Lost your music gig? Here are some organizations that can help
The music community has been hit especially hard by the coronavirus outbreak, with the cancellation or postponement of festivals large and small, entire concert tours and individual performances nationwide.
In response, the Recording Academy and its philanthropic arm, the MusiCares Foundation, recently announced a new $2 million fund earmarked to aid musicians affected by the COVID-19 health crisis, from those who have been infected and need treatment to those who have lost work and may be struggling to meet rent or mortgage payments, health insurance costs or other financial burdens.
It’s one of a number of resources that have cropped up as the coronavirus threat has broadened. The long-running nonprofit Sweet Relief musicians’ relief organization also has established a COVID-19 support fund for affected musicians and others who work in the music industry.
As separate-but-related nonprofit organizations, the Recording Academy and MusiCares each have contributed $1 million to start the relief fund and invited others to donate at the new COVID-19 Relief Fund website. Musicians in need are being advised to check in at MusiCares’ site.
“I can never remember a time when this many people in general, let alone music creatives, have been facing such loss of income and loss of opportunity,” academy board chairman and interim CEO Harvey Mason Jr. told The Times.
“It has hit our community especially hard – not just the musicians who create but all the people working around them: sound engineers, mixers, the cartage guys (who handle instruments and equipment) and so many others,” he said. “All of them do work that is predicated on having a show to perform.”
Mason said he’s hearing from members of the music community from all strata, “from people losing income because of canceled shows and tours to people who are sick or caring for people who have coronavirus.”
Mason said he expects to announce additional donations and partners in the COVID-19 fund later this week.
“We’ve raised a considerable amount beyond the initial $2 million,” he said. “This problem is not going away in the next two weeks.”
Sweet Relief, which was launched in 1993 by singer-songwriter Victoria Williams, also has created a coronavirus assistance fund page.
“Sweet Relief is here to provide immediate assistance and we have created this donor-directed fund with a limited amount of funds available to be used specifically for musicians and music industry workers affected by the Coronavirus,” the organization stated on its website. “Funds raised will go towards medical expenses, lodging, clothing, food and other vital living expenses to those impacted due to sickness or loss of work.”
Applicants must meet a series of criteria specified on the same site.
For musicians’ union members, emergency relief is available “for members who have lost revenued due to work stoppages from the coronavirus COVID-19 emergency.” The organization noted that “funds are limited” and asked that “only musicians that are suffering hardship” should apply. Applications for relief can be submitted at https://afm47.org/relief-fund.
In Metro Detroit, many full-time musicians have started live-streaming events to entertain and keep in touch with fans, and offer something in return for those who are able to donate.
Married musicians Jennifer Westwood and Dylan Dunbar have mixed it up, streaming performances from their basement, including jam sessions where other musicians can play along at home. Saturday night, they hosted "Don't Drink Alone," an interactive variety show with music, trivia and giveaways.
"We’ve had a good response," says Westwood of the live streams, which are done via Facebook. "One of the nice things is it is a way for us to keep in touch with not just the local people we love and care about, but also around the country."
Westwood and Dunbar perform year-round across the country as rock and Americana group Jennifer Westwood And The Handsome Devils. She said they stopped touring on St. Patrick's Day and hope to get back on the road in late May. In the meantime they’re surviving off some money they had saved to go into the recording studio.
"Our last date on the road was canceled, that was a big one. We were supposed to play Memphis on Beale Street for St. Patrick’s Day," she said. "We just love playing there and we expected it to be a healthy payday.
Westwood said they haven't applied for any support like the Recording Academy and MusiCares because they wanted to make sure it was available for musicians who have families to care for, first. She hasn’t seen anyone locally get any funds directly yet, aside from direct donations from fans from doing live broadcasts.
“That seems to be the only source of income for musicians that haven’t found other employment,” she said, adding that she and Dunbar have been grateful to get donations from fans directly after doing live broadcasts as well as from Bandcamp, which often allows patrons to pay-what-they-can for song downloads.
Westwood said the online donations don’t have to be a lot.
“We’re seeing more people than expected are pitching in. Sending us a $5 tip is incredibly generous because everyone’s hurting,” she said, adding that she’s even gave money to musical friends when she can.
Professional musician Steve Kendzorski of Royal Oak makes more than half his living as a guitar instructor and mentor at the Detroit School of Rock and Pop. He says he's heard about organizations that are lending support to musicians, but the school hasn't need to reach out as of yet.
"Independently, our instructors are seeking out their own kind of relief," he said. "Being a musician means making a living in many small ways ... some of my colleagues perform all week long at church services, coffee shops, weddings."
Since the virus pandemic, Kendzorski has been able to keep his revenue stream flowing by teaching all of his students at home via Facetime, Skype or Google Hangouts.
He says his students younger than 15 are taking to the lessons like a fish to water, versus his adult clients who slower to adapt, at least at first.
"In younger students I've seen not only the same level of interest, but maybe more ... because they're sitting at home, feeling cooped up, getting cabin fever and they're really looking forward to their sessions. I've had a couple students request multiple sessions a for the next few weeks as a way to stay occupied."
The remainder of Kendzorski's income is generated from his work as a performing musician with his wedding band the Blue Water Kings and a trio, Kapow. He said work for these projects are "full stop, put on hold right now."
"All the weddings that were booked for the next two-three months are being postponed," he said. "Obviously that immediately affects my income."
A plethora of resources and other assistance measures has been pulled together at COVID-19 Freelance Artist Resource website, which points freelancers working in the creative arts to financial and other assistance.
Additionally, a grassroots lobbying campaign is underway at Change.org, the petition website, urging federal lawmakers to provide support to the event industry that employs so many musicians and music industry personnel. As of Tuesday afternoon, a “COVID-19 Federal Aid Package for Events Industry” petition had logged more than 240,000 signatures toward its goal of 300,000 signees.
In the meantime, Recording Academy chairman Mason pointed to a number of ways musicians are already adapting to challenging circumstances.
“Some artists are performing (streamed over social media) from their homes or their personal studios. People are doing it to help heal, and to bring people together. If we can combine that with a fund-raising appeal, then we can take that back to the people who most need help right now.”
Detroit News staff writer Melody Baetens contributed