From Tours to Album Releases, COVID-19 Disrupts the Music Industry
Banoffee, PUP, Tycho and others are feeling the effects from the pandemic
The words I’m sorry were all that it took to make Banoffee realize the magnitude of what had happened to her.
In February, the Australian musician released her debut album, Look At Us Now Dad, a three-year endeavor that was finally seeing the light of day. The album was building strong momentum following the release of “Tennis Fan,” which has amassed over a million plays on Spotify. The singer-songwriter was looking forward to a North American tour, including several shows at South by Southwest, that would finally see her hard work pay off.
Banoffee had previously toured North America in 2018 when she joined Charli XCX as part of her live band during Taylor Swift’s Reputation Tour. This time, she would be promoting her own record and singing her own songs, and she couldn’t wait to share it with everyone.
Then the COVID-19 crisis happened. Hence, when she hears the words I’m sorry, she breaks.
“Thank you, that means a lot,” she says from Australia, where she’s under a 14-day mandatory quarantine after returning from the United States. “No one has really said that to me yet. I really appreciate it.”
Banoffee isn’t the only musician feeling the massive fallout caused by the global pandemic.
If there was a date to pinpoint when things would take a dark turn, it was on March 6 when SXSW pulled the plug on its annual festival. Musicians — particularly emerging acts trying to broaden their audience — have come to rely on the festival as a way to attract attention, promote new releases and network.
The crisis has brought everything to a halt, leaving artists, tour managers, bookers and the industry as a whole wondering when, if ever, will things go back to normal.
As experts have called on the public to “flatten the curve” and reduce the spread of the coronavirus, the quarantining of half of the world’s population has left a lot of working musicians without any source of income. The mandate to practice social distancing has put album releases and promotion cycles on hold, and for any acts that released records in the weeks before the crisis emerged, it killed any momentum built during the promotion.
SPIN reached out to several acts — both emerging and established — to hear how the coronavirus is affecting their work and how they cope with the forced isolation. The unanimous response when the crisis is over, there will be a place for music, and they believe that people will still feel the need to come together to see their favorite act live. What that will look like moving forward is hard to determine.
I had just finished my Australian tour, and I flew to the states to start my American tour. I was due to perform at SXSW, where I had two shows or more booked a day. I was going to play New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, followed by another tour that went all over the West and East Coast. I was pretty much booked for the rest of the year.
It was really the first time I had people on such a scale pay attention to my music. It was a pretty big shock. A lot of times, you just feel stupid thinking about it, because there are so many more people who are going through worse. But it was really weird to work up to something for three years and then release it. Every time I got a wishing chip (it’s a folded piece of a potato chip), I would think, I wish my album does the best that it can do. I hope it gets press coverage. I hope people like it. For a while, I was like, Oh my god! The wishing chips worked. People were paying attention, and things were going really well.
Some things happen that you could have never anticipated for. If someone had told us six months ago that this was going to happen, you’d be absolutely mind-blown and think it was impossible. Yet here we are, I’m locked down in a cabin on the beach.
When I first went into quarantine, I was like, “I’m going to write the best album out of this.” But the reality of it is that everyone is too anxious to be creative right now. I sit at the piano, and I’m like, “What am I doing here? Will this ever get released? Does anyone even care? Does it matter?” I’ve actually stopped for a while and just enjoy the little things like coffee in the morning.
Steve Sladkowski of PUP
We were on the road, just finishing a tour. We just got back to Toronto. So as of now, we only have had to postpone a couple of shows and cancel one. We are pretty lucky in that regard. We had friends on the road with us. Ratboys, who just put out a record and were touring…and I really feel for them because it was the beginning of the spring and summer touring season. This is not a secret, but a lot of bands — and our included — rely on touring income.
Before going on tour, we had heard of the coronavirus, and there were some confirmed cases before we left, but a lot of it coalesced and started to become a significant issue once we had already started the tour. It was sort of business as usual. We started touring on Feb. 24, so we had been in the United States for about two weeks when it started to become pretty significant news.
When we got to the West Coast, [things felt different]. We did Tacoma and Seattle, and by that point, the outbreak in Washington state had happened… There were people who weren’t coming to the shows that had bought tickets — and not in a usual way, but in a kind of more significant way than we would usually experience. That’s when it started to become pretty real, because when you see it start actually to affect people’s day-to-day lives.
I kept hearing coronavirus in the news, but it was this thing in China. It wasn’t on my radar as something that was going to have much effect on my life. Then I remember, in Europe, it didn’t occur to me that it was something that was going to affect the tour until I think around Feb. 23 when thinking, This is crazy; they are going to start canceling shows. Then on Feb. 24, we had a meeting while we were on our way to Budapest. We were stopped at like a truck spot, and we were talking like, “Hey, they are going to cancel the Italy shows, and we are not sure about London or Barcelona.” On Feb. 25, we announced that we canceled the shows in Italy.
We went to Barcelona, and we all just holed up in hotels. At that time, Spain wasn’t in quarantine, and no one was really thinking about it. It still hadn’t hit home, I think. It was still these “isolated issues in these places.” They were talking about canceling the London show, but I guess we made it in right under the wire because they started canceling shows right after that. Once we got home [to San Francisco], I think it took a week before it all got crazy. That was when people started talking about quarantining.
Barcelona and London seemed like normal shows, and I didn’t feel like it was part of the overall discussion yet because people didn’t understand [the coronavirus] was everywhere. You thought it was sick and dying people in Wuhan and maybe Northern Italy, these isolated places, but it turns out everybody had it. I think we were all oblivious at the time, but in hindsight, it was crazy those shows even happened.
Eliza Klatt of Eliza & the Delusionals
We got home [to Australia] the day they put the mandatory self-isolation period, so when we got off the plane, we had to send a paper saying this is where we were going to be. It’s a huge fine if you don’t do it. We are on day eight of self-isolation right now. We have a little chalkboard, and we’ve just been writing the day on it every morning.
It’s actually a really good opportunity for us to do some writing, especially because of the touring we had planned, there wasn’t much downtime to fit it in. Now we have almost too much of it. We’ve been doing that, making lots of food, and playing games. I’ve been quarantining with Kurt [Skuse, guitarist], who is my partner and plays guitar in the band. I would be going crazy if I was by myself.
[With the rest of the band], we have our group chat and whatnot and do Skype or FaceTime. We definitely won’t be able to rehearse for a little while, which is annoying, because we were like, At least, we will be able to go home and rehearse. We will have to wait and see when that ends.
Sarah Bonito of Kero Kero Bonito
We were getting ready for our April tour [in North America], which is now canceled. In the days leading up to London being shut down, there was definitely a tense mood. You could feel it when you went outside. It was kind of scary seeing all the store shelves kind of getting empty, and even though a lockdown hasn’t been announced, there were talks that that was going to happen. People are definitely freaking about before, and now it’s happened.
I was feeling nervous, but I was trying not to let it get to me. I tried to distract myself by doing things I like, like painting or writing music. My parents were in Japan, and they managed to come the day before the lockdown, so there was a bit of a stressful moment going on there. They are OK now.
During my downtime, I’ve been catching up with friends I haven’t spoken to in a while. We’ve been catching up online. We’ll go on FaceTime. Now that everyone is stuck indoors, it’s kind of rekindled the friendships that I’ve lost.
It’s also been weird that I haven’t seen my bandmates [Gus and Jamie] since the lockdown. We’ve only been talking or chatting online. We are still working, but we are not seeing each other.
I think there will always be a need for a live performance. I think people will always need to see a show. There might be some changes [after the pandemic], but I think the need to see someone live at a show is not going to change.
I had been keeping up with [the coronavirus] since the BBC started talking about it in early January. I had been going back and forth to New York around that time when there were cases, so I asked my band not to take the subway, stay close to the hotel, and limit going out to things. We all started a pretty heavy vitamin regimen, and while on tour, where we would have pushed the envelope and worn ourselves out, I made sure everyone was on a pretty strict sleep schedule. I think it’s better to overreact than underreact, so me and my band had been taking this thing seriously for a month, long before the president came out and admitted this thing was a pandemic.
I own a house here [in Kentucky], and there was a lot of upkeep that I was going to have put off because of touring. I’ve mowed my yard and done some organizing. It’s a really weird time for me to be creative, so now I’ve been trying to be gentle with myself and not push myself to write two records in this time off. I don’t want to write a doom-and-gloom record. It would be awesome to find some hopeful inspiration.
I think I’ve joined a lot of musicians in saying that it feels like a really weird time as people are dying across the country to promote yourself.
There’s a huge element of not knowing how this is going to affect the total trajectory of my career, but I’m trying not to focus on that and just let things play out the way they are supposed to. We were very excited to play in Canada, and we had never played out of the country before, so, yes, there are a lot of things I’ve had to come to terms with. However, I have friends with underlying medical conditions and nieces and nephews under the age of 4, and I think I have been distracted by what this could mean for the community. Music will live on.