By Deanna Albohn
Music unions, like the Associated Musicians of Greater New York, American Federation of Musicians Local 802, are setting up emergency funds to help support freelance musicians who have lost their main source of income after Governor Cuomo closed all bars, restaurants and music venues on March 16 due the COVID-19 outbreak.
The pandemic has caused artists a loss of income, reduced merchandise sales and missing out on revenue that stems from live performances, which constitutes the bread and butter for most musicians, DJs, songwriters and producers in New York State’s Hudson Valley area. Artists who weren’t previously included in the $2 trillion stimulus package will now receive pandemic assistance, after The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) sent a joint letter to Congress on March 20 with other music organizations, successfully urging legislators to include music creators and other creative professionals in the packages.
“We’re working with the city, state and federal government to make sure that dollars get moved to workers,” Adam Krauthamer, President of the Associated Musicians of Greater New York, American Federation of Musicians Local 802, said. “We had to fight very hard to make sure that our self employed musicians and gig workers are actually covered during this crisis.
AFM Local 802 has set up the Emergency Relief Fund and Musicians Assistance Program to help freelance musicians, who are the weakest among the union, according to Krauthamer. Each fund has $75,000.
Musicians and artists have turned to live streaming via social media as a way to supplement income and to connect with their fans in the absence of live performances.
“Once the bars and restaurants closed, I had to find other ways to make money,” guitarist and vocalist Jason Gisser of Wappingers Falls, N.Y said. “Live streaming has not only been helping financially, but mentally.” Prior to the pandemic, Gisser was playing live shows about four times a week both solo and with his band.
A 2018 survey by the Music Industry Research Association and the Princeton University Survey Research Center, in partnership with the Recording Academy’s MusiCares, found that live performances were the most common income source for musicians.
Live streaming only makes up a fraction of what he used to make because he is only streaming about two times a week, Gisser said. He has lost his main source of income because of coronavirus.
“When you’re playing in bars you have different crowds, because they’re in different areas,” Gisser said. “When you live stream you have a lot of the same crowd. So there’s a fine line between playing enough and playing too much.”
There has been a 50 percent increase in Facebook and Instagram live stream viewers from February to March, according to a Facebook blog post by Alex Schultz, VP of Analytics and Jay Parikh, VP of Engineering.
“I wasn’t really making anything [money] in the first place,” Nora Knox, a Westchester based independent musician, said. “My actual job got cancelled, so I’m losing income that way, but this was never my main source.”
Bandcamp, a popular service for independent artists to share and sell their music, waived their revenue shares fee on March 20 to give 100 percent of sales to artists impacted by coronavirus. They typically collect 10-15 percent of sales made through their site and fans bought $4.3 million in the one day that was given directly to the respective musicians.
“The numbers tell a remarkable story: on a typical Friday, fans buy about 47,00 items on Bandcamp, but this past Friday, fans bought nearly 800,000, or $4.3 million worth of music and merch,” read a blogpost by Bandcamp. “That’s more than 15 times our normal Friday, and at the peak, fans were buying 11 items per second.”
Facebook has implemented new features due to the increase in live streamers and viewers. Musicians and cultural institutions now have the option to make money directly from live streaming from donations from viewers.
“Instead of practicing for live shows and rehearsing with my band, which we’re unable to do anymore, I’ve just been practicing by myself and doing live streams,” Knox said.
Gisser operates Soul Mouth Radio, a station that plays only original independent artists.
“As a musician with almost no income now, having to pay for it out of my pockets is hurting a lot,” Gisser said. “But, our listener count went up by over 200% since this [COVID-19] started. There are so many musicians streaming now; I thought we would lose listeners but in fact we have way more.”