Throughout history, the music industry has continually adapted to fit the ever-changing society it exists within. At first, live performance was the only way a musician could make money, and then in the 20th century it became all about radio play and record sales. Now, however, with the emergence of streaming services, musicians are back to square one, with live performance being the music industry’s most lucrative endeavour.
When COVID-19 forced nations across the world to lock down, and the threat of the virus still present today, musicians were forced to cancel their upcoming gigs and tours until the next year. This is alarming, as money made from live events usually accounts for most of an artist’s revenue. When artists go on tour they profit from ticket sales, merchandise and VIP packages. All this combined leads to touring being the most profitable aspect of a musician’s career. U2, for example, earned $54.4 million in 2018, according to the Billboard Rich List, and $52.2 million of that came from touring. That’s about 96% of their revenue from that year, meaning that most of their money was made from touring. So, when artists are unable to tour, it begs the question: What will they do now?
Many bands and artists have turned to social media and live streaming to connect with their fans and earn money. At the beginning of lockdown, musicians often live-streamed rather impulsively, with many logging onto Instagram just to chat to their fans and perform a few songs. Gary Barlow of Take That made use of social media with his “Crooner Sessions”, which saw Barlow performing duets with big names in music such as Robbie Williams and Brian May, as well as his own fans. Live streams and videos like these are a great way to increase fan engagement, as reminding your audience that you exist is a surefire way of encouraging them to listen to your music.
As fun as they are, though, free live streams are not a sustainable way of earning a living. With no idea as to when live performances will be safe again, artists began offering more high quality, ticketed live streams. Some artists are also using these online gigs as a chance to raise money for the arts, as so many creatives have been put out of work. Niall Horan streamed his performance at the Royal Albert Hall (with no audience, of course) and split the proceeds from ticket sales between his touring crew, who have been unable to work because of COVID-19, and the #WeNeedCrew relief fund, a charity raising funds for crew members that are presently unemployed. Festivals have also been organised to help
save the arts, such as the Liverpool Digital Music Festival, which saw Liverpudlian musicians live-streaming on the LDMF Facebook page to raise money for #SaveOurVenues, a charity dedicated to preventing performance venues from being shut down in the wake of lockdown.
While all these online concerts have been great for raising money for artists, musicians still need to release music regularly enough to keep fans interested. However, creating music is often an extremely collaborative process, making it difficult to do in isolation. Many artists have managed it, though, by sending individual parts of songs to each other and building on them. The online software, SoundTrap, makes this incredibly easy, as musicians can share a project with each other and then record directly into that project, rather than having to export and import files. Taylor Swift was able to write and record an entire album, folklore, during isolation. Swift shared voice memos with her co-writers via text, and from that was able to produce the album.
To find out more about how musicians have responded to COVID-19, I spoke to up-and-coming singer and songwriter Jinja about her recent “Song Diaries” project and how she made music during lockdown. Beginning on the 20th of September, the London based singer has been releasing one original song a week to SoundCloud. When asked about what inspired her to start posting these her answer was: Frustration.
“I felt like everything I had worked towards was slipping away from me,” she recalls. “I had got quite a few festival line-ups this year and was doing small gigs, and I had started working with an events production company, and then because of everything that happened, I sort of lost all of that. So, over lockdown I decided to just post whatever I want and just get it out there – not worry about proper releases, I just wanted to get all my thoughts out and, like, just know that I was doing something. So, it sort of came out of frustration.”
Despite her frustrations, Jinja was able to make some incredible music, and she said that it never would have happened without her being locked down. She described her time in lockdown as “very freeing in the fact that I’ve sort of got to make it happen from my bedroom. Like, I wouldn’t have gotten into making my own stuff from my room if it wasn’t for lockdown. I would have just continued going to studios and stuff.” She states that lockdown has allowed her to find “more opportunities within myself.” She also talked about how shocked she was by how much she was able to achieve during lockdown. “I think it’s surprising how much you can get done, and you can do it without, you know, so many people,” she told me. “I can actually do a lot myself, which is cool.”
And, thus, the Song Diaries were born. Speaking about what she wants her audience to take away from this project, she said: “I hope they take away how honest they are. They’re just very close to my heart, and I hope people take away that songs don’t have to be perfect and refined and have a hundred people working behind them to mean something.”
Though her songs would normally fit into a soul and jazz style, the Song Diaries have seen her explore other genres. The song released on week five, “Roundabouts”, was described by a Goldsmiths student as being reminiscent of the band Fleetwood Mac. Every song is unique, not only in musical content but in the lyrics, each telling a different story. When listening, it’s easy to believe that these are actually excerpts from someone’s diary.
However, as amazing as these songs are, Jinja says she still misses live performance. Having done a few live streams herself, she says that not being able to perform live has been the worst part of lockdown for her as a musician. “Not having that live audience… It’s not the same through a screen. You don’t get the rush that you do on a stage in your bedroom.” To support Jinja and other artists while they cannot gig, she says fans should “buy their music. Buy online tickets. At the moment, that’s the closest thing you’ve got to going to a gig. Just listen to as much music as you possibly can.”
Musicians like Jinja have proved time and time again that no matter what the world throws at them, they will rise above it and prevail, but it is vital that we support artists during this time and that we continue to support them once life has returned to normal.
You can find Jinja’s Song Diaries on her SoundCloud page (https:// soundcloud.com/jinjajam), and to receive updates on her upcoming projects, follow her on Instagram (@jinjajam).