Play On! How Musicians Can Reach Audiences and Earn a Living During the Pandemic

April 27, 2020 6 min read

Play On! How Musicians Can Reach Audiences and Earn a Living During the Pandemic

The COVID-19 Pandemic has had a disastrous effect on the overall economy, but few industries have been hit quite as hard as the music industry. In the digital age, the old sources of revenues such as album sales and publishing royalties have waned, and more and more musicians have turned to performing and touring as their primary source of income. 

Now, with tours being canceled left and right and performers sequestered in their homes under shelter in place orders, musicians everywhere are finding it all but impossible to make a living.In an insightfulinterview with GQ, legendary singer and songwriter David Crosby reflects:

GQ: How are you doing?

David Crosby: Not too good. I'm sitting here waiting for them to cancel all my tours this summer and put me in deep financial trouble.

That sounds incredibly stressful.

Yeah, it is. Because, you know they don't pay us for records anymore, right? So touring is all we got. That's really the only thing that we can do to make any money. And to lose it is just awful. I may—honest to God—I may lose my home. I don't know what to do about it, except just try to roll with the punches and keep going. Truthfully, if I lose the tours, I probably will lose my home.

(Read the rest of the Interview Here:

If a legendary musician like Crosby, with a fanbase of millions is struggling to make ends meet during the COVID-19 Pandemic, you can imagine how hard it has been for local musicians with less exposure and much smaller fandoms. While the world is adjusting to a host of new public health and safety practices, performers and promotion companies are looking for ways that they can still do business during this uncertain time. The good news is that musicians are finding that there are ways to reach audiences and make money, even during this challenging time. 

Inspiring Ode to Joy performed by Colorado Symphony on Zoom Platform

While Venues Are Shutting Down, Live Streaming is Taking Off

If you are a regular on social media or video platforms, you are likely to have seen more live music in the past month than most of us see in a year. That is because, while COVID-19 has forced concert venues across the country to close and tours to be canceled, performers and music labels have been forced to be more creative than ever to continue making money. 

Steve Vai Live Stream Announcement

Throughout the pandemic, those working in non-essential industries have been sequestered in their homes, either tele-commuting to work or off on furlough. Musicians, usually classified as contractors or self-employed, have generally been in the same boat. However, record numbers of people have been on social media every day throughout the quarantine, and musicians have been reaching record numbers of people online through live interactive streaming events on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, live streamed concerts and online viral video platforms like Youtube and Tic Tok. 

These formats allow musicians to unveil new music, chat with fans in real time and give their fans access that they would not get under normal circumstances. A master of this approach has beenguitar virtuoso Marty Friedman who has been going live on Instagram with some regularity. Not only do you get to hear Friedman perform, but you can also watch and listen as he responds to viewer questions in both English and Japanese (Friedman learned Japanese after spending a great deal of time in Japan touring with Cacophony and Megadeth, and has since moved to Japan, becoming a favorite in the Japanese music scene).

Other online platforms, likeSide Door andSong Kick, are allowing musicians and live acts to perform live online and sell tickets to live events or recorded shows, actually generating revenues from their online performances. These online platforms also allow fans to watch live performances on demand, which can bring in residual revenues for performers. 

Side Door Access

Online Interactive Lessons

Even before the pandemic, guitarists and musicians who found themselves earning considerably less in album revenues found doing instructional Youtube videos to be a great way to add a viable revenue stream. And now, thanks to the quarantine, musicians and performers have more time on their hands and more ways at their disposal to connect with aspiring musicians in inspiring and instructive ways, which is another way performers in quarantine can add a viable revenue stream.

A great example is guitarist Nick Johnston who has been giving instruction to students online for several years through the ‘homework’ tab on his website. For a flat monthly rate one can subscribe to Johnston’s weekly homework which consists of, as Johnston puts it:

“Every week, I’ll provide you with some homework that I believe can help us break new ground in our guitar playing and help keep things fresh and exciting. Theory, harmony and technique, backing tracks, guest teachers and featured subscribers will all be covered and featured in some capacity. I'm also going to be working hard to add bonus/behind the scenes content as much as humanly possible.”

Nick Johnston Homework

Once the pandemic hit, Johnston offered discounts on tabs of his collection of improvised solos (Atomic Improv) and an enhancement to his ‘homework’ subscription called ‘extra credit’ which offers, as Johnston writes,“Access to a private email where we will have weekly 1-1 discussions about the current Homework assignment, or whatever you would like to chat about. I will pass on any and all experience I can!” 

Johnston is just one example ofa musician who is using an online platformto interact with players around the world, offering them tips on gear, tone, techniques, performance and music theory. Other musicians offering online instruction during the quarantine include Brian May of Queen,Marc Ford, Reba McIntire, Herbie Hancock and others.

Brian May's Instagram Instruction


Virtual Collaborations

One of the beauties of modern communications technology is that you can still collaborate with other musicians even if you are observing social isolation protocols. Before smartphones and online platforms, songwriters often recorded ideas on cassette and mailed the tapes back and forth to each other when working over long distances, a process that took weeks or more to complete a single tune. Now, you can send music files from computer to computer, phone to phone in seconds, while online platforms likeZoom and FaceTime allow musicians to work on music in real time, chatting and jamming, rehearsing and performing. Zoom video conferencing allows a nearly unlimited number of musicians to collaborate (see for actual platform limitations) as you can see in the video of Colorado Symphony Orchestra embedded above, or of Marty Friedman and drummer Daniel Baeder collaborating on a song below. If you are a solo performer looking for musicians to collaborate with, check various gig sites such asAirgigs.

Virtual Collaboration Between Marty Friedman & Daniel Baeder - April 16, 2020

Registering Copyrights and Collecting Royalties

Sound Exchange

Even if the world is in the grips of a global pandemic, people are still streaming music, and that music is still being performed on various forms of media. This means that music is generating royalties. When revenues from other areas have decreased, royalty income is often what keeps musicians afloat.  For this reason companies and performers are being urged to use their time in quarantine to register with royalty collection services like performance rights organizations, mechanical societies, andSound Exchange among others. If a musician has not registered their copyrights with these organizations, they are likely to be missing out on some royalties that are owed to them. 

Pandemic Assistance Programs Are Keeping Many Musicians Afloat

Musicians who are really hurting at this time should not give up. There are many pandemic assistance programs, especially in the United States, that can help keep you financially afloat during the quarantine, andBillboard has published a state by state list of organizationsthat are providing assistance to out of work musicians during the pandemic.

Once financial worries are out of the way, the quarantine can actually be seen as a time of great creative incubation and soulful inspiration. Since you are likely to have more time on your hands right now than you have perhaps ever had, use some of it to create great new music! If you are worried or stressed, use music as a healthy outlet for your stress. If you are worrying about the current state of the world or the future it may bring, try writing or performing uplifting songs that make a positive difference in the world! Musicians can transform this time of uncertainty into a time of inspiration and positive change!  

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.

Also in Adirondack Guitar News and Blog

Blog Post Image - Lefty guitarists who learned to play right handed
Left Handed Guitarists Who Learned to Play Right Handed

July 13, 2021 8 min read

Read More
Blog Post Image of Martin Guitar - History and Importance of the Martin 28 Style
The History and Importance of the Martin 28 Style

July 13, 2021 5 min read

Read More
Blog Post Image of St Vincent Guitar - Adirondack Guitar Profiles: St. Vincent
Adirondack Guitar Profiles: St. Vincent

July 13, 2021 5 min read

Read More