For some time, I have been wanting to do a show about how the government response to the "pandemic" has affected the music industry. Like many, I started attending live music events during my teenage years and I have fond memories of them all. Memories not just of the music, but the entire experience, the standing in line, hanging out, meeting new people, yes, even the crush of other bodies near the stage when there was festival seating. The interaction with the bands, who also thrive off of audience presence and participation.
Given the government response to the Covid situation, gatherings have been put to a halt for the most part, and live music events like the one pictured here, are a thing of the past. When and if they will return is anyone's guess. Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to have Ron Young, front man for Little Caesar, join us on my show, The Wasatch Report, to discuss the hit the music industry has taken.
I also reached out to a life-long friend, who is a career "roadie," and has traveled the world with major artists for his entire career. I asked him if he would be interested in sharing a few words as to how this situation has impacted the lives of the support side of the industry, and he not only shared a few words, but a couple pages of thoughts. I decided to share them in their entirety, something I could not do on the air, so consider this writing by my good friend, "Rhode Crew" my first guest blog. Please take the time to read his sentiments, as the impact is more far-reaching than many realize. Due to fear of ramifications from today's cancel culture, my friend asked me to omit his name.
Presented here are the points of view from the performer and the crew: I hope you enjoy them.
"When the global pandemic was announced, the majority of touring acts were just starting to gear back up after several months of down time. What most people don’t realize is that our industry is “cyclic”. We don’t typically work all year. Most of us will work from March through October. In a good year, our employers might be booked in South America, or Australia & New Zealand, or Asia or elsewhere on the other side of the Equator. That will typically happen over the winter here because of the reversed seasons, but certainly doesn’t happen every year.
So what that really means is that we are off from mid-fall to mid-spring. And by off, I mean the vast majority of us are not paid at all during that time. Very few bands have the resources to pay their crew a year round salary. Or they simply choose not to. We are all prepared for that eventuality, and do our best to save accordingly. We also tend to rely on unemployment benefits when things get lean. When this pandemic hit, I had been without a paycheck since November 10, 2019. I was supposed to go back to work on March 21, 2020. I had planned accordingly, and was doing OK. Then the bottom fell out. I don’t anticipate returning to work before spring of 2021 at the earliest, and IF that happens, I will have been without work for at least 15 months, maybe more depending on whether or not the world decides to reopen.
I was fortunate to qualify for unemployment benefits at the end of last year. The maximum they pay in the State of Tennessee is $275 per week. Just over $1000 per month. My budget takes into account a fair bit more than that, so I started in the hole. Those benefits ran out the end of February. I was able to apply again right away, and as luck would have it, the pandemic actually made it possible for me to qualify again. Those ran out in September. The state extended my benefits another 13 weeks, but changed the certification requirements at the same time. The first thing I see when I log in every Sunday is there are -0- jobs for me to apply for. Encouraging. But they want physical proof of three job interviews each week. I saw somewhere that there are more than 12 million people currently unemployed in the music and entertainment field. All of them competing for the same few Wal Mart and Pizza Hut Jobs, because that’s all there is. It’s a lose-lose proposition. Some have managed to find work driving Amazon, UPS, or FedEx vans. People still manage to buy stuff. I took the opportunity to get my Real Estate license. I’ll likely not see any income from it until next year, and I’m already in to it for thousands of dollars. Fingers crossed it doesn’t bankrupt me.
This pandemic has single handedly crushed the entire music and entertainment business. It isn’t that just a large number of performers are affected. This includes their individual crews as well. Sometimes, as many as 150 people are employed by any one band at any given time. When 150 people stop touring, stop flying, stop staying in hotels, stop eating and drinking in restaurants, stop taking Ubers, stop travelling on tour busses, and stop spending money in general, the downhill effect is catastrophic. Airlines, Hotels, Restaurants, Bars, etc are also affected by our industry not working. Multiply that by thousands and you can imagine the ramifications. I personally know travel agents who are in danger of going out of business. Truck and bus drivers are sitting at home not getting paid. There are only so many commercial driving jobs to be had. Event staff in all of the quiet, empty venues are sitting at home not getting paid. They work year round and don’t typically make enough money to take 3 or 4 months off each year. But a year? The ONLY people who can actually afford a year off are the performers themselves, but from their perspective, they’re watching their livelihood circle the drain. In either case, the effects are traumatizing, and could take years to come back from.
Some of us are lucky. We have spouses that earn a decent living and we can squeak by. I was on track to finally dig myself out of debt for the first time in my life. Not any more. It will take me years to recover from this. Some of us aren’t so lucky. There are many folks that are in serious danger of losing their homes. Some may never recover. There is also the very real danger of depression leading to alcoholism, drug overdose, and suicide. Having a thriving career one minute, having spent your entire life working to achieve a specific career goal, only to have it ripped away by something you can’t even lay your eyes on has become devastating to some.
I had a long conversation today with a tour manager I hadn’t seen in years. We both asked the same questions of each other: Do you think that people will come back to their jobs when the whistle blows? Do you think they may have given up on the business and started new careers? Do you think some bands will just decide to call it quits? The answer is maybe yes, maybe no. Some I think will decide that retirement is a better choice than trying to go back to a job they love, that will now likely have ridiculous restrictions put in place. Or because their employers in some cases lost so much money, they can’t afford, or won’t afford the wages they used to be paid. All of the perks we’ve worked so very hard for, for so very long, will likely be stripped away.
There are so many questions, and absolutely no answers. Add politics to the mix, and it’s a complete shitshow. People fighting over the best way to proceed, getting nothing done in the process. And this applies all over the world. Not just here in the US. But the world are looking to us for guidance, and they’re getting the exact opposite. Part of me thinks this all goes away next month. Part of me is terrified that our business won’t recover for years, maybe decades, maybe never. But part of me remains guardedly optimistic. People in our business are fighters and survivors. Hopefully we’ll win."