatic and shopaholic, I know I will take advantage of almost any opportunity to buy artist merch — and now is the perfect time. Along with live performances and tours, artists make a significant portion of their revenue from merchandise sales. For many of these artists, a big chunk of their merchandise sales happen at concerts — concerts that, now, won’t be happening.
So, if you’re looking to support one of your favorite artists (especially local ones), a good way to do so is to invest in their merchandise. Artist merchandise can often be found on the artists’ websites or on their social media pages.
The financial impact of buying merch doesn’t end at the artists themselves. In mid-March, Bandcamp announced a campaign to waive its share of merchandise sales, instead of using the revenue to help support artists affected by COVID-19. In one day, fans purchased $4.3 million in merchandise — more than 15 times the website’s typical sales. So, if you’re looking to buy merch, keep an eye out for campaigns such as this one, as they could help you make an even greater impact on the artists you are looking to support.
While the future of the virus and its impact on the music industry might be scary and ambiguous, we must remember to keep supporting artists from afar. Whether this means buying artist merchandise, donating concert ticket refunds back to the artists or making Spotify playlists curated to represent local artists themselves, every little bit helps — and it represents our dedication to our own communities.
While Localify.org’s mission to bring light to local music events is temporarily obstructed, our dedication to bringing music communities together is still very much alive. In this time of isolation, building a sense of community is more important than ever. Messages about checking up on our neighbors and the need for communal well-being continue to flood social media sites, reminding us of the never-ending importance of keeping our spirits up and our communities close. This extends to our local music communities, as well.
For more information on Localify.org and our response to the global pandemic, check out our info page and recent statement on COVID-19.