Striking the right chord for idle musicians

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Live performances like this one by The Accidentals might be few and far between over the next several weeks or even months. Courtesy Elle Lively

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) The lives of singers, songwriters, music producers, instrumentalists and music booking agents in Grand Rapids abruptly changed when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last week ordered the temporary closure of dine-in bars and restaurants in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The closure of dine-in bars and restaurants and the capacity limit placed on gatherings have left few options for where musicians can perform while earning a meaningful income.

Dutcher Snedeker, who is a pianist, recording artist, booking agent and sound engineer, said the impact of coronavirus quickly escalated within a few days, which he said left him blindsided. He said leading up to last Monday’s announcement, he had about 15 performances canceled within the span of three days.

Months of work — lining up dates for performances for myself and other artists, coordinating my work schedule with Founders (Brewing Co.), where I’m a sound engineer and run a variety of shows, booking studio time with clients and scheduling the summer/early fall have all been moved or canceled,” he said. “I’ve had dates at Founders, shows in March and a tour in April, clients canceled session work and some high earning shows (were) canceled.”

As a result, the Michigan Music Alliance, which is made up of international producers, local business owners, a school counselor and other well-rounded individuals who are mostly in the music industry, established a Michigan Artist Relief Fund for full-time artists who will suffer a financial loss during the pandemic.

“When all those music events were canceled here for the foreseeable future in March and April, we decided to copy what Boston has done with artist relief funds and we decided to take their lead and make one for Michigan artists who are relying on gigs for their primary source of income,” said Elle Lively, executive director for Michigan Music Alliance.

She is hoping to raise $100,000 for the relief fund on behalf of Michigan artists who have had a gig canceled by a promoter due to coronavirus outbreak. Lively said artists can apply for up to $500 to replace the income from a lost gig and the decision to release the funds to artists is made by the board of the Michigan Music Alliance.

Patty PerShayla is a full-time musician who earns her income from performances around the state, but with the closures of venues, her flow of income has stopped.

“So far, I have canceled all of my scheduled appearances in March but was lucky enough to pick up one last-minute gig,” she said. “That’s $1,000-plus that I will be missing for the remainder of the month, so I’m relying on my extra tax savings to cover the bare necessities. I was hoping to reinvest that money into my music — paying off debt, getting a bass amp or a van for an upcoming tour — but I am very grateful to have some acorns stocked up, and I already live well within my means.”

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation to cancel or postpone events with 50 or more individuals for the next eight weeks, PerShayla is concerned that her band will not be able to perform at shows they are scheduled for in April.

“My full band did not have any performances scheduled for March, so I took the hit on this one so far,” she said. “However, we do have a slew of gigs lined up for April that are up in the air, the funds from which were intended for our upcoming album release. Our budget for this project is around $6,000-$8,000 and that will likely come out of our pockets or get put on credit, (which is) not always an option for self-employed folks.”

Max Lockwood is an instrumentalist, singer and songwriter of folk and rock music. He said he typically may have 15 or more events booked, especially in the summertime. He has performed at Founders Brewing, The Intersection, the Listening Room and other venues in Grand Rapids. Along with those venues, Lockwood said he goes to different schools to conduct workshops and do performances and teach private lessons.

“Truly, I live from gig to gig, essentially,” he said. “Winter is often a lean time for musicians because there aren’t a lot of events happening as compared to summer, so this is a time when a lot of us were starting to have more performances coming and we were looking forward to that to bolster our income again. So, it is just a matter of paying our bills. It is a little bit of a stretch for me personally and for a lot of people right now who are musicians and performers who are counting on their income from gigs to just keep going.”

Now, Lockwood is forced to get creative in order to find a new source of income. He said although teaching was only a small percentage of his income, he is going to rely on that by providing private lessons online and he is hoping to get more students. With gigs as his main source of income, Lockwood said he is looking into live streaming concerts.

Sandra Effert is a singer and songwriter. Some of her income comes from performing at breweries such as Creston Brewery, Founders Brewing and Harmony Hall, among other places. 

She also teaches one-on-one-piano lessons at a private music school and, like Lockwood, she said she will be teaching virtual lessons and is thinking about performing virtual shows from her living room and allowing people to tip if they’d like. However, Effert knows that her earnings from virtual gigs will not replace the live shows.

“Earning $300 per night is not going to happen from a virtual show,” she said. “I would get around $200-$300 for a two-hour show. I would perform an average of four to five shows per month.”

Despite the loss in income for many musicians, Lockwood said the state took the right steps in closing venues.

“It all happened very fast when the virus started spreading to Michigan,” he said. “Everything was very quickly getting canceled and I believe it is definitely the right thing to do. I think the social distancing measures are smart and the proper thing for everyone to be doing in order to flatten the curve, as they say, and to make sure that as the virus spreads, it doesn’t spread so quickly that hospitals get overwhelmed and then we are looking at a situation like what Italy is dealing with now. We all want to prevent that, so we are all on the same team.”

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