Close Up: How COVID-19 is changing the lives of Montreal-based artists
To everyone reading, it has been difficult to compile this article. These eleven accounts from Montreal-based musicians are just a fragment of what the artistic world is experiencing right now. We would encourage you to support artists in whatever way you can by buying music and merchandise, or sending them money through Paypal (which may be the best way to support an artist directly at this time). If you have a ticket to a show that has been cancelled, consider donating the price of the ticket back to the venue or to the promoter. Support your local businesses, your local record stores, they need our help.
At the time I’m writing this we are still stranded in Europe, this is the 4th flight home we are attempting, Macron has shut the borders so we don’t even know what to expect, around 30 dates have been cancelled at this point. After 6 years as a project just barely scraping by we had finally been signed, released a full length record, got some love from critics, and started working with a professional booking agent in the EU. We had been planning this tour for over a year. We quit our day jobs in Montreal in preparation and had dates non-stop til the fall with more being added every week. The shows sounded amazing, too many to list but Rewire Festival, club Mutabor in Moscow, Primavera Festival, opening for legends like DAF in Stockholm, UCLA, our Boiler Room debut, MoMaPS1. It was really a dream. Not only did we lose the potential earnings of tens of thousands of dollars but we’re actually now deeply thousands of dollars in debt with no day jobs to return to and rent to pay. The losses range from just guarantees, tons of plane/train/bus tickets, and hotel costs to special Russian & USA visa costs - all of it gone in an instant, with much of it placed on a high-interest credit card. We just want to get home.
When it became apparent that COVID-19 was going to disrupt all aspects of life in the western world we were on a tour through Europe. Since then we’ve had to book emergency travel back to Canada, and cancel our North American tour in support of a new record we have coming out next month. The past week has involved many hours on hold with airlines and hotels and lots of mindlessly swiping credit cards. Now we’re beginning the process of cancelling a month's worth of arrangements and bookings while we assess the damage from last week.
For TOPS, touring North America is how everyone in the band earns enough money to live off of music. We’re fortunate to be at this point, but when a large tour you’ve been counting on is cancelled, it’s like losing 6 months of income. When you pair that with having to arrange last minute housing for yourself, and travelling internationally in the midst of a pandemic, it’s a feeling of precarity that is extremely unsettling.
We are very lucky that we have a network of people in Montreal to support us and house us. Right now I’m staying at my best friend's place, and because I’ve begun to show symptoms of the virus she can no longer enter her own home. Our manager has been delivering groceries, nicky nine doors style, so we have food. I’m constantly overwhelmed by gratitude for the people closest to me, but also shame and guilt for the way I’ve disrupted their lives and put them in a position of giving me so much of their energy which I can’t repay right now. At first being ill was extremely anxiety inducing, and I wanted to conceal it from the people around me, but I’ve realised that I’m lucky to be young and healthy, and I’ll see the other side of this.
I really hope that even without the extensive touring and press that we had scheduled next month, people will still find our new record, that it can be a faithful companion during this period of time. Staying relevant feels very irrelevant right now, I’m struggling to motivate myself to promote the album. The world has other things to think about! But I’m going to do my best because it’s the only way we can keep this thing going. In the meantime we have a lot of time to write another record : )
Now, as an artist, this hits hard with canceled events like SXSW, which would have been a solid foot in the door to the US market, and Canadian Music Week being postponed till the fall. We have a major summer tour schedule, full of festivals in Europe and North America, but everything is a waiting game now. Also, my album is set to drop this Friday, March 20th. We had big media expectations for the release, though right now news of the current global situation takes precedence over culture, so we're on standby with a lot of media outlets.
However, I completely understand the seriousness of the situation and the measures that are being taken to protect all of our health. I trust the process, and perfect timing so I don’t fight roadblocks, I readjust, recalibrate and move differently.
People can support me by pre-saving, sharing and purchasing the album HERE.
I was hired as a session drummer for 3 artists (Charlotte Cornfield, Alex Nicol, and Bodywash). Of the 26 dates I was hired for between March 6 and April 5, only two actually happened. May dates in the UK will certainly be cancelled as well. This was this first time in my life that a sustainable career as a touring musician was actually beginning to happen. I was heavily relying on these shows to pay rent over the coming months, and although I will be paid a small cancellation fee, the money lost will hit me hard, especially since my part-time work with a primarily elderly population is now also cancelled for the foreseeable future.
The coronavirus has surged into our lives like a winter storm, sweeping away any and all of our best laid plans for the spring. We all must stay safe, and in this public health crisis I believe cancelling events and self-isolation are prudent policies. The entire world appears to be taking a big inhale, forcing people who are so used to being on the go to instead take a breather. In my case, it has meant cancelling a trip to SXSW in Austin, Texas, where we had planned to launch my debut album. My release show in April has now been postponed, and it is likely that a tour in May will be pushed back.
Without mincing words, the virus has taken a steep toll on the momentum and potential impact of my debut release. It has brought with it substantial emotional turmoil and financial loss. It can be a tough pill to swallow, sure, but we persevere. In times of crisis, art takes on a new significance for people as they try to process what has happened in their lives, and how to find new meaning moving forward.
I hope my music can provide listeners solace in these times, as I make the best of this time by working on my next record. It seems many artists are taking a similar approach - finding inspiration in the forced isolation. One might call this a silver lining (but granted, I am a glass-half-full type). Those of you who enjoy my music and want to support my next endeavors can stream or buy my album. Every penny will go to the making of the next record. Thank you, stay safe, and see you when the storm passes.
We were slated to perform at SXSW and The New Colossus festival. SXSW was cancelled, and we made a last minute call to cancel our appearance at New Colossus. Thanks to the grants we applied for, we won’t lose much money on our flight cancellations. We can’t stress enough how grateful we are for the many granting bodies in Canada right now (and always). The main loss to us is the opportunity to connect with industry members, new fans, and other bands, as well as our upcoming unannounced dates that seem unlikely to go ahead. All to say we are extremely lucky that we weren’t caught on the road when cancellations happened, that we have day jobs and won’t lose out on planned income. We’re worried about the venues we love, the people who keep the industry alive working gig to gig, and everyone who isn’t sure how they’re going to pay rent this month - not to mention all the people working on the front lines in other precarious industries right now. We’re bummed about our cancellations but we’ll be fine. If you can, please donate to support others who might not be:
Three days before leaving for Europe, on March 9th, I took the decision to cancel the tour with my friend Becky Katz (Please). We were going to be away for 17 days, we had booked our plane tickets and had six shows confirmed. It was going to be the only tour I'd make for my latest album 'Interplay', as I can't afford buying a work visa to play in the US. This has been a particularly bad timing for me, but then, everyone needs to be resilient, and see the wider picture.
Things weren't clear at the start of this month. We were hearing about Italy, many musicians online were on the fence about leaving. I didn't sleep properly for days pondering about the different possible outcomes. I generally try not to complain, it feels weird writing this text. I consider myself lucky that we haven't gone, we would be in such a mess and financial hole right now.
Even if we both lost money, and an amazing opportunity to connect / reconnect with the different DIY communities in Europe, I barely think about it anymore. I think about interconnectedness and community. I think about possible ways the system could crash, the harsh capitalist machine, and how, if it did crash, we could reinvent better systems, experiment with new community organisations, take everyone's needs and priorities into consideration, readjust how we inhabit our environment, how cities would function better, how we treat nature and other non-human beings. Anyway, haha, yes I have been affected, I am staying home at the moment. I've lost plane tickets money, the tour guarantees and merch sales I was going to get on tour, it's not great. It's ok though, I'm glad to stay home.
The music industry is taking a huge financial hit from this pandemic and it weighs the heaviest on us artists. For me personally, I had meetings with labels, showcases with industry folks and collaborations with producers in Los Angeles, New York and Seattle that have had to be cancelled. On top of this, the flights that we purchased to those cities will not be refunded. This is a huge chunk of change that comes out of our pockets, not to mention the money we would have made selling merchandise and tickets. Touring and playing shows is the majority of our livelihood and many of us are really struggling. I think the part that is truly painful is the missed opportunities. These meetings and shows could have led to the next step in my career and I'm sure many other artists are experiencing the same things. My main concern is my health and the health of those around me but yeah, this is hard.
My manager, Hot Tramp, and local community venue, The Diving Bell Social Club, is putting on a live streamed concert to raise funds for local artists! It's called, Stay Home Sessions: Artist Relief Fundraiser. It's a great way to support, enjoy music and stay safe. Folks can donate to the link in the Facebook event to support those artists. I'll accept donations via my Paypal.
To anyone reading this right now, hello :) I write to you from Day 1 of my 14 day quarantine. I just got back to Mtl after being in New York with my band to play a festival. We made it back across the border, and I’m grateful. The Sun has been shining, and I give thanks. The list goes on, and meanwhile I’ve suddenly got a lot of time on my hands to make new music for you! Yes you! Are you still reading? Have you been feeling overwhelmed too? But we gotta stay calm, and practice our gratitude. I believe in us.
This pandemic clearly shows how fragile the infrastructure is in the arts sector. It's hard to see my peers' livelihoods entirely halted, and like so many musicians, my gigs for the foreseeable future have all been cancelled and a spring tour seems impossible at this point. Life as an artist already has so little stability or security, now we are losing a major revenue source that we relied on - performing publicly. My heart goes out to all the folks in precarious situations these days, I still have hope that there is a way to rebound from this.
It sucks to lose opportunities, but it happens. Shows get rained out, vans break down. This, however, is the first time I’ve ever seen everyone I know canceling shows left and right. Artists who rely on our contracts to survive had to work so hard to get here, and it’s just sad to see that momentum halted. No one knows what’s coming next. It makes me wonder how people managed during the plague. On the bright side, it is encouraging to see artists at all levels coming together to support each other, and find ways to share music regardless.
As a new artist, COVID-19 has affected the development of my project at a time which felt crucial to build a fan base and momentum around my music. My debut single was released last month, and my first show was set for March 14th at The Diving Bell Social Club - it was cancelled. I was set to tour to Toronto for Canadian Music Week which was also postponed. These shows were so important for me to establish a stage presence, the one component missing from my project, and to meet people in the music industry. The release of my second single has now been postponed, and I worry about how this pandemic might change the future of live performance.
MORE MONTREAL BASED ARTISTS YOU CAN SUPPORT RIGHT NOW.
If you are a Montreal-based artist who has been affected by COVID-19, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and a link to your music, merchandise or paypal, and we will add you to this list.