By Erin Christie
Music clips by Trash Rabbit
Months into the COVID-19 pandemic, multiple levels of the music industry, from artists to promoters to fans, continue to grow restless, and, in some cases, vulnerable without live events. For artists, roughly 80% of their revenue comes from performing, and even additional means of income, such as streaming — which grants a fraction of a cent per play — aren’t enough to guarantee financial stability. That said, the prospect of being a full-time musician is less appealing, and less sustainable than ever. Additionally, a lack of concerts has led many musicians to feel loss on an emotional level, too — it’s as if a vital part of their careers, and their identities, has died.
For Boston band Trash Rabbit, playing house shows was a weekly ritual pre-pandemic, and a huge contributor to their passion for music. Vocalist/guitarist Mena Lemos and vocalist/bassist Nick Adams reflect on playing shows with fondness.
Mena: Playing shows for me — for all of us, not just me — was- not a relief… it was-
Nick: An outlet.
Mena: Yeah, it was really an outlet and it was just a great way to feel like this is worth it; like this is what I like to do. It's a big emphasis for me, on having great shows, and like, moshin' and all that emo weenie shit...and not doing that was like- it's just been hard.
Despite positive COVID cases continuing to rise globally, acts such as London’s Black Midi, have hosted socially-distanced shows recently. In places such as Boston — which saw an additional 2,000 positive cases in the last two weeks — shows of any kind are still on hold. Trash Rabbit drummer/vocalist Gibran Mobarak wonders if he and his band will ever be able to return to their normal routine.
Gibran: I think about basement shows that we play and I'm just like, “Yo, are we ever gonna be able to fit that many kids, all together, again?” Because we were literally just playing in a fucking basement...imagine what our situation would be like now, if we were just like, “Yeah, let's just stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a bunch of randos that we don't know.”
Concert promoters are also questioning how their careers can continue as cases spike. Clay Fernald is a content manager for Do617, a Boston event marketing and promotions entity. When the pandemic hit, his team was at a loss.
Clay: At the beginning, there was a lot of panic, I would say. Like, “What are we going to do?,” since all we do is tell people what to go do at night [...] Everybody’s hoping that we can get through this, and then, we’ll start having shows and things will be more like they were before, when they were like- even if you didn’t like the bands, you could still potentially go out and see five different shows on any given night.
As time progressed, Do617 adapted and Clay, who now helms the business alone, shifted his focus to events he could promote, such as livestreams or drive-in concerts. Some fans, such as Charis Huling, have had difficulty adapting to these virtual concert substitutes.
Charis: I hate it [laughs]. It’s like, if I can’t experience it in real life, I just don’t feel like it’s something that interests me. But shows are really something that bring everyone together, so not being able to dance with your friends or cutting through to get closer to the stage… just, like, little things like that, you don’t get and it’s just- it’s not fun. I don’t really think it’s enjoyable.
For fans, musicians, and staffers who depend on concerts, it is hoped that with time and an eventual vaccine, that concerts can come back and thrive like never before. With this goal in mind, a German research team recently tested how COVID might spread in a concert atmosphere through a simulation with roughly 1,500 volunteer audience members. While results for this study are accumulated, all we can do is keep our fingers crossed, follow COVID guidelines, and stay tuned.