So the world has gone upside down…What to do? As you might have noticed, things are quite strange in the new “normal” of 2021. This pandemic has turned over the apple cart and what seems like overnight the world completely changed. Social distancing and lockdowns all over the world have left people isolated and our sense of community has dwindled a bit. But there is one magical thing that has not changed… that is the music. It’s in our blood and damn we musos can’t live without it!
I really do believe music is the one true magic in the world. It speaks to everyone and reaches all over the world despite your language, culture, country or ideology.
I am an alternative blues-rock musician in South Africa. Now this within itself was already quite a challenge as you can imagine. A very small market with no real platforms of support like radio, television etc. So as an alternative musician your main income pre-epidemic was to get on the stage and spread the music to the people. Live gigs were not only our main source of income but for myself and many of my peers, it was life.
There is no way to describe the feeling of a room full of people getting taken away with the music, the energy just building and spreading through the room, that spark in the room as you get the music connected with a new fan. This was the drug we ran on and damn it was good!
Then it happened, overnight our job and reason for being on this planet was taken away. For me, it was quite a hard one. We were on our maiden European tour in the Netherlands in the middle of our 3rd show(it would have been an 18 date tour) when the venue owner called me aside saying that the party was over and all bars, venues and restaurants had to close. After a year of planning and considerable finances put in, we had to get on the plane and head back home.
So when we landed, it all seemed surreal as we just went through the same thing we just did in Europe. The slow creeping up of all the regulations and then boom lockdown.
So being the optimistic chap I am, I thought, great, now I have plenty of time to write and finish the material for a new album. The strange thing is I was completely unproductive for the first month. Had no drive or ambition but still played a lot of guitar. As the days rolled on, time seemed irrelevant and till today it still seems like a very boring version of groundhog day. I actually have no clue how many days it has been already.
But as the days rolled on it was time to pick me up and try to adapt. So what was going on in the digital world? Suddenly there were a lot more musos than I remember? They popped up from their bedrooms and suddenly everyone was streaming. I thought to myself, well let’s jump on the bandwagon and give it a go? So thus I entered the streaming world.
This started with a couple of days of frustration and me almost destroying my laptop and cellphone out of anger. Suddenly I had to learn videography and editing in a flash to get up and going. As with any new skill, this takes time and patience which I have in short supply.
So I was, at last, ready and did my first solo stream. This was and continues to be one of the oddest experiences yet.
So imagine this, you are in your band room alone. It is just you, your laptop and your guitar. No audience… No energy to feed off… just an empty room. I have played many pub gigs where the place is packed but no one is listening or there for you, even though that is also a challenge within itself, at least there is a vibe in the room.
By yourself there is none. Then to make things even stranger, you are 20 secs ahead of your audience to prevent the show being sluggish and keep on getting stuck while buffering. So you do not see the comments in real-time. But even though this was the gauntlets thrown down at me, I pressed on and must say actually did enjoy it in some ways. The strangest thing still is the dead silence after a song…although this has happened live as well, it is still strange.
So after this, I have done a couple and in my experience, the ones with other people are way more fun and have a bit more energy and vibe. But it is all still very strange. Nothing can replace the real thing but I think we all know this and do not try to pass it off as the real thing. But for now, it is the best we can do and the closest we can get to how it used to be before.
So how did it add up financially? This is tough, some did well others did not. It is not really a stable flow of income and very hard to predict the cash flow for a show. Streaming earns pitiful cents and unless you have major money and backing behind you to get your streams up to a million or so, not really an income option. So we musos are still stuck trying to find the path forward to continue to make music and living. I see overseas the gigs are starting to open up slowly, here locally I do not see it opening anytime soon in the way it was before. I reckon it will at least be a year.
So where does this leave us? Well we are in a strange place. Not only is it tough to say who will survive a year without an income, there is also the question of how many venues will be left standing as well as how many sound, event and booking companies will be left?
Hard questions indeed, but I also think this is going to be a time of a lot of creativity and new ideas. I have already seen some amazing stream shows and see some amazing music going to come out of this time. It is time to adapt and find new ways to be creative.
So I guess my point of this whole article is, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We will all meet again and share in the music and live at some point will resemble normality again. It might just take a while to get there.
So for now, be strong. Adapt and treasure the small things and people. Remember the creatives and musos that make the music and support your favourite artist. I know it is tough for all so just hang on. Till we meet again we shall see each other in the virtual world!