In March 2020, as information broke that Austin, Texas, had canceled the South by Southwest pageant 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, in fact, but when he’s trustworthy, 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 file. Stith, Fury’s vocalist, has a day job with an East Bay espresso roaster, and he was completely happy to spend time together with his girlfriend, settling into their new Oakland condominium.
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 neighborhood. Stith, 29, appeared 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. However it 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 within us, and it actually received 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 may very well be at a present with all my mates and mourn collectively.”
It’s not information that the music business has been hit exhausting by the pandemic, as obligatory restrictions have dealt a devastating blow to the careers of artists, bookers, stage technicians and extra. However it’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 may need squeaked by over the previous yr with takeout, there’s no actual equal in music. Due to streaming companies all however obliterating bodily file gross sales, dwell live shows have been most artists’ main earnings supply for a decade.
And dwell live shows — at the least these in authorized, permitted areas — have been off-limits because the preliminary coronavirus outbreak. As a result of means COVID-19 spreads in crowded rooms, music venues had been among the many first companies to shut and might 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 might start quickly at a diminished 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 longer term 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 means that’s tougher to quantify. For many working musicians, a dwell present represents greater than a paycheck: It’s a hub for neighborhood and connection. Music lovers know seeing a live performance is usually a balm for the soul, however for these acting on stage, the catharsis could be nothing wanting 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?
“Individuals 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 help. She notes that the group has seen “an unlimited improve” in purchasers reaching out for assist up to now yr. A latest MusiCares examine discovered that 51% of respondents had “low to very low ranges of confidence in having the ability to afford fundamental dwelling bills through the pandemic.”
Even below regular circumstances, artists have a better propensity for psychological sickness. A 2019 study by the music distribution service File Union discovered that 73% of unbiased musicians had skilled difficulties with their psychological well being, together with nervousness, despair and panic assaults. And whereas specialists say the stigma about psychological sickness has begun to shift in recent times, self-destructive behaviors are nonetheless accepted because the norm, and even romanticized, in leisure business circles. In the identical examine, 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 identify 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, organising tools for occasions. “I went by means of a variety of the grieving steps initially. That was essentially the most hectic half for me.”
At 38, she’s been sober for about two years, and she or he shortly noticed how simple it will be to relapse. As a substitute, she reached out to her physician to speak about it. She stayed busy performing and connecting with followers on Instagram and TikTok. Thus far, largely due to her residence studio and her 8-year-old daughter, Aria, Carlos says, “I’ve been holding 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 skill 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 go away your 9-to-5 on the door. However with the music neighborhood, it’s such an built-in a part of who they’re. You’re seeing folks 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 attempting to reply these questions for greater than a yr.
At 33, Behrens has been learning and taking part in 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 exhibits for the foreseeable future. He’s been capable of train trombone classes nearly by means of videoconferencing, however he additionally began working at a deli counter to make lease.
“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 skilled us to say our self-worth is related 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 having the ability to say, ‘I’m a musician.’ ”
As San Francisco begins to reopen bars and choose leisure venues, fall pageant lineups may appear encouraging to dwell music followers, and it’s tempting to examine 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 exhibits, for instance, convey up a type of catch-22 for artists, promoters and venues: Relying on a room’s measurement, the ticket gross sales from a reduced-capacity present would possibly barely offset the elevated prices of safely placing it on.
“It’s irritating when individuals are like, ‘Hey, issues are getting higher,’ and I’m like, there are nonetheless lots of people out of labor. I nonetheless do not know after we’ll return to taking part in exhibits,” says Behrens, noting that placing on a symphony live performance presents an additional problem — as does the standard symphony viewers, who are inclined to skew older and are extra in danger for extreme sickness. “Loads 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 gained’t be touring till 2022. Not that she gained’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 in case you’re fortunate you may hear the group as a result of they’re excited,” says Nguyen, who launched her fifth album, “Temple,” in Might. “It’s simply this outstanding supply of power that I’ve not discovered anyplace else.”
Nguyen, 36, has had a profitable 15-year profession within the indie-rock world, and she or he hasn’t at all times beloved the pains of life on tour. However with “Temple” — a deeply private file 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 residence 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 folks a lot,” Nguyen says. “The reward for all that studio time and all of the crazy-making (features of recording an album) is that emotional reference to folks, and usually you try this at a present. Particularly with this being such an emotional file for me, I used to be excited to share that and be in that intimate house with folks.”
As a substitute, she has participated in live-stream occasions, recorded an at-home “Tiny Desk Live performance” for NPR, and made what the Washington Submit 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 cause why Nguyen determined to accomplice with the web publication service Substack for a brand new undertaking known as For the Record, documenting her writing her subsequent album.
In the case of 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 residence.
“That’s from my mother,” she notes. “She says in case you don’t know what to do, go weed the yard.”
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Music has by no means been a fantastic profession selection for individuals 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 massive gamble. However for somebody who’s constructed his life round taking part in exhibits, the query marks of the previous yr have been all-consuming.
“You’re positive till you’re not positive,” 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 effectively.”
A couple of weeks earlier than the shutdown, the Household Crest was making ready to launch a file titled “The Warfare: Act II,” and had a tour booked to help it. However as a result of pandemic, the band held off on the discharge. As a substitute, 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 related to the neighborhood, and permits us to see the worth of the work we do, since you do have folks going by means 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 concern and anger that the web can’t ease: For McCormick, who’s half Chinese language, the surge in hate crimes focusing on Asians and Asian Individuals over the previous yr has solely added “one other layer to the nervousness,” 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” revealed 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 coloration carry that I feel my Caucasian mates can’t perceive,” he says. “We’re at all times scanning, being attentive to our environment, subconsciously questioning if somebody’s gonna come after us.”
In the meantime, his life’s work stays on pause. As vaccinations improve, McCormick says he’d wish to really feel hopeful in regards to the return of dwell music. However he’s nervous about conditions wherein 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 folks 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 accountable for different folks. You don’t need to be the band that went out and performed a bunch of exhibits after which folks get sick.
“The underside line is we now have to look out for one another.”
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Camille Carlos says she’s attempting to concentrate on the longer term. Proper now, which means supervising her daughter’s distance studying, planning her subsequent live-streamed efficiency, enthusiastic about promote her forthcoming EP — and deciding what to do when her unemployment insurance coverage runs out. In keeping with the nonprofit Individuals for the Arts, she’s one of many 62% of artists within the U.S. who’ve change into absolutely unemployed due to the pandemic. (Some 95% have skilled earnings loss.)
The rapper is candid about how tough 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 change into much less taboo simply up to now 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 exhibits, with (the neighborhood’s help) at our fingertips. Particularly now, when everyone’s in an analogous headspace, I feel individuals are realizing it’s OK to talk on it. We’ve got to assist each other by means of it.”
And when that neighborhood can collect in individual once more, she is aware of she gained’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 lease out some massive spot on a sizzling evening, have it’s below the celebrities, and everybody exhibits up: dancers, singers, rappers, DJs,” she says. “I can see it. I preserve placing it collectively in my head. When everybody’s sweating, vibing, on the identical frequency — you may’t replicate that on a cellphone display.
“It’s gonna be like a welcome-home social gathering,” she says. “It’s gonna be good.”
Psychological Well being Sources
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 means of — whether or not with trusted mates or a therapist — had been a lifeline over the previous yr.
For those who’re trying to help somebody battling their psychological well being, right here’s a jumping-off level for sources geared towards artists.
Verify 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 begin the podcast in 2017, after Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Chester Bennington of Linkin Park each died by suicide.
“I assumed, how might these musicians who convey folks a lot pleasure be dwelling their lives in a lot ache?” says Fong. “I do assume (psychological well being points) are being extra acknowledged, however we have to get extra of the file labels and other people on the enterprise aspect to essentially present their help for musicians and their psychological well being, to indicate that they care about their artists as folks.”
Backline is a nonprofit that connects professionals within the music business to psychological well being professionals, help teams and different wellness sources. backline.care
MusiCares, the nonprofit wing of the Recording Academy, helps musicians entry monetary help, well being care and extra. www.grammy.com/musicares
Rock to Restoration is a music-based help program that provides therapeutic companies to these recovering from psychological well being problems, substance abuse points and extra. rocktorecovery.org
The 73 P.c examine gives perception and sources in regards to the prevalence of psychological well being points within the music business. www.the73percent.com