A Running List of Ways to Support Musicians During COVID-19

Around the world, artists are finding their shows and tours canceled because of measures put in place to stop the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). In an era where music sales are secondary to touring and merch income, a lot of artists are seeing sudden drops in income.

The ramifications, of course, extend far beyond the music industry—Gigs of all sizes are getting called off because of restrictions on gathering sizes over the spread of COVID-19.

As many as 18% of American adults have had work hours cut or lost their jobs completely since COVID-19 closures began. But these losses have decimated the music industry, affecting not only gigging musicians, but the bartenders, venue staff, sound engineers, and countless others whose livelihood is in some way tied to music-making.

These are uncertain times for everyone, but if you're in a position to help musicians, there are many ways to lend a hand.

We'll be updating this document with new ways to help as we learn them. Know of a good organization or fundraising initiative that's not on this list? Let us know.

Supporting Artists Directly:
Music, Merch, and Donations

Buy Music

As a consumer and music fan, streaming is a stellar deal. But we have to recognize that it doesn’t kick back a lot to performers. Streaming typically pays between .003 and .006 cents per stream. That means you’d have to listen to an artist’s album over 3,000 times for them to get $10.

Take stock of the artists you’re listening to and buy their albums. Even with label splits, artists will get a bigger cut of purchased music—whether it’s digital or physical.

On Friday, March 20, Bandcamp dropped its revenue share entirely, meaning that all the money spent on the site (except for processing fees) went directly to artists and labels. While that one-day fundraiser is finished, Bandcamp remains one of the most artist-friendly ways to buy music.

Buy Merch

As we said above, merch sales can often represent a significant portion of artists' income while they're touring. With tours cut, buying a t-shirt or poster now can be just as helpful, especially since many artists had just bulk-ordered merch, gearing up for the spring and summer touring season.

As just one example, Chicago-based band Ratboys released their newest album on Feb. 28, 2020 on Topshelf Records. They planned a tour around the release and printed up their first-ever tour shirt complete with cities on the back. Now, they have boxes of merch that they’re trying to sell on social media.

“[We] make 99.9% of our income on the road,” they wrote on Instagram, “... but, looking on the bright side, now we have lots of time to listen to music we love and get inspired.”

Book Virtual Lessons

Musicians have been giving lessons to get them through time between tours and studio gigs for as long as there’s been music, but now more than ever, many instructors are moving their lessons online.

This includes Susan Palmer, a Seattle-based guitarist who owns her own lessons studio. “I moved all my lessons to Skype/FaceTime, and so far, so good,” she tells us.

Susan Palmer shows off some jazz comping techniques here.

She’s also working harder than ever to push sales for her book. “Right now, I’m trying to sell more books to compensate for my studio potentially slowing down, but I’m also able to donate to other musicians. ... I’m seeing folks try hard to help each other, and that makes me feel a little better.”

Other musicians are looking to less conventional lessons to potentially boost their incomes during coronavirus. Steve Selvidge, best-known as a guitarist for Brooklyn-based band The Hold Steady, talked to us about opening up his time for virtual lessons. “I was thinking maybe do something like showing how I set up my board, or how to make schnitzel.”

Donate Directly

At a point, you might have found yourself with all the shirts, records, or lessons you need. But you don’t need to buy something from an artist to give them your money.

Even if they don’t have virtual shows via a ticketing or tipping platform, you can send your favorite performers tips via platforms like Venmo, BandCamp, PayPal, and CashApp or use a service like Patreon where you can give a set amount of money to your favorite performers each month. Search for artists and fans on social media, see if they're asking for donations, and help if you can.

Community Relief Funds

As we said above, the ramifications of the coronavirus closures spread far beyond touring acts and individual musicians, affecting many workers in related industries, from bars to alt-weekly newspapers.

Click to check out Oluo's Seattle Artist Relief Fund.

Tons of working musicians make their living by performing at weddings, conferences, and other private events. These gigs can provide fulfilling careers, but they don’t necessarily draw a fan base.

Ijeoma Oluo, a Seattle-based writer, went to GoFundMe to crowdsource help for musicians of all calibres who have seen income lost. With over $130,000 raised as of writing this article, she and a team are distributing those funds to artists in need who complete a survey.

“I know that so far every speaking engagement I had for the next month has been cancelled or postponed,” Oluo writes. “And I’m in the very rare and privileged position to be able to weather this financially. Many are not.” She asks those local to help out Seattle-based musicians. “So if you love Seattle art and the Seattle arts community, and you have the resources to, please consider pitching in to our relief fund.”

There are many such relief efforts underway. Find one in your local community or check out one of these:

There are bound to be efforts at small and large scales to support your local music and arts communities. As just one example, Girlschool, which puts on numerous events and programs in Los Angeles. This week, the organization launched a small fund to support people in the Girlschool network whose incomes have taken an unexpected hit due to coronavirus. We encourage you to seek out similar opportunities to give in your own cities.

Attend Virtual Performances

Live streaming shows online isn’t a new phenomenon—but with live shows cancelled across the world, there have never been more to view.

Artists are hosting one-off performances on social media and YouTube, communities are coming together for larger virtual events like Central Florida's No Days Off web-based telethon, and established live-streaming platforms like Stageit have seen an uptick in activity. (Stageit, which charges viewers for virtual tickets to events, has announced that it would be reducing their ticketing fee so that artists will see 80% of ticket revenue.) Whether you're paying for a virtual ticket or donating in virtual tip jars, virtual performances are a great way to support artists.

Music-industry writer Cherie Hu has compiled and is constantly updating a Virtual Music Events Directory packed with every tool, platform, and event that can fit.

NPR is also keeping a list of live virtual concerts—including everyone from international symphony orchestras to Waxahatchee—which you can check out here.

Advocate for Musicians and Gig Workers

If you've been keeping up-to-date on the news out of Washington D.C., you'll know that large industries from airlines to casinos are already lobbying officials for financial bailouts in the face of the coronavirus-related economic downturn.

Musicians and service-economy workers most affected by the closures of venues and tour cancellations are, comparatively, not as well-organized a coalition. That's why it's important to make sure that musicians, gig workers, and other self-employed people in the music and arts industries are included in financial assistance packages coming out of Congress.

Etsy, Reverb's parent company, has launched a petition campaign for these types of workers. You can lend your support here.

The American Federation of Musicians, the country's largest musicians union, is also asking for supporters to petition Congress to include "musicians and other entertainment workers" in national relief efforts. And NAMM, the National Association of Music Merchants, is similarly calling for relief not only to musicians but to the small businesses that make up so much of the musical instruments industry. You can find all of NAMM's COVID-19 information here.

Update 3/26/2020: The US Senate passed a $2 trillion COVID-19 relief package late Wednesday night, the third such bill taken up for debate since the coronavirus began to wreak havoc on the country's economy. Like earlier proposals, the Senate bill looks to give billions of dollars to companies and billions more to unemployed workers. Unlike some earlier proposals, it also includes aid specifically for gig workers and those, like musicians, who rely on freelance jobs.

The bill will be voted on by the US House of Representatives on Friday, meaning this isn't a done deal. As of now, according to the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), the relief package will have musician-friendly provisions, including:

  • Establish a Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program to help freelancers, gig workers, and others who have not traditionally been covered by unemployment insurance.
  • Increase the maximum unemployment benefit by $600 per week for up to four months.
  • Extend unemployment benefits for an additional 13 weeks.
  • Send a direct $1,200 payment to individuals earning up to $75,000 per year (Married couples earning up to $150,000 per year will receive $2,400).
  • Increase funding by $75 million for the National Endowment for the Arts and an additional $75 million for the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities.

Check back for more updates Friday.

Update 3/27/2020: The US House passed the Senate's $2 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package without making any changes to the legislation. The New York Times reports the same details as the AFM, writing, "The legislation would send direct payments of $1,200 to millions of Americans, including those earning up to $75,000, and an additional $500 per child. It would substantially expand jobless aid, providing an additional 13 weeks and a four-month enhancement of benefits, and for the first time would extend the payments to freelancers and gig workers."

The president is expected to sign the bill into law later today.


We'll be updating this document with new ways to help as we learn them. Know of a good organization or fundraising initiative that's not on this list? Let us know in the comments.

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