Everyone’s seen the halt of music touring, essentially zeroing out any revenue for musicians due to COVID-19. This affects all levels of musicians, though mainstream artists are likely better off financially than many independent artists.

Musicians have moved to livestreaming to connect with fans, Bandcamp is about to have its second fundraiser for artists by waiving revenue share fees, and Patreon is becoming the new destination for artists to look for fan support.

Artists are vocal about how COVID-19 has disrupted 2020 plans and everyone is looking for alternative ways to sustain themselves. I asked some around the world how they were coping with this new norm.

How Has COVID-19 Affected Korean Artists?

I was curious to know how many artists used music as their main career and it was clear regardless where you live, it’s difficult to live off music. Love X Stereo‘s Annie Ko was the only full time musician but also works part time as a translator and voice over artist. Since Annie’s in Seoul, she’s had a different experience. South Korea’s approach and management of COVID-19 is what the standard should be, but that still affected live music.

As musicians in Korea, we had actually dealt with this kind of situation before. Even though our country has never been “lockdown” within this pandemic, we musicians have sadly already experienced show/festival cancellations six years ago, due to Sewol Ferry disaster (April 16, 2014). So I guess, a lot of musicians here are a bit numb about the situation compared to others around the world.

Back then, we were all in deep sadness and disarray. No more shows, no more festivals, many many memorial songs. And for the audience, I think it ultimately contributed to lower interests in live show experiences in general – like I could actually feel that there were no more packed audiences in live clubs like they used to.

And we might never go back. In terms of the virus, unless there will be a cure or a vaccine, it will be hard to re-open live shows and music festivals – I’m guessing maximum of two years ahead. So, we have to prepare ourselves for the worst, and take this as an opportunity to make more music instead.

– Annie Ko on the long term effect on music performances

Social Media

YURA is a musician for this latest generation of music fans. They aren’t limited by physical borders and communicate digitally through multiple ways. YURA connects to fans through Instagram and releases music through digital platforms. Since she doesn’t rely on music as her primary source of income and is able to work from home, she’s, for now, secure. She has the same opinion as Annie in that this is an opportunity to create.

I feel like this lockdown period will definitely push a lot of creatives to work on their craft because they’re at home all the time. I see it more as an opportunity for musicians to get creative.

YURA

I was also curious to know if anyone experienced racism as many idiotic narratives have emerged. YURA said, “Not directly, but I have seen some posts online with Asians in my city getting abused and cursed at.”

Livestreaming as the Norm

Livestreaming gives artists the ability to immediately connect with their audience, but depending on how many are watching and interacting, it might be near impossible to see everything. SENZA streamed on Twitch before San Francisco’s shelter-in-place order and I was curious if anything changed.

As a software engineer by day and “bedroom DJ” by night, would anything be different other than going to work every day? Her career hasn’t changed much other than, “the toughest part for me has been around separating work from other parts of my life, such as music.”

One way that I found myself connecting more with my fans when the shelter in place took hold is actually through my discord channel. I created it back when I started Twitch, but I only started getting super active on it recently. I’ve added things like a music bot where I sit in a voice channel and anyone can join me to listen to music, or stupid things like a dice bot where you can roll and gauge your “luck” for the day lol.

But it’s those little things, those little inside jokes that I’ve created with my followers that really give me a sense of community with them, which I appreciate.

SENZA on connecting with fans

Waiting For the Next Step

On the other side of the world, Saebyeok was pursuing her graduate degree in Germany and recently went back to South Korea. I had talks with her before about being Asian in Europe and when I asked about racism now, she didn’t disappoint: “Yeah lots of Germans covered their mouth when they see me and call me Corona virus.” For Saebyeok, finding the next step in her career is on hold as the country continues to combat COVID-19. There aren’t any career-related jobs available right now.

In Annie’s case, translation work has grown since more English-language news media needs help and her bandmate, Toby Hwang, continues working with other bands and producing music.

Pictoria Vark was about to tour with Squirrel Flower, but that was put on hold when quarantine started. She still communicates through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, but as an artist who was transitioning to full time musician, she’s definitely on pause.

As someone who is just starting to make the transition into professional music, this was a pretty big loss in terms of kicking off a career. But I’m lucky to have not lost a huge amount of money and still have food and shelter.

Pictoria Vark on her career

She has jumped into livestreaming and is active on Instagram. I’m curious to see how quickly livestreaming will evolve on different platforms to support artists and full bands. Instagram Live seems limited on mobile devices and I’m curious if a live band is able to take advantage or would it blow the audio. Twitch seems more versatile though setups range widely.

I am honestly really nervous about if and how the music industry will “return to normal” by the end of this. Even before COVID-19, independent venues were regularly closing throughout New York or (in some cases) moving to corporate ownership, like Bowery Presents. The potential number of venues that will never recover from this financially really haunts me.

But, I still have hope vested in the communities we’ve built around music to get us through this. I’m currently compiling a list of venues who have crowdsourcing campaigns to support themselves and their employees, which I’ve received a lot of help on from friends and strangers.

Pictoria Vark on the future of live venues

A Holding Pattern

The responses that I received show that this group of musicians are looking at different options and continue to connect with fans and supporters. Even though music wasn’t the main source of income for most people, music is an important part of each of their lives.

Continuing to connect with fans is the most important thing for musicians to do right now. Regardless of releasing new music, finding ways to communicate and share with fans will help artists. Everyone is affected in some way, whether that’s monetarily or through individual mental health.

It’s unknown that the new normal will be and what the music landscape will be. But like YURA said it’s definitely a time where musicians can create. But prioritizing mental health prioritization is just as important as mentioned by S E N Z A.

COVID-19 changed live music and how people will experience live music in the future is very vague. But music will survive, though the avenue that it thrives in will be different.

Korean Indie owner and Editor at Large. Constantly looking for new music and working on library parity on Spotify and YouTube Music.