Coronavirus: Musicians Speak Out (Episode 1)

Coronavirus is everywhere. It’s impossible to go on social media without running into death tolls, photographs of overflowing hospitals, or at the very least, a meme. We all know that things aren’t ideal for anyone right now, but some industries are faring worse than others, the music industry being one of the most challenged so far.

Without performances, merchandise sales, and an active fan base, musicians have nothing. Thanks to the impacts of crucial social distancing measures, the music industry is plummeting into a hole it may not be able to scrabble back out of for a long time. But what about local musicians? What happens when they can’t perform or pay their bills?

I’ve gathered some of my site’s favorite artists to talk about the impact of current events on their careers and creativity over my next few posts. Want to know how your favorites are faring, or what you can do to help? Read on!

Responses have been edited for grammar, length, and clarity.

Bishop LaVey

“What we need is for musicians to come together and help each other, because Spotify, Apple and Amazon Music certainly won’t.”

A Doom Folk pioneer out of Vermont, Kane Sweeney is the mastermind behind “Bishop LaVey,” a project originally meant to be just one concept album, but that blossomed into a persona all its own. I previously reviewed Kane’s 2019 release, I am the Atom

Kane played out close to thirty five times in 2019, but Coronavirus put a hold on his plans for 2020. “I was planning on playing one to two shows a month, almost primarily in Burlington and the northeast this year. But alas, COVID19 dawned. Years ago, if I wasn’t getting enough hours at wherever I was working (My real-person job is Sous Chef at a restaurant in Stowe, VT), I would play as many shows as possible to make up for the lost wages. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for this to happen when you make your primary income off of music, especially in the age of Spotify with virtually no payment for listens online.

Luckily, there are those of us who want to keep the gears turning in some way or another. Jim Lockridge at Big Heavy World is really pushing. I can’t speak for anyone else, but when I announced that I was going to be live streaming a show, he broadcast it on 105.9. Now, along with some other musicians, we’re hosting one hour slots on the radio station playing our music every week. Another Vermont musician, Thomas Gunn, also hosted a live stream festival to raise money for the food bank that featured a ton of local artists and raised like $4,000! I found myself lucky to be a part of it.

I’ve seen artists all over my social media feed hosting live streams. I think everyone thought at the beginning that live streams would replace shows, but I don’t think I’ve heard anyone have that experience thus far. I think one of the major problems, at least here in Vermont, is that almost 40% of us were laid off. The people who would be going to shows and spending money on merch or donations have to look out for themselves.

The state of affairs for musicians everywhere right now is dire. What we need is for musicians to come together and help each other, because Spotify, Apple, and Amazon Music certainly won’t.”

Bishop LaVey just released two singles! Check out Ghosts of Royalton and Set Fire to Our Homes.

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Sodada

“It’s important to slow down and feel what you need to feel.”

Sodada is an Art Rock/Future Soul project created by Andy Casella and Hannah Rose. Based in Western, Massachusetts, Sodada released their self-produced and recorded debut LP, “Phase,” in 2019, and I had the pleasure of reviewing it!

As for 2020, Sodada admits that “It’s been tough to see how many of our friends and fellow musicians/artists/freelancers have suddenly found themselves without income. While we don’t rely entirely on gigs for work, we do work in the music and service industries, which have also been heavily affected. While we search for the silver lining, being forced to be home has given us a lot of time and space to write and create constantly! It’s also been a good lesson in how it’s okay to not be productive all the time—it’s important to slow down and feel what you need to feel. Sending love out to everyone, and hope y’all stay healthy.”

You can help Sodada by purchasing merch (Isn’t that Cycles pattern sick?!) and listening to their music.

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The Cold Year

“Music is the thing that is helping me fight off the quarantine blues.”

Hailing from Salt Lake City, Utah, The Cold Year is a self-proclaimed bastard jazz trio “with [a] heavy garage rock foundation [that] is made unique with the addition of gypsy jazz inspired instrumentation” and a DIY attitude. Matt Skaggs (Guitar and Vocals), Mitch Shepherd (bass), and Josh Cannon (drums) released their latest record, Prey for Me, in October 2019.

The Cold Year says that “this period of time has been especially tough for us since we’re a band that thrives off of live performances and the theatricality that comes with them. Putting more than 40 hours a week into sending emails, booking tours, sending our EPK out for press, organizing social media posts, and more all came crashing down in a matter of a few days. Now, more than twelve gigs that we had spent hours working on are all cancelled/postponed with no end in sight.”

Lead singer and guitarist, Matt Skaggs says that he lost hope at first. “I had nothing new to work towards, and playing guitar and writing lyrics didn’t sound like fun anymore. As a natural extrovert, this period is immensely hard. It was very easy to sink into the daily grind of wake up, work from home, smoke weed, eat like garbage. I was waking up every morning asking myself why I felt so awful.

But in that darkest period, I decided to force myself to try something new. So, to keep the spark alive, I downloaded a DAW and started trying to produce music that isn’t our usual genre in an effort to better myself and hopefully learn some new things. It’s helped me pull myself from the depths of depression. It has actually been very rewarding and often hilarious. Music is the thing that is helping me fight off the quarantine blues.”

The Cold Year has a simple request for fans and fellow musicians. “All we ask is for our friends to stream/share our tunes on Spotify, Bandcamp, Apple Music, Youtube, and Soundcloud, all of which can be found on our website.

We also ask that you support your local artist community (not just musicians) by buying a print, commission, song, album, t-shirt, or just tossing an artist you admire a share, shout-out, or some kind words. It may sound like such an insignificant thing to do, but words of encouragement always brighten our day. I’m sure every other artist feels the same way.”

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