We know it’s more than just Twitter memes now, COVID-19 is causing some serious damage; the novelty is wearing off and panic is setting in. Aside from the obviously tragic deaths and risks to health, the coronavirus outbreak and its ramifications are causing some unalterable Richter-scale shakes throughout the entirety of the music industry, which are likely to have a long term lasting impact.
SXSW was the first major festival to be cancelled, just days before the virus was declared to be of “pandemic” status. South by SouthWest (SXSW) draws 400,000 people and was scheduled for 13th-22nd March. The festival was cancelled by officials in the City of Austin, who declared a “local disaster” in the city, before issuing the order which would prevent the festival from proceeding. This cancellation is likely to be the first of many essential closures and cancellations we will see impacting the industry, and no one is denying that these moves are wholly necessary. Coachella is the latest mainstream musical event to be affected, with the festival releasing a statement on the 10th of March to say it has been officially postponed until October. But how do we balance these potentially life-saving cancellations of huge musical events with the career-altering and financial detriment to the musicians and bands who were set to play them?
Bang Bang Romeo are one such band. Set to release LGBTQ+ anthem ‘You & I’ after announcing their biggest headline show to date, Bang Bang Romeo have been on a steep trajectory in the wake of their support slot with the legendary P!nk on her world tour. Set to play at the prestigious SXSW, the band posted a comment via Instagram saying that “we have spent every last penny made throughout 2019 to fund the extremely beneficial trip, which is now of course, all gone,” before saying that they “understand the public’s health and safety must come first.” This must be heartbreaking news for any band hoping to make it big in the industry this year, with SXSW one of the most important events in the calendar for showcasing new talent and spreading the word.
In the past, acts such as the White Stripes and Alabama Shakes have had their big break at SXSW, launching stellar international success stories and some of the greatest music of our times. Increasingly, with the advent of digital streams and music piracy, live shows are the only way artists can make a significant amount of money in the music industry today. Spotify’s stated payout range is between $0.006 and $0.0084, which means that it takes millions of streams to even begin to make a difference to artists’ lives and pockets. It falls to live shows to bring in the most money. The coronavirus outbreak and the resultant cancellation of tours and shows, from individual gigs to massive music festivals, are going to put a lot of artists out of pocket.
Luckily for Bang Bang Romeo, the media has taken pity on them and they are scheduled to appear on Sky Breakfast this Sunday, where they will inevitably be discussing their experience of COVID-19’s impact on the music industry as a whole, and indeed, their careers.
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The best thing we can do to support artists who are missing out on these potentially career-making sessions is to stream their music online as much as possible during the upcoming inevitable quarantine period. Whilst streaming sales are meager, as mentioned previously, it’s better than nothing, and certainly better than letting these up-and-coming artists fall by the wayside.
Whilst we can do our best to support those bands, like Bang Bang Romeo, who are far enough into their careers that they have music online which can be watched and streamed (including debut album, A HEARTBREAKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, out now), what about bands who are literally just starting out? Los Bitchos, set to release their debut album later this year, were relying on SXSW to propel them into the big time and now must switch up their calendar and planned release dates as they now have no big performance with which to set off their new album cycle. They have said that the SXSW cancellation “forced us to restructure our schedule for the rest of the year… everything has been pushed back. From a financial perspective it has taken us back thousands of pounds and the time spent sorting all arrangements for Austin. Plus we really wanted to have margaritas in the sun!” They are feeling more positive about it overall, though, and will appear at the planned London showcase (for UK-based bands set to perform at SXSW), as well as keeping their fingers crossed for their headline tour to go ahead in April.
An unnamed artist manager told Forbes that “we’re beginning to see it [COVID19] affect the entire music ecosystem”. The trickle down from festival lineups is already becoming apparent, with the loss of SXSW estimated at $356m (based on last year) and Coachella worth over $1bn worldwide. As well as these bigger music festivals, smaller, individual events and gigs are being cancelled, songwriters and producers are cancelling flights in LA for sessions, and no doubt the trail of destruction COVID-19 leaves behind will be trailing through the music industry for months, maybe years to come.