In March 2020, as information broke that Austin, Texas, had canceled the South by Southwest competition for the primary time in its 33-year historical past, Jeremy Stith realized he may not play one other dwell present for some time. He knew COVID-19 was unhealthy, after all, but when he’s sincere, he was initially excited for the break.
His hardcore punk band, Fury, was coming off a three-week tour supporting its most up-to-date report. Stith, Fury’s vocalist, has a day job with an East Bay espresso roaster, and he was glad to spend time together with his girlfriend, settling into their new Oakland house.
Then, a few months into shelter-in-place, two mates from the music scene died by suicide inside weeks of one another. Each had been of their 30s, revered figures within the punk and steel group. Stith, 29, seemed as much as them as older brothers, and it despatched him right into a darkish place.
“It shook me to my core,” Stith says. “I had emotions of remorse: I want I had mentioned this, or I want I might see him one final time. But it surely additionally scared me, as a result of it was the primary time I actually needed to face not solely what occurred to them, however my very own emotions. … I feel all of us have that little one thing inside us, and it actually bought a maintain of them.”
Stith determined to hunt out remedy, and he stop smoking weed for the primary time since highschool. Each have helped. However greater than something, he says, “I simply want I could possibly be at a present with all my mates and mourn collectively.”
It’s not information that the music business has been hit arduous by the pandemic, as needed restrictions have dealt a devastating blow to the careers of artists, bookers, stage technicians and extra. But it surely’s robust to overstate the extent of the injury. For one, the business doesn’t provide a lot of an alternative choice to performing dwell: Whereas a struggling restaurant might need squeaked by over the previous yr with takeout, there’s no actual equal in music. Because of streaming companies all however obliterating bodily report gross sales, dwell live shows have been most artists’ main earnings supply for a decade.
And dwell live shows — no less than these in authorized, permitted areas — have been off-limits because the preliminary coronavirus outbreak. As a result of method COVID-19 spreads in crowded rooms, music venues had been among the many first companies to shut and will probably be among the many final to reopen.
Whereas sure corners of the business are flickering to life — new tips introduced in late March point out out of doors live shows could start quickly at a lowered capability, and promoter One other Planet Leisure introduced that this yr’s Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival is predicted to happen throughout Halloween weekend — the long run stays deeply unsure for the small and midsize indoor golf equipment the place most artists make their bread and butter. In the meantime financial relief, the place it exists in any respect, has been gradual and scarce.
However many artists say they’re struggling in one other method that’s more durable to quantify. For many working musicians, a dwell present represents greater than a paycheck: It’s a hub for group and connection. Music lovers know seeing a live performance could be a balm for the soul, however for these acting on stage, the catharsis will be nothing in need of sacred. That feeling would have been particularly welcome in a pandemic yr marked by a contentious presidential election, police brutality and a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter motion, and a spate of anti-Asian hate crimes.
So what has it meant to go a yr with no dwell, in-person present?
“Persons are in disaster,” says Debbie Carroll, vice chairman of MusiCares, a nonprofit arm of the Recording Academy that connects musicians in want with well being companies and monetary assist. She notes that the group has seen “an enormous enhance” in shoppers reaching out for assist previously yr. A current MusiCares research discovered that 51% of respondents had “low to very low ranges of confidence in with the ability to afford fundamental dwelling bills throughout the pandemic.”
Even underneath regular circumstances, artists have a better propensity for psychological sickness. A 2019 study by the music distribution service Document Union discovered that 73% of unbiased musicians had skilled difficulties with their psychological well being, together with anxiousness, melancholy and panic assaults. And whereas specialists say the stigma about psychological sickness has begun to shift lately, self-destructive behaviors are nonetheless accepted because the norm, and even romanticized, in leisure business circles. In the identical research, simply over 30% of musicians mentioned that they had sought skilled remedy for psychological well being points, whereas 50% mentioned they self-medicated with medication and alcohol.
The pandemic has not helped.
“I did get afraid that I’d get right into a low place and simply drink myself away,” says Camille Carlos, a Vallejo rapper and sound engineer who goes by the stage title Thug Misses. In a matter of days final yr, Carlos, a single mom, misplaced each her scheduled dwell gigs and her day job with an audiovisual firm, establishing tools for occasions. “I went by way of numerous the grieving steps firstly. That was essentially the most tense half for me.”
At 38, she’s been sober for about two years, and he or she rapidly noticed how simple it could be to relapse. As an alternative, she reached out to her physician to speak about it. She stayed busy performing and connecting with followers on Instagram and TikTok. To date, largely because of her house studio and her 8-year-old daughter, Aria, Carlos says, “I’ve been conserving myself clear.”
That’s no small feat, on condition that the gigs that used to make up the construction of her life disappeared in a single day.
“You’re seeing individuals who have misplaced not solely their livelihoods, however their capability to carry out, when for therefore many, that’s their identification,” Carroll says. “In some professions I feel it’s simpler to have your job and your life (be separate), to depart your 9-to-5 on the door. However with the music group, it’s such an built-in a part of who they’re. You’re seeing individuals say, ‘With out this, what am I? Who am I if I’m not acting on a stage?’ ”
C.L. Behrens, a bass trombonist who usually performs with Opera San José, Symphony Silicon Valley and the Stockton Symphony, has been making an attempt to reply these questions for greater than a yr.
At 33, Behrens has been finding out and enjoying the trombone for 22 years. For the previous six, he was proud to be making a dwelling off music alone — till the pandemic hit, and all three orchestras canceled reveals for the foreseeable future. He’s been capable of train trombone classes nearly by way of videoconferencing, however he additionally began working at a deli counter to make hire.
“My psychological well being has been unstable,” says Behrens, a San Franciscan by the use of Iowa. “It’s extra obvious than ever that music was not only a car of employment and keenness, it was a type of emotional remedy for my Midwestern stoicism.”
He’s additionally been grappling with imposter syndrome since taking a day job. “We dwell in a capitalist society that, for higher or for worse, has educated us to say our self-worth is linked to our work and the way a lot cash we make … and I’ve been realizing a lot of who I’m was wrapped up in with the ability to say, ‘I’m a musician.’ ”
As San Francisco begins to reopen bars and choose leisure venues, fall competition lineups might sound encouraging to dwell music followers, and it’s tempting to ascertain the upcoming return of packed crowds and thundering bass. However Behrens says occasions like Exterior Lands have little bearing on the livelihood of the typical working musician. Smaller membership reveals, for instance, deliver up a form of catch-22 for artists, promoters and venues: Relying on a room’s measurement, the ticket gross sales from a reduced-capacity present may barely offset the elevated prices of safely placing it on.
“It’s irritating when persons are like, ‘Hey, issues are getting higher,’ and I’m like, there are nonetheless lots of people out of labor. I nonetheless don’t know once we’ll return to enjoying reveals,” says Behrens, noting that placing on a symphony live performance presents an additional problem — as does the everyday symphony viewers, who are likely to skew older and are extra in danger for extreme sickness. “Plenty of us are actually removed from getting again to regular.”
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Thao Nguyen, frontwoman of Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, determined months in the past that she received’t be touring till 2022. Not that she received’t miss doing it. Quite the opposite, she says, nothing compares to the second simply earlier than she steps onstage.
“There’s this anticipation and adrenaline, and for those who’re fortunate you may hear the gang as a result of they’re excited,” says Nguyen, who launched her fifth album, “Temple,” in Could. “It’s simply this exceptional supply of vitality that I’ve not discovered wherever else.”
Nguyen, 36, has had a profitable 15-year profession within the indie-rock world, and he or she hasn’t at all times beloved the pains of life on tour. However with “Temple” — a deeply private report that took 4 soul-baring years to make and serves as each the singer’s coming-out story and a tribute to her mom, and her mom’s house nation of Vietnam — she was wanting ahead to taking it out on the street.
She has but to play it in entrance of a single dwell viewers.
“I simply miss performing for individuals a lot,” Nguyen says. “The reward for all that studio time and all of the crazy-making (facets of recording an album) is that emotional reference to individuals, and usually you try this at a present. Particularly with this being such an emotional report for me, I used to be excited to share that and be in that intimate house with individuals.”
As an alternative, she has participated in live-stream occasions, recorded an at-home “Tiny Desk Live performance” for NPR, and made what the Washington Publish known as “the primary nice Zoom music video” for her single “Phenom.” Heartfelt social media responses to “Temple” from followers within the Vietnamese American and queer communities have been particularly significant and are an enormous motive why Nguyen determined to accomplice with the net publication service Substack for a brand new mission known as For the Record, documenting her writing her subsequent album.
With regards to taking good care of her psychological well being, although, Nguyen has discovered herself stepping away from the web and going to work within the backyard exterior her Oakland house.
“That’s from my mother,” she notes. “She says for those who don’t know what to do, go weed the yard.”
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Music has by no means been a fantastic profession alternative for many who crave stability. Liam McCormick, frontman of the San Francisco orchestral indie-pop band the Household Crest, says he’s used to feeling like his work is one large gamble. However for somebody who’s constructed his life round enjoying reveals, the query marks of the previous yr have been all-consuming.
“You’re high quality till you’re not high quality,” says the 36-year-old. “It is available in waves: You’ll be going alongside OK, after which rapidly you’re up till 6 a.m. staring down this black gap of, ‘When will touring begin once more? What number of venues are gonna shut earlier than that? How lengthy will it take?’ I’d say not one of the artists I do know are doing properly.”
Just a few weeks earlier than the shutdown, the Household Crest was getting ready to launch a report titled “The Battle: Act II,” and had a tour booked to assist it. However because of the pandemic, the band held off on the discharge. As an alternative, McCormick has been performing live-stream live shows on Fb to a devoted group of followers, a few of whom return every week to speak within the feedback.
“It retains us linked to the group, and permits us to see the worth of the work we do, since you do have individuals going by way of huge existential crises in regards to the worth of their artwork. And their worth as artists,” McCormick says. “Not simply monetarily, however to the world.”
He has additionally skilled worry and anger that the web can’t ease: For McCormick, who’s half Chinese language, the surge in hate crimes concentrating on Asians and Asian Individuals over the previous yr has solely added “one other layer to the anxiousness,” he says.
After rising up listening to racial slurs as one of many solely Asian children in a rural Calaveras County city, McCormick says he moved to San Francisco in his 20s partially for its mixture of cultures. On tour, he and his spouse/bandmate, Laura Bergmann, are used to checking the “hate map” printed by the Southern Poverty Regulation Heart to see the place to keep away from stopping for gasoline or a lodge. However over the previous yr, as former President Donald Trump persistently blamed China for the pandemic, McCormick stopped feeling protected even strolling round his neighborhood within the Richmond District.
“There’s a weight that individuals of colour carry that I feel my Caucasian mates can’t perceive,” he says. “We’re at all times scanning, taking note of our environment, subconsciously questioning if somebody’s gonna come after us.”
In the meantime, his life’s work stays on pause. As vaccinations enhance, McCormick says he’d wish to really feel hopeful in regards to the return of dwell music. However he’s nervous about conditions by which the onus is on ravenous artists to determine whether or not a possible present is protected to play.
“Clearly we have to make a dwelling, however we don’t need to put individuals in danger, both,” says the singer. “You wind up on this place the place, if I don’t get again on the market, I might die (figuratively) as an artist. But when I do get again on the market, I might die, actually. And also you’re answerable for different individuals. You don’t need to be the band that went out and performed a bunch of reveals after which individuals get sick.
“The underside line is we have now to look out for one another.”
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Camille Carlos says she’s making an attempt to give attention to the long run. Proper now, meaning supervising her daughter’s distance studying, planning her subsequent live-streamed efficiency, fascinated with easy methods to promote her forthcoming EP — and deciding what to do when her unemployment insurance coverage runs out. Based on the nonprofit Individuals for the Arts, she’s one of many 62% of artists within the U.S. who’ve grow to be absolutely unemployed due to the pandemic. (Some 95% have skilled earnings loss.)
The rapper is candid about how troublesome the previous 13 months have been. However her outlook can be impressively upbeat.
“I feel some artists have taken this time to reinvent themselves,” she says, including that she additionally believes the subject of psychological well being has grow to be much less taboo simply previously yr.
“We’re all hurting,” she says, “and I feel many people didn’t notice how a lot of a privilege it was to have reveals, with (the group’s assist) at our fingertips. Particularly now, when all people’s in the same headspace, I feel persons are realizing it’s OK to talk on it. Now we have to assist each other by way of it.”
And when that group can collect in particular person once more, she is aware of she received’t take it as a right. There’s a fantasy she retains having, in regards to the present she’s going to throw when that is throughout.
“I need to hire out some large spot on a scorching evening, have it’s underneath the celebrities, and everybody reveals up: dancers, singers, rappers, DJs,” she says. “I can see it. I hold placing it collectively in my head. When everybody’s sweating, vibing, on the identical frequency — you may’t replicate that on a telephone display screen.
“It’s gonna be like a welcome-home occasion,” she says. “It’s gonna be good.”
Psychological Well being Assets
There’s no fast repair for psychological well being points. However each artist The Chronicle spoke with emphasised that merely speaking about what they had been going by way of — whether or not with trusted mates or a therapist — had been a lifeline over the previous yr.
When you’re trying to assist somebody combating their psychological well being, right here’s a jumping-off level for sources geared towards artists.
Examine Your Head: Psychological Assist For Musicians is a podcast hosted by musician life coach Mari Fong that options visitor artists chatting with psychiatrists and different psychological well being specialists. Fong, a former music journalist, was impressed to start out the podcast in 2017, after Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Chester Bennington of Linkin Park each died by suicide.
“I believed, how might these musicians who deliver individuals a lot pleasure be dwelling their lives in a lot ache?” says Fong. “I do suppose (psychological well being points) are being extra acknowledged, however we have to get extra of the report labels and other people on the enterprise facet to essentially present their assist for musicians and their psychological well being, to point out that they care about their artists as individuals.”
Backline is a nonprofit that connects professionals within the music business to psychological well being professionals, assist teams and different wellness sources. backline.care
MusiCares, the nonprofit wing of the Recording Academy, helps musicians entry monetary assist, well being care and extra. www.grammy.com/musicares
Rock to Restoration is a music-based assist program that provides therapeutic companies to these recovering from psychological well being issues, substance abuse points and extra. rocktorecovery.org
The 73 P.c research gives perception and sources in regards to the prevalence of psychological well being points within the music business. www.the73percent.com