Good morning, from us. I got home from Seattle on the 15th of March, so like many of you, we are now entering into our 6th week of isolation. Two of those, for me, were spent self isolating since we’d been in a real hotspot of the Covid19 outbreak, Washington state, at the end of the tour. Most musician friends, like me, are actually finding it pretty o.k. in lockdown, since we have always had this curious dual life anyway, of maximum socialisation (touring), intermixed with periods of isolation. You go on these busy tours and then you’re at home planning the next one in virtual isolation. Home life has always been that way for me, also preferring country life over city life, any day.
One thing I’ve noticed in lockdown, for sure, is that the wildlife round here is sensing the huge decrease in human activity on the streets and roads. A neighbor had to shoo away a wild bobcat the other day, that was going for her chickens. We’ve been thrilled to see a bald eagle twice, in recent days, circling the house. An absolute rarity round here, in southern Connecticut. There have been foxes visiting and many species of wild birds, encouraged by my feeding and even a large black bear strolling down Main Street in a neighboring town!
Like a lot of you, I’ve been on quite a nostalgia kick of late, going through all my old vinyl records and recalling days of yore when I first encountered the music that inspired me to join the music world for real. In addition, I’ve recently been intrigued to watch performers, both amateur and well-known, dealing with the technology involved in putting live music content online. It has the effect of taking all artifice out of the game when you see a platinum selling artist like James Taylor grappling with an iPhone to record himself in his living room, much like your friend down the road who’s doing the same thing. That’s kinda intriguing and more human somehow.
That’s another weird thing, the voyeuristic thing of viewing artists in their home spaces. Some interiors are bright and breezy and others are dark and curiously depressing or just plain chaotic. Rufus Wainwright, seems to barely be able to dress himself each morning for his performances at the piano, whereas Sheryl Crowe is very pro, as you’d expect. Did anyone watch the One World Lady Gaga sponsored concert on Sunday? I watched quite a bit and indeed the charming home spun nature of it all was touching, all the while raising many millions to combat the current crisis and poverty.
That brings me on to the music business itself, or the business of music, something we don’t often talk about.
It’s not going to be the same after this.
The tiny percentage of monster acts and artists, won’t be affected much, but the rest of us will see a profound effect. It does make me shake my head when I receive advice from well-meaning folks about streaming stuff as a substitute or as an aid to income replacement – all well and great, but this paradigm has been an illusion for rock artists for decades…. up until now.
Small record labels are also having a tough time. What they actually do is to act like lending institutions that allow artists to physically make records and for that we are very grateful, believe me, because real old-school rock records are still expensive to make. They involve real musicians playing together in a room on actual instruments – acoustic and otherwise (try recording a big drum set, well, it’s not easy). Our current label Steamhammer, also promote us like crazy which is huge in our world. But….’Live’ is where it’s at for the vast majority of us. The album is a trailer for the tours. And Spotify etc? Give me a break. It’s a joke, quite frankly – biggest con ever foisted on performing artists in the history of the music game.
At the risk of sounding whiny (I don’t wish to do that in light of what the real rock stars, our front-line health responders, are going through right now) ) but I believe that the game will move more firmly online which is kinda miserable but challenging in another way. We all love the whole mechanics of touring and interacting with you all. I know you love it too. The physicality of it, the set-up, the break-down, the travel, the sheer work-out and camaraderie of a 2 hour live rock show is hard to beat. So all of this recent Covid19 existence has thrown into stark relief what we’ve all been grateful for – our community, our clan and now, its very destiny. We are supposed to start touring in earnest again, in September in the USA and then on to the U.K. during October and November. However, the governments of both of these countries have, in my humble opinion, been doing a lousy job of coordinating the national response and most importantly, the gradual move back into the light of safety for all of us. The plans are erratic and slipshod, it seems. One word: TESTING!!!!! Here’s another: SWABS!!!!
Our little cottage industry provides the band and our employees a modest income of around 20% – 25% of what we earn. At least 75% of our throughput – I’m talking about money we earn from our shows in clubs and small theatres is fed right back into the greater economies of various countries (18 visited last year alone); things like taxes, hotel bookings, agent fees, work permits, rental vehicles, airflights, gas, insurance, phone, gear, repairs you name it. It doesn’t take a genius to quickly figure out that the elimination of hundreds of thousands of these Dollars, Pounds and Euros that are fed into the greater economy each year, by little old us alone, is having an immediate effect. Now, extrapolate that out to the thousands of touring acts out there and the effect is a disaster for those service industries, as well as the artists.
I’m proud to say that music does indeed play a major part in the economies of many, many nations. Sure, I’d like to be able to keep more of it for ourselves, more of the income that we generate, but on the other hand it is a great feeling to be part of the daily economy and business life in general, as well as creative life. Business life can also be creative, as I’ve discovered over the past 25 years or so when I decided to self-manage, finally. Now, in respect of all that, if we musicians could only get one of those small business loans they’re talking about, it might help! Don’t make me laugh – ain’t gonna happen. We know we’re out here on our own.
This is the sad joke when they talk about substituting tiny images of us moving around on the screen of an iPhone for an actual live music event. But, enough of that! If that ’s going to be the new game in town, then so be it. Watch this space for new developments about touring or virtual appearances. One thing I can tell you is that we do have a quantity for sale, of the new CD, Coat of Arms (for our USA fans only at this time) plus a few Live in Japan CDs. There will be info here on our website and on Facebook very soon on how to order those, if you wish.
Take good care out there, stay safe and sanitized and don’t let up on your vigilance against Covid19 just yet. We need you and you need us – hopefully.