The Lightbulb Moment: Keeping The Lights On

Ryan Madora

Hello, readers.

It’s a Friday afternoon and I’m currently writing to you from my home office. This seems like a strange thing to be doing because, on most Friday afternoons, I’m either driving to a local club, sound-checking on a festival stage, or sitting in a green room and warming up for a show. In other words, a Friday night for a musician is the equivalent to a Tuesday morning in the “9 to 5” world. It’s a time when I expect to be at work. Instead, I’m sitting at my computer and pondering the impact of this national emergency. It could be months before the coronavirus (COVID-19) gets under control and I’m just hoping to keep the lights on.

Over the past few days, I’ve received countless phone calls, texts, and emails, telling me that my work has been canceled, postponed, or suspended indefinitely. Local venues have announced that they are closing, concert promoters such as Live Nation have suspended shows, and large festivals have canceled for 2020. Long story short, a simple text can mean losing $100 for a local restaurant gig or $10,000 for a nationwide tour.

Almost everyone I know works as an independent contractor. We don’t receive regular paychecks or benefits and instead, rely on performances or “showing up” to pay our bills. My fellow performers, session musicians, songwriters, concert promoters, sound and lighting crews, tour managers, and artists, have very quickly come to terms with the fact that all of the sudden, the rug has been pulled out from under us.

We understand that this is a necessary measure and we agree that the safety and health of our communities is something that cannot be compromised. Everyone is taking precautionary measures and that is appreciated and expected. It’s cool. We get it. We all want to be healthy.

In the meantime, the artistic community needs help.

The good news is that most professional musicians have a few things to help us pull through. We have music and merchandise available for purchase, educational materials including books and online courses, and funding opportunities through Patreon, Kickstarter, and GoFundMe. Additionally, many of the musicians that you know offer lessons online through Skype or Facetime. We have home studios and will be more than happy to contribute to your next record. We’re easy to find through our website, social media, or your favorite music platform… all you have to do is type in our name. Trust me, it’s easy.

Here are 10 ways to support your favorite artists:

  1. Purchase and stream music. While you’re working remotely, wouldn’t you love to listen to your favorite artists on vinyl?
  2. Purchase merchandise. Concert posters look great on walls and everyone could use a fresh t-shirt.
  3. Purchase educational materials. Take some time to work through a new book or take advantage of high-definition learning videos. There are a variety of online platforms including TrueFire, MasterClass, and educators’ YouTube channels to provide you with in-depth demonstrations and lessons.
  4. Take a private lesson! Most musicians teach via Skype or Facetime and guess what… their schedule is open! Now that we’re not traveling to gigs or tied up on the weekends, we’ve got plenty of time to schedule lessons. Plus, for the first time ever, our free timelines up with your free time! Capitalize on this availability.
  5. Hire them for a remote session. Have you ever wanted _____ to play on your track? Well, this is a great time to ask them.
  6. Contribute to an artist’s funding opportunity. Some artists can be found on Patreon, Kickstarter, or GoFundMe. If they aren’t, you can send them a surprise Venmo or PayPal.
  7. Purchase concert tickets for upcoming shows. Chances are, your favorite artists will have performances on the books through the summer or the end of the year. Hopefully, everything will blow over in a few months and we’ll get back to bringing you live music.
  8. Hire them to do non-musical things! Most musicians have a variety of other skills… we’ve worked in the service industry, we’ve walked dogs, and we’ve babysat. Some of us are freelance writers, web developers, and video editors. Let us be of service.
  9. Check out online performances. We’re getting creative out there! We’re live streaming from our living room, setting up cameras as we practice, and some of us may be willing to perform a “private concert” for you via FaceTime.
  10. Commission a song. I happen to know many songwriters—excellent, talented, professional songwriters. They would happily write you a song.

And now, a note about mental health:

In addition to wanting to work, artists very much feel like we need to work. Like most people, our notion of value and self-worth is directly related to what we are able to accomplish through our work. Artists notoriously suffer from depression and crippling self-doubt. We question the value of what we do in a society that has continually de-valued it. We work tirelessly to practice our craft, perfect our product, and produce meaningful art. Being able to express ourselves, to perform, and to provide joy to fans and friends is crucial to our mental well-being.

A simple email, text, or positive comment to your artist friend (or favorite artist in general) can greatly impact how they feel during this time. It is a virtual hug, an acknowledgment of their value, and a way to say “hey, even though you aren’t able to play shows, you are still able to reach people with your music.” That means the world to us.

I’m a professional musician who makes a living by performing, creating, educating, and bringing joy to those who love music. I hope to continue to do so, and so do all of my friends, peers, and colleagues. Please share this article, spread the word, and know that we greatly appreciate you, the consumers – and producers – of art.

Be safe out there, wash your hands, and please support live music when things get back up and running.

Ryan Madora is a professional bass player, author, and educator living in Nashville, TN. In addition to touring and session work, she teaches private lessons and masterclasses to students of all levels. Visit her website to learn more!

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Share your thoughts

  1. Excellent column! Thank you, and good luck. This, too, shall pass.

  2. Very well said! I was set to come to Nashville this very weekend with a wonderful list of a concert to attend, museums & venues to visit, shops to shop at… and by Friday night every one of them had issued announcements that they were closed. I was keenly disappointed, but thought too how damaging the loss of revenue & attendance would be to each of those places – especially if they are required to close for a long time. Thank you for suggesting ways that we can support musicians and venues even during this time when attending shows isn’t possible.

  3. Ronald Lee Hagelund

    Thank -You foe Heartfelt/Timely/Necessary message from the source…appreciate the cunundrum Artist Musical are Facing during the era of Havoc & uncertainty where Chaos seems to be the Meal of the Day(Everyday)…Have several longtime Friends/Family dealing with Cancellations & Complete disruption of their Lives …How to Survive(Financially) when Gigs/Concerts/Dates have been eliminated??? Talked to a couple of them yesterday…Stress was the MO/confusion/doubt seeping in to claim it’s former place at the Head of the Table!!…Great suggestions that I will pass along to all & any impacted people in my small sphere…Hopefully like coronovirus, itself it multiplies Exponentially to have a real-life impact!! Thank-You & Good Luck to All!!!

  4. Nicely put, Ryan. Stay safe out there!

  5. Thanks Ryan! Great tips!

    Also, here in California, us “independent contractor” musicians have been hit double by a lovely new law called AB5. COVID-19 is really a double whammy over here. AB5 has meant many It might be underway in other states as well (check the “Proact” for its federal version). Musicians must be informed so they can vote accordingly and get active. Droves of festivals have been shut down over here, bars exchanged live musicians with canned music and bandleaders and studios are in dire straits as they are faced with having to employ musicians even if just for a gig or project. Taxes, payroll, and all. It has been devastating over here while being sold as “protecting us from exploitation”. Putting the word out in the hope of others getting involved. Check out the FB group called “Freelancers against AB5”.

    Stay well and grooving everyone! Was sad to not get to see you in Philly. August it is, though!!