Updated: Jun 15, 2020
Along with my work as a voice over actor, I’m also a full-time musician, performing shows and hosting events regularly in and around central Ohio. While I just quit my day job three years ago to pursue my creative pursuits full-time, I’ve been involved in the music scene for several years. I perform shows mostly on weekends, retirement homes throughout the week, and host an open MIC every Monday.
In February, the COVID-19 virus arrived in the US, starting in Washington and, slowly spreading from there. We didn’t understand it at first. Some scoffed at the notion that a “cold” was being taken so seriously. It was a remote problem, something that would work itself out. The rest of the world could go crazy while we did our thing.
But then, things changed. Along with a few other things, heading into the first weekend of March, Ohio Governor Mike Dewine banned ticket-holders and vendors from the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic, one of the premiere bodybuilding and fitness events in the world. The show went on, the athletes were able to compete, but to empty rooms. The loss of tens of millions of dollars to the community left many of us scratching our heads. It felt like too much, yet there was a growing sense that this might be the beginning of something more.
Sunday March 15, 2020 was when everything changed. Dewine announced that all bars, restaurants, and other public venues would be closed for two weeks, only operating drive-thru and pick-up orders. A couple other states had imposed similar sanctions that week, and we’d begun to wonder if we were next. I’d spoken with staff at each of the venues I played that weekend, and there was a general sense of nervousness that was palpable.
With the announcement, my music career, along with hundreds of other friends and acquaintances, was put on hold. It was jarring, to say the least. A sense of numbness overtook most other emotions as I calculated the loss of income and checked my account balances. I wasn’t in imminent danger of not being able to pay bills after losing two weeks of income, but that wasn’t the problem. I knew that it wouldn’t just be for two weeks. The build-up to this had been steady. A bit haphazard and unorganized, but again, we weren’t all that surprised by it. This was going to be with us for a while.
The following day, my open MIC didn’t happen, and that weekend was strange. I’d been scheduled at a couple of my favorite venues, and it was set up to be a terrific couple of shows. Instead, I was at home, and the overall feeling was one of displacement. A huge part of my life was suddenly gone, and it was hard to wrap my head around.
What also became clear early on was that things weren’t going to simply get back to normal just because bars re-opened. Aside from the fact that some of these venues simply won’t exist any more, the ones that manage to stick around may be in survival mode for a while. There are a handful of places where the music is inexorably tied to their identity, but I think that if this goes on for three months or more, the vast majority of owners will need to bring things back slowly; shake the dust off, figure out what their new bottom lines are, and simply try to get through it.
So, along with the sudden loss of income and ability to entertain people, I was also certain that my role in the community, the scope of my music career, was never going to be the same. Sounds drastic, right? Perhaps, but it’s realistic. I was already looking at scheduling music a bit lighter and relying more on voice over work. I certainly didn’t expect to have it cut off so abruptly, but essentially, I’ve simply been forced to accelerate those changes.
At this early stage, I don’t know exactly what that means. Sure, I’ll be back out there at some point, playing in and hosting events, being a part of what is an incredibly rich, vibrant community (this one thing is for sure; we all miss the Hell out of each other). But it won’t be the same. It can’t be. It’s my hope that the others out there who have been relying on music to earn their living also recognize this and are able to adapt and move forward.
But how? It’s tough to say, when there are so many questions. But I think that more than anything, we need to get creative. Already, many of my friends are livecasting virtual music shows, some using tip jars, others not. There have been some interesting and innovative ideas around this, and it’s been fun to watch. These are temporary band-aids, of course, but we need to keep exploring new ideas and apply them to the “real” world once we have a real world to get back to.
The world is going to be changing drastically, continuously, for quite a while. Let’s make sure we don’t let the landscape change us. Let’s change the landscape.