MUSIC IS DYING…AND IT’S YOUR FAULT by Jaimie Vernon

Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about music in the time of COVID, shall we?
In the Before Times (March 2020 or sooner) the music industry was teetering on the brink of obsolescence as concert tickets had skyrocketed to the price of, well, a moon-landing, and venues were closing down at a rate equal to Nortel distributors. The music itself had been co-opted by the tech industry through streaming platforms, leaving artists wondering how they got robbed so badly (here’s a hint: you’re the cow, the music’s the milk…insert cliché about not buying the former if you can get the latter for free). On a scale of economics, you’re either a starving creator or a billionaire exploiter. There is no middle class in music. And given that most weasels in the music industry aren’t clever enough to become billionaires, they turn to low hanging fruit and pick the pockets of performers and songwriters for pennies on the dollar.

When you throw a pandemic into the mix, every down turn and misfortune has been accelerated. As the kids nowadays like to say, “Well, that escalated quickly.” Many of the venues that were struggling, are now gone since musicians haven’t been allowed to perform (The Rivoli in Toronto and This Ain’t Hollywood in Hamilton come to mind). That disengages an audience who’ve had to find other ways to amuse themselves for the past 6 months. You can only shag the dog so many times before even sex becomes no more exciting than changing socks,  so they’re binge watching Netflix, or reading books, or playing video games and not much else.

But music’s still there. The live performance end has been destroyed. Only in the past few weeks with inventive adaptation of drive-in shows or limited attendance gigs at high profile venues that have survived the crunch, have we seen anything resembling the Olden Times.

More than ever, artists need your support (and, yes, that does include streaming their material on Spotify or YouTube). You know what’s worse than making zero revenue? Zero recognition. That old cliché about playing for exposure now means more than it ever did before because nobody is going to wave your flag as a performer. You have to do all of it yourself in the only arena that currently sustains an audience – social media.

Innovative acts have been using this time to present other aspects of their careers and holding onto whatever fan base that’s willing to come along. Artists that were supposed to be on tour are doing virtual streams – daily, weekly, monthly – through YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and monetizing what they can by engaging fans privately through platforms like Patreon. They offer fans exclusive deals on merch and access to back catalogs, videos, and even Zoom chats. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSd2r1R_6uY

My own band, Mr! Mouray, was half-way through recording our new album when everything shut down. The completed album should have been released about now. Instead, we’ve been sporadically rehearsing in socially distanced situations in pre-production for the second half of the record. It most certainly won’t be out until the New Year. We’ve been in no hurry because there’s nowhere to play to promote it once we do. Which means, a video campaign, a radio play campaign, and viral marketing on social media. We’re the lucky ones because playing live was a secondary, part-time, occurrence in our ongoing history. We liked to play live, but our livelihoods have never depended on it.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7DJE1g_H2A


That’s not true for many artists. Their lives are recording and performing. Write, record, release, tour. Rinse and repeat. Aside from the obvious hit their bank accounts are having, now they’ve got to become tech savvy and the equivalent to TV stars. We’re in rough, uncharted territory right now. Many of our music heroes are not going to fare very well in this transition. And it is a transition. As much as everyone would like the world to return to the Before Times, the industry has collapsed to the point that many of the support systems and backers have had to move on to other forms of revenue. That leaves the artists without a solid plan for recovery. Will there be gigs a year from now? Will there be venues? The truth will be swift and harsh as it’s been these last six months.

More than ever we need audiences to help keep this ship afloat. If you want to see your favourites play again, you need to support them in the meantime. Best way is to tune in to whatever they’re doing to stay creative under these stressful conditions. Watch the streams and videos, buy the music from retailers. Spread the word. The part of the music industry that will never change is word-of-mouth promotion. You could literally save an artist’s career by putting their music in front of what the kiddies now call ‘influencers’ (we just called them good business partners).

Here are some folks that are out there continuing to pound away at conquering musical Mt. Everest. Give them some of your time and love, would you?

THE TREWS


They did one of the first collaborative Zoom videos at the beginning of the pandemic with a new song called “Godspeed Rebel.” The song was such a hit they had fans recreate it and proceeds from the new single went to the Unison Fund. They’re now on Patreon offering up giveaways, live streams, and other goodies for a low monthly fee. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbNOkGnfiCo

RED WANTING BLUE


An American act who’ve been at it for a very long time. Their bread and butter is performing across the mid-west and east coast. But the band members were stranded in separate parts of the country when the lockdown happened so they’ve not been able to tie together the streaming end of performances. Instead, they completed an album of recordings they were wrapping up as everything fell apart. It’s called ‘The Peppermint Sessions.’ There’s half-a-dozen videos on YouTube. Here’s one of the big fan favourites. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3t3A2YQ7xXs

LEE AARON


The Metal Queen has been on a roll during the pandemic releasing several socially distanced video collaborations with her band (it doesn’t hurt that her husband is the drummer in her band). The latest has been a cover of the Sly & The Family Stone song “Everyday People” with a message to those feeling lonely and isolated. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6DHK-_BtHI

[Carmen Toth]
CARMEN TOTH

I met Carmen at the International Pop Overthrow Festival Hamilton in 2019 at This Ain’t Hollywood. A strong independent face in the music community, she’s been live streaming her sets on Facebook and has vowed to continue to do so. Check her page out and tune in for her regular live streams. https://www.facebook.com/carmen.toth.98

GREG WYARD


Greg’s a singer-songwriter who has been around the Canadian music haunts for many years. He was one of several musicians to play at my own record label’s Beatles night at the Hard Rock Café in 2004. Like Carmen Toth, he has a very regular live stream that usually thematic – anything from viewer requests, to cover tunes by specific artists, and original songs. Meanwhile, he’s been able to get some socially distanced live gigs again. Check his streaming and live venue schedule on his page. https://www.facebook.com/gregwyard


LEE SKLAR


One of the greatest sidemen and session bass players to ever grace our ears (his repertoire of appearances is 25,000 songs deep over 5 decades). Lee is a very loud political voice on social media (often getting banned for his views on U.S. politics). However, he dials it back and offers some amazing YouTube videos showing viewers how he plays famous tunes by the international stars he’s had the pleasure of working with from Phil Collins to Toto. Check out his channel here.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-0ursedq7wM

=JV=

Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 41 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 24 years. He is also the author of The Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and editor of “Sunny Days: The Skip Prokop Story.” Available through Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Jaimie+Vernon

 

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