As I write this it's hard to believe how much the state of our world has changed in just the past couple weeks. On March 11th, Art and I, along with two new friends Matt and Ryan who make up the duo Quitting Whitney were hitting the road towards Las Vegas for our first show of a 10 stop tour. We were excited and optimistic that the tour (which was planned months in advance) promised to be fun and successful.
For anyone who doesn't already know how this story ends, I did a Facebook Live from our hotel in Denver that you can watch at your convenience so I don't ramble on here. Suffice to say that 8 out of 10 of our shows canceled on us...most literally as we were pulling into the town where we were supposed to play.
We made the most of the situation...we played a couple acoustic pop-ups courtesy of a hotel where we were staying and a coffee shop owner we met along the way, we shot a ton of content, including two music videos (one per band) from our Air BnB in Albuquerque, bonded with the Quitting Whitney guys and helped each other stay upbeat and optimistic.
Now, safe at home and under self-quarantine, we're having to take a hard look at what this means for not only us, but the music venues we tend to play at, and really all kinds of small businesses. Here are my thoughts:
Artists and music venues are small businesses and, just as the restaurants, bars and non-essential small businesses in our neighborhoods are at risk of bankruptcy, so to are your favorite artists and the music venues they play at. Large artists and venues are probably safe...Live Nation and Major Labels will make sure that everything starts back up ASAP once venues are allowed to reopen, but any artists smaller than the ones Live Nation cares about are seriously at risk. This, unfortunately, includes us.
Our schedule was supposed to include at least 4 tour runs in the US this year...March was supposed to be the first of those, and it was supposed to be at least a break-even...at this point, financially, it was a total loss. And unfortunately it's my strong expectation that, because of the after-effects of COVID-19, we will not be able to tour this year for the following reasons:
Venues are currently closed, but they did have shows scheduled (most venues book anywhere from 3-9 months in advance). Most of those will need to be rescheduled at whatever point the venues are allowed to begin hosting shows again. This is going to cause a huge bottleneck on venue calendars once shows are happening again...and not only that, but rescheduled shows and larger, more established artists are likely to be prioritized when this happens, making it close to impossible for smaller artists like ourselves to get a booking.
Sadly, I'm guessing that a lot of the smaller, more indie venues will not be able to survive this long of a dry spell. For example: The Bootleg theatre here in LA has said that they don't know if they'll be able to reopen their doors. Period. This is super sad (I love The Bootleg, go to shows there all the time) and unfortunately the venues that are the most at risk for permanent closure are the very venues that I would be reaching out to when trying to book a tour for Ships Have Sailed. By the way, this issue will make the bottleneck in #1 even more narrow.
So we are having to adjust our expectations, and I'm having to study up quickly on how best to shift over to a model that embraces virtual shows as opposed to in-person ones... This is going to be a hard time to get through for us, and for all small businesses, so I wanted to make a list of things you can do to help - these are applicable to us, but also to any and all other indie artists you care about. Please understand that we only want to continue to exist and create, but we likely won't be able to without some significant support from you...here are some things you can do:
- Consider becoming a Patron. This is not only a way for us to connect and engage and get to know each other better, but you will be actively supporting our creations...and in exchange, you'll get early access to music and videos, weekly updates on things we're working on, I'll share random moments and thoughts like my gratitude reflections with you, and at certain levels you'll get free access to any virtual shows, permanent discounts on merch, and even access to demos and unreleased music and insight into the creative process.
- Download some music or buy some merch! If you're not comfortable with a monthly subscription, consider a one-time purchase to show your support...and get yourself a comfy t-shirt, beanie, or a cozy coffee or tea mug to help you through this period of social distancing...
- Stream our music as much as you can! I know this is a tough time for a lot of folks right now...people have lost their jobs, and I know finances can be tight...I don't want to come across as being insensitive or greedy, I'm honestly terrified that this project (which I've spent seven years nurturing) will simply cease to exist, and I don't want that to happen. Streaming is free for most, and although it doesn't pay a ton, there is strength in numbers. If 1000 people stream 25 songs a day, that's 25,000 streams...which is probably still less than $100, but if that happened every day for a month we could almost recoup what we lost on our canceled tour.
- Like / share / retweet our posts on Social Media...this is also free, and it's super helpful. Social Media is run by algorithms, which are little tricky robots that essentially identify an 'artist' as a 'business' who they think should be paying for impressions...when our fans organically engage and especially share or retweet our content, these robots grudgingly 'admit' that our content is compelling and they'll relax their rigid 'gating' of our content to share it with more people...
- ...and if the Patron benefits above sound good to you, but you don't think you can afford them, I've created a 'freemium' version of that community for you, because I really don't want anyone to feel left out. This project has always been an inclusive thing, and I don't plan on changing that anytime soon...so click this link to start a messenger conversation, and follow the prompts to join our private, free, online community...you can always join the 'inner circle' later, but this can be a start!
...and keep in mind that there is a list like this for every single small business right now. My wife and I have a little wine store that we love very close to our house...we called them the other day to see if they're open / operating and it turns out that they have shifted to a delivery-only model. We were able to ask our favorite wine experts to put together a case of bottles for us based on certain criteria (region, flavor profile, organic or biodynamic selections) and they delivered it to our porch...we were able to support them staying in business during this difficult time.
If we all band together to lift each other up, we will survive this incredibly tenuous situation and (hopefully) come out the other side with our world and our various neighborhoods and communities largely intact...that truly is my hope.
Thank you for reading and thank you in advance for your support.