Live performers suffer through 2020 as work dries up.

Musicians Express Sour Notes about Dearth of Work in 2020, Low to No Income from Streaming

Having been involved in the music business, I have lots of empathy for today’s live performers in small towns and big cities everywhere. The pandemic wiped out the majority of their income and has kept them struggling for almost a year now. Meanwhile, much of the world listens to recorded music, in particular on Spotify, to relieve themselves of the strain of Covid-19, while local musicians sit at home.

Brian Heater at discussed in an essay how to give musicians back as much as they’ve given the music-loving public.

“Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears—it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear,” the late-neurologist, Oliver Sacks wrote. “But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more—it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity.”

Louis Armstrong put it even more succinctly: “music is life itself.”

Heater pointed out the irony of how music buoyed an often-depressed public in 2020, while “most musicians have struggled to make ends meet.” Streaming revenues provide “fractions of cents” of what musicians make in record sales, and most rely on touring as their key revenue stream—which disappeared for most after March.

Jeff Tweedy of Wilco said the band income has dried up. (Source: Wikipedia photo by Tristan Loper)

“The pandemic utterly decimated the live-music industry,” Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy noted in a recent interview. “There’s been almost an entire year now of absolutely zero revenue.”

Tweedy told the Wall Street Journal that he fears a lot of live music venues will no longer exist by the time the pandemic ends.

In May, a survey from the Musician’s Union noted that 19% of musicians said they might end up giving up their careers due to the impact of COVID-19. Seven months later, the situation is likely even worse. Stingy streaming royalties are under the microscope now that musicians are relying on them, especially from Spotify. While the company has spent hundreds of millions to bolster its podcast programming, musicians haven’t received any additional monies.

“CEO Daniel Ek didn’t do himself any favors in July when he noted, ‘Some artists that used to do well in the past may not do well in this future landscape, where you can’t record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough.’

So besides the hotel, food, and travel industries, the live music industry has crashed as well. The career of many of our friends and neighbors is on the line in 2021. Let’s try to celebrate live music in the safest way possible. Maybe even cough up some money to download music from local artists.