A fan takes a photo of a band at a live concert. Photo by Terry Farrell

Music industry feeling the effects of COVID-19 pandemic

Island musicians, promoters and producers alike reeling from cancellations, venue bans

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has affected virtually every industry in one way or another, and in that regard, the music industry is no different.

In fact, for the budding musicians still growing their portfolio and fan-base, the effects can be – and for some, already have been – devastating.

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Vancouver Island MusicFest executive director Doug Cox is not only a concert promoter, but also a touring musician, as well as a record producer. He is experiencing the effects from all sides.

His scheduled tour with singer-songwriter Linda McRae that included shows in Washington, Oregon, B.C. and Alberta was cancelled mere hours after he spoke to Black Press.

“We just cancelled our entire tour due to Linda’s concerns over self-imposed quarantine,” he texted, shortly after a phone interview. “This included dates in Washington, Oregon, B.C. and Alberta – and I just lost a two-week recording project as a producer… someone who was coming to Courtenay from Argentina to record at my studio has the same concerns.”

Cox is no longer a full-time touring musician, but he empathizes with those who make their living playing the circuit venues. He said had this crisis happened 20 years ago, when he was on the road for eight months of the year, it would have been disastrous.

“It would have wiped me out, for sure,” he said. “It’s not only going to be devastating to musicians who are dependant on that money coming in, but if you are planning on making money on a tour, you’ve already put out a lot of money to book that tour… everything from updating your website to sending out press kits, phone bills, advertising… there’s a huge amount of money that goes out up front and a lot of that will never be recovered.”

In addition to the gigs, there are music conferences, where much of the networking is done.

“That’s where a lot of these artists get their work from; things like the Juno Awards, the Canadian Folk Music Awards have both been cancelled, and the [networking] that is done there is huge.”

And it’s not just the musicians. Cox said a lot of the venues will be hit hard as well.

“A lot of them operate day-by-day in terms of keeping their doors open. If they have to close down for two or three weeks, that’s saying good-bye to their staff, not having money to pay their bills… a lot of them are just going to give up, at this point in time.”

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As Vancouver Island MusicFest is still a few months away (July 10-12), Cox is expecting the festival to go ahead. But he has had to postpone some of the ongoing concert series shows.

“We had to postpone both the John McLachlan Trio show (March 20) and the Irish Mythen show (March 28).”

Trent Freeman of the Juno Award-winning string quartet The Fretless said they just cancelled a handful of shows.

“So far we’ve had a tour of four shows [cancelled],” he said via phone from Toronto. “We’ve also had a couple of shows postponed. And we are looking at our April tour, which starts in Calgary and goes all the way to [Vancouver Island] – hopefully that one still goes on.

“At this point, we are looking week by week. There is already some stuff for the middle of May that has been cancelled, but that’s a rare case.”

Freeman said with the changes in the way consumers get their music these days, live shows are the only way for many musicians to make a living.

“I think every touring musician in my community is, if not affected, certainly concerned, about how long this will last,” he said. “Touring is sort of the last component that hasn’t been decimated by the lack of foresight within the music industry. Going out to play shows is … the most sustainable way to make a living now for sure.”

Freeman said while this is a big blow to the entire industry, he’s confident the majority of his peers will prevail.

“I do want to say all the artists I know are so creative – they wouldn’t really be able to make a living in the music industry without being so creative. Within the industry, especially in the circles I am in, there’s no obvious and easy path to income – it’s not like any other kind of job. We are always finding ways to adapt. So we will figure out another creative way [to get past this].”

Freeman and The Fretless were scheduled to play in Merville on April 11.



editor@mondaymag.com

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