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March 18, 2020

How musicians can earn money during the COVID-19 pandemic

And how best to support local artists you love while living in social isolation.

  • Words: Angela Skujins


The live music industry is reeling from the effects of COVID-19, and the necessary introduction of the government’s evolving social distancing advice.

The Australian Music Industry Network and the Australian Festivals Association this week launched website I Lost My Gig to tally of how much the Australian and New Zealand music industry would suffer from cancelled shows.

At the time of publishing, a loss of $100 million had been recorded by the website, as well as 65,000 music-related gig cancellations.

“Musicians survive from gig to gig and their typical sources of other income include hospitality work and teaching in schools, so there is a compounded loss of work,” Music SA general manager, Lisa Bishop says.

On Monday, Music SA participated in a teleconference with 42 other music stakeholders across Australia to discuss alleviation strategies.

In time, groups will convene to deal with the fallout, but right now, artists need money.

While musicians (like you!) wait for formal help, CityMag has compiled a list of grassroots methods to ensure at least some income – no matter how small – can still roll in during this challenging time.

And if you don’t make music but want to support your favourite bands – read on, too. There are ways you can get involved and share some love, even if it’s not from front-of-stage.



Get Bandcamp

Bandcamp is one of the easiest ways to make money directly for your music. The online sharing platform is designed to peddle merchandise and compositions, whether it’s singles, demos, records or long-sleeves.

For every sale, Bandcamp takes a cut: 15 per cent if it’s digital and 10 per cent if it’s physical. This means an artist pockets almost 85 per cent of the earnings.

And in a show of support for artists, the platform will waive their revenue share from midnight to midnight Pacific Time this Friday, 20 March.

For fans, if you’ve missed out on a gig because of cancellation, head to the artist’s Bandcamp and buy something from them instead.

“What we are suggesting is that they buy their merchandise, actually buy their music and they can either do that by ordering vinyl or just downloading music online,” Lisa says.

“Or donate it to Support Act or Crew Care because the production staff and the roadies and people like that who really rely on event work are now, in effect, unemployed.”


Get Patreon

The online subscription website Patreon works slightly differently to Bandcamp, as it offers a monthly membership, as well as a “per creation” payment, for individuals accessing channels.

Punk cabaret muso Amanda Palmer and electro-pop artist Zola Jesus both utilise Patreon and have crowdfunded a number of projects from the platform.

Fans can access live gigs, raw digital files or physical merchandise from channels. Enthusiastic fans can even purchase experiences, like a one-on-one musical lesson from their hero (perhaps via video link).

Once you’ve signed up, let your audience know where to find you.


Get Twitch

In 2019 CityMag profiled gamer Amber Wadham who used two-way streaming service Twitch to record herself playing video games while simultaneously drawing an income.

This income comes in small payments, called Bits, as well as paid subscriptions and donations pledged by those who watch her play.

Lisa says live-streaming has already been embraced by the live music industry, with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra cancelling some performances and planning to take others online.

Musicians at home should also trial the method.

“Now, more than ever, [live-streaming is] directly known as an imperative for ensuring global accessibility during extreme conditions, particularly for virtual showcases and live-streaming of gigs and workshops,” Lisa says.



File your taxes

The financial year runs from 1 July to 30 June, and individuals have until 31 October each year to lodge their tax return. Obviously it’s a bit early to lodge, but it doesn’t hurt to get on top of things while you have time.

The Australian Music Industry Network has a free resource called Legal Pack (available for free online here) which was designed to help artists navigate the legal complications of the industry.

It includes information on issues such as tax, contracts and band agreements.


Do that workshop

As well as filing taxes, artists can brush-up on their administrative knowledge in other ways, such as free or low-cost training programs.


Write that song

If you’re a musician and can’t tour, use this time to write songs and work on creative development instead.

“If you’ve got a home studio, why not do some recording? And people can still collaborate online,” Lisa says.

Music-hosting website SoundCloud has been the meeting place for a number of musicians. It’s been so successful in connecting bedroom producers, a genre of music came out of it: SoundCloud rap.

Twenty-one-year-old American rapper Lil Peep got his start on SoundCloud and collaborated with artists around the world.

This will be a trying time for all of Australian society, so having something to share at the end of the experience for an audience craved of connection can only be a good thing.

“Although the live sector is in absolute strife, nothing can stop musicians from writing incredible music,” Porch Sessions’ Sharni Honor says.

“[That’s] what is going to keep this industry afloat. At whatever point the world is ready to connect again, there will be music waiting.”


Call a radio station

Lisa fervently believes all individuals – musicians or not – should call and ask radio stations to play Australian music. Musicians earn royalties every time their song is played on the radio.

“They’re (royalties) pretty low on radio but every little bit helps in times of crisis,” she says.

APRA AMCOS is an organisation representing over 100,000 songwriters, composers and music publishers in Australia, and also licenses organisations (like community and commercial radio stations) the right to play their members’ music.

If you’re a musician and haven’t contacted APRA AMCOS, perhaps now is the time.


Contact your member of parliament

Owners of live music venues are also concerned about how they will earn revenue.

Owner of Sugar Nightclub Driller Armstrong told CityMag even if his venue does open for its regular Wednesday club night, Mixed Tape, he’s expecting the lowest revenue for the ongoing event in over a decade.

“There is no doubt that we will be among the hardest hit,” Driller says.

“I’m worried about the club. I’m worried about staff. I’m worried about my partners. I’m worried about my own immediate future.”

A way to help venue owners who rely on live music as part of their business model, as well as musicians and associated workers within the industry, is to write to your member of parliament and ask them to provide adequate assistance to South Australia’s and the country’s live performance industry.

Find your local member by first using these links to find out which electorate you’re in:
Find your federal electorate
Find your state electorate

With this information, find your federal representative here by searching for you electorate. Once you’ve found your local pollie, click their name to see their official contact information.

Find your state-level representative here by selecting your electorate from the drop-down menu and clicking the search button. Same as above, once you’ve found your pollie, click their name for their official contact information.

To ensure your correspondence is taken seriously, you can see official guidelines for how to address politicians at this link.



Despite the industry being unsure of what to expect between now and October, Lisa hasn’t yet shut down registrations for Adelaide’s live music festival, Umbrella Festival.

She’s hopeful by this time the crisis will subside and the community can regroup.

“I think at that point in time, people who’ve been forcibly separated will be yearning to get together,” she says.

“At the end of this, audiences will come back with added appreciation and desire for connectedness, which is what live music is all about.”

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