What's Next? Musicians and the Post-Pandemic Economy
When COVID-19 brought the world to a stop, musicians both famous and unknown saw their performance income disappear in the space of a few days. For most large ensembles and musical superstars, this is a financial hiccup. For lesser-known players, this is potentially cataclysmic. No one knows how long we’re going to be told to avoid large gatherings and no one knows just how long it will be before smaller music venues—the lifeblood of lesser-known musicians—start hiring again. If they do. What we do know is that we’ll be emerging from social isolation into a changed musical landscape.
It’s difficult to plan for an unknown future. Musicians—like businesses—must be adaptable. We don’t have the luxury to look back with nostalgia at what used to be. What matters is our ability to be clear-eyed about today’s reality and adapt to what tomorrow will bring. No one knows what changes we’ll be required to make, but I’m certain that these three things will be important parts of most musicians’ career survival:
We need to cultivate multiple streams of income. Musicians have known this for years, but the value of this approach has been confirmed over the past couple of months. CAMI Music composer and pianist Joel Pierson of The Queen’s Cartoonist had his spring tour completely cancelled. When I emailed him a few days ago, he wrote “Fortunately for me the little teaching business I run (6 teachers and about 45 students) is operating at close to 100%! Everyone wants lessons so their kids have some consistency. I’ve really learned the value of diversifying one’s music career!”
We need to become experts in self-promotion. As my friend and former mentor Jill Timmons once told me, “no one is going to care about your career as much as you do.” This statement has never been truer than it is today. Every musician needs to know who their audience is, where they can be found, and how to guarantee that this audience knows who we are. Composer Bill Whitley, in a recent post, offers this advice: “It might be counter-intuitive, but to build a large audience, you don't cast a wide net, but a bunch of tiny ones in very, very specific pockets.”
We need to put our careers online. This pandemic has taught many of us what we’ve suspected for years: the future of music (live and recorded) is online. The old/new reality requires us to engage with fans on social media, pursue niche markets (all over the globe), and be technologically current. This doesn’t mean that we need to be present on all platforms, only that we commit to putting ourselves where our audiences are.
History reminds us that musicians have survived in the best of times and the worst. Yes, tough times are ahead, but also unprecedented global opportunity. Don’t wait for it, because it won’t come to us. We must take charge of our own businesses, our own promotion, and our own musical futures because no one else if going to do it for us.
Ko-Fi For the price of a cup of coffee, fans can support your work.
Patreon Connect with fans directly and create a sustainable income stream.
CD Baby's DIY Musician An excellent resource on self-marketing for musicians.