Music Industry Won’t ‘Be Able to Adapt’ to Coronavirus, Grammys Chief Says

“I don’t see us being able to transition while we’re under these circumstances,” interim Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. tells TheWrap

The Recording Academy chairman and interim CEO Harvey Mason Jr. says that unless the government and other charitable arms intervene with relief, the many working-class musicians and touring professionals affected by the coronavirus will not be able to adapt.

The coronavirus has hit the music industry hard, canceling or postponing tours and major music festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo, as well as shuttering music venues around the globe. Not only are mainstream recording artists taking a hit, touring musicians, crew, staff, lighting technicians, engineers and promoters that sponsor these artists are also badly affected, many of whom are working gig to gig or show to show.

“I would not consider the industry is adjusting. The industry is at a stand-still. Musicians are not able to make a living, they’re not able to make money,” Mason told TheWrap in a phone interview. “I don’t see us being able to transition while we’re under these circumstances. The thing we need to try and do is help each other, help people in the music community and help people in the general community feel better about these really difficult times.”

Last Tuesday, the Grammys boss Mason sent a letter to Congress calling on any stimulus or relief package to include music creators and music-related workers who are largely independent contractors or freelance employees, referring to the industry as “the original ‘gig economy.'”

“In hard times like these, America depends on music to provide comfort and inspiration,” he wrote. “As you take necessary action to provide assistance to workers during our present crisis, please remember to support the music makers that support all of us.”

That same day, the Recording Academy’s charitable arm, MusiCares, set up a $2 million coronavirus relief fund, where eligible musicians can apply for financial assistance if they’ve had performances and gigs canceled as a result of the virus and are in need of aid. Anyone who has been in the industry for at least two to four years and can demonstrate that gigs have been affected can apply for financial aid.

Mason said the Recording Academy is working to determine just how many people within the music industry are currently out of work. During Hurricane Katrina, MusiCares helped 3,700 musicians with $4 million in aid — and that was just regional artists in New Orleans. As of Friday, Mason said MusiCares had already received over 2,000 emails and calls from artists applying for aid. The Grammys org is further employing lobbyists in Washington and are pushing members to write directly to Congress requesting relief, and the outreach has already generated over 7,000 letters of support.

“We’re hoping that they will understand that we are a valuable part of our society,” Mason said. “For example, I’m not trying to pick on anyone in particular, but the airlines are saying they don’t have enough money for the coming months. What we’re hearing from a lot of MusiCares members is that they don’t have enough money to continue for the next couple of days.”

Musicians like Chris Martin and John Legend have already performed stay-at-home concerts streamed over social media that have helped boost awareness for MusiCares. And one might think that other musicians could do the same, even writing and recording music from the comfort of their own homes.

But Mason pointed out that not every touring musician has the platform or reach that the lead singer of Coldplay does, and it doesn’t account for the professionals who make their income through touring. For instance, Mason said he was devastated when he heard the news that country-rock star Zac Brown was forced to lay off about 90% of his crew and band just because he wasn’t able to tour.

“I do agree with you that they are in their living room making songs, but most writers and musicians are not writing songs by themselves. They’re collaborating with other people, they’re bringing in a drummer or a bass player, or they’re bringing somebody to write lyrics, and that’s not taking place,” Mason explained. “So I don’t think the music community is going to be able to adapt under these conditions. I think people will continue to look to the streaming platforms for artists to perform and to entertain, which is great, but they’re not able to monetize that.”

Smaller, independent labels distributing music through services like Bandcamp and Songtradr have waived licensing fees and revenue shares so that 100% of the purchase price of a song or album goes direct to the artist. While no negotiations have been done with the major labels, publishing companies and streaming services on new rates, the Recording Academy has pushed these companies to support MusiCares, where Mason is confident that the nonprofit is equipped to funnel funds directly to artists in need.

He also clarified that as of yet, no adjustments have been made to the Grammys eligibility process in the way the other awards bodies are currently considering, but the Academy is keeping a close eye on should the crisis continue.

Mason is optimistic, however, that the music venues that have been hit hard by coronavirus will survive, especially because musicians will be among the first to get back out on tour as soon as it’s deemed safe to do so.

“Music heals people and brings people together, and our country needs music now more than ever,” Mason said. “When the experts deem it safe again, I think you will see a lot of artists, a lot of musicians, a lot of music people, jumping at the chance to go back out, not just to make a living, but also to share and lift people’s spirits.”

Brian Welk

Brian Welk

Film Reporter • • Twitter: @brianwelk


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