When I call up Torres one recent afternoon, she tells me that the overarching feeling she and her fellow musicians are experiencing right now is uncertainty. "They're all afraid," she says. "No one knows what's going on, and every single person that I talk to — and these are musician peers — they're all just like, I don't even know what's happening. I think no one knows how to process this."
The current novel coronavirus pandemic has brought the globe to a stop. For the music industry, this has meant festivals and tours have been canceled or postponed, and album releases pushed back. Torres had just finished playing a show in Berlin when she got the notification that President Trump announced a 30-day travel ban to Europe's Schengen area. Scrambling to buy last-minute tickets back to the U.S. and using nearly all of the funds she'd just earned playing shows, Torres made the difficult decision to appeal to her followers for donations. "I think I had tears burning in my eyes for the next 24 hours just because of how grateful I was," she recalls.
Artists all over the world have felt the consequences of the mighty music machine engine grinding to a halt. For the most vulnerable, it was the worst case scenario in a system that was already plagued by inconsistencies, weaknesses, and gaping blindspots. In recent weeks, various forms of relief — financial, social, emotional — have been organized by streaming platforms, labels, and fellow artists alike, as everyone tries to make sense of the momentary new normal.
Amid this fraught process of systemic reconfiguration, NYLON reached out to eight musicians to gather their musings, thoughts, and calls to action. From Torres' concerns for the future of live music, to Iranian-Dutch experimentalist Sevdaliza's appeal for listeners to "break out of the algorithms," the dispatches below serve as a crucial reminder of how the survival of art will eternally rely on the intentional choices of everyone together.
As told to Steffanee Wang
Mackenzie Scott: "I already knew about the weaknesses in [touring] infrastructure. That's something that musicians have been talking about for a while. I think [this] has exposed the weakness of the infrastructure to everybody else. Someone touring at my level, there's no tour insurance, there's no back-up plan. We all put our asses on the line to make it happen in the first place, without a pandemic. And I'm happy to do it, that is not at all a complaint. I love touring, and I do it because I love it.
"I am worried personally about the fate of live music. It's terrifying to think that maybe there might not be touring anymore. They say that there will be but I don't know. Every single person that I talk to, and these are musician peers, they are all just like, I don't even know what's happening. That's what they keep saying.
"Everyone is out of work and what... We're just all gonna...at the same time in September or October all try to go on tour again at the exact same time? We all go away and inundate the market once again all at the same time? That's not gonna work. I think everyone is just trying to figure out what we can do to change the model because I think the existing one is already looking pretty flimsy for the future.
"[Fans who want to support] can do what musicians have been asking for a while now. They can buy records, they can order vinyl, they can buy digital copies of the album on band camp. Whatever website they have access to, they can buy the records, they can buy merch. Every artist I know has an online merch store.
"This crisis actually has shed a lot of light on those platforms and on the artists that are asking for people to really pay attention to how they're consuming music. Are they paying for it? We all know that people value it. It's not a question of value. It's a question of, do you value it enough to pay for it?"
Dear Independent Musician,
You thought this was going to be one dreamy road. In reality it is a rocky one.
The idea of being an independent artist has been glamorized through the media, and fueled by labels, as soon as the industry discovered that it would be the next marketing tool to launch their new (partially signed) artists.
Yet, what insinuations results in, is a trend of artists going independent for real, and crossing a desert with incapable vehicles and skill sets.
Part of what makes music special to me, is the excess noise, literal and metaphorical, that enhanced the signal, the thing we were meant to be listening to.
I remember playing a Nirvana record for the very first time, hearing the crackles through the speakers was a warm blanket for my teenage depression. Remembering a record by heart has become a vague memory.
Then you have these huge players with algorithms that are preliminarily about controlling and eliminating excess noise. In a metaphorical and literal sense, digital technology has eliminated the crackles and pops in your vinyl.
Streaming has provided so many opportunities yet stripped music of context, paired it back to being just about the song and the moment.
The real difference is a world enriched by noise and a world that strives towards signal only. Noise is the context of life. Without noise, the signal becomes meaningless. Without meaning, the work becomes meaningless.
In my personal experience, I would say to listeners, try to break out of the algorithms and explore through platforms and blogs, search terms you would not regularly use even in times of hardship when we often hold on to what we know.
It's the time we had to play at SXSW music festival.
Like many people in the world, we got attacked [by] economic situations (like canceling concerts until April) and RAAI is at home instead of going to school...
But outside, birds singing.
Still There are natures. Let's stay with the nature.
Sending love from Seoul.
Yesterday we sent an airmail to a supporter from the States, our original cassette album called Shikoku.
It's our art piece from Shikoku pilgrimage which has the history about 1200 years.
Shikoku is most unknown of the four big islands in Japan. But the island still has ancient natures a lot.
We recorded ambiences inside 108 Buddhist temples and the bell sounds of each temples, and stacked layers of sound to make 9 pieces of music-concrete.
We did the first pilgrimage 5 years ago.
The album was made for whom wanted to be on the pilgrim road in Shikoku but cannot do it, right now.
The whole pilgrimage needs about one and half months by walk for a healthy people, and you will need quite a lot money for spending time in unknown places.
So there are many spots on the pilgrim road, called Mini-Shikoku.
People made small statues of miniature from the temples on small mountains, or brought some grounds from a building in a temple, or just make some small roads for weak or poor people.
We did it with sounds for people all over the world. We just wanted to give all people as a sound gift.
You can download it for free on our Bandcamp site, and if you like cassette, we have limited numbers of double cassette released.
The sounds can calm you, until we release the new album, Nomad, via Beyond Beyond is Beyond.
as a working musician,
i think an important part of
my journey has been making sure
i don't depend on one avenue
of creating for my sole source
i started touring through
high school and continued
doing so through college.
in my early 20's, i decided to
take up teaching piano, guitar,
and songwriting lessons to
supplement touring and then
found that i loved teaching.
now i do both.
i have been teaching in
person lessons for many
years, but with COVID-19
pandemic, i am having to
teach myself to teach
remotely. it is challenging, but
is also an option to expand
my teaching population and
connect with new people
and musicians all over the
this is a dark and scary time
but it's also a time for us to
find new ways to connect,
create, teach, and generally
As told to Steffanee Wang
Isaac deBroux-Slone: "Two of our other bandmates, Shannon and Logan, both had to quit their jobs because of the touring schedule and now that's not happening so they have to find new jobs. This is kind of a weird time to do that, obviously. I know that's really hard for them right now. It's definitely taking a financial toll on all of us I'm sure."
Raina Bock: "This is a bummer because this is our first album and we were hoping to really launch off this tour and South by Southwest and everything. Because we're such a new band, and we haven't been writing together as a group for that long...Isaac and I were talking about this the other day, we have a pretty high creative output altogether. And all of us have so many more songs to write. I feel pretty optimistic that we can get back on the horse and hopefully bounce back.
"I feel like touring is a way to grow an audience really quickly. There's something you can connect with when you go to live shows. It's a lot more likely that you go to a show and the show really makes an impression and you tell your friends about that and share it because you saw the show and it was affecting to you. Just telling your friends that you just like the album. Sharing by word of mouth does a lot more than maybe people think it does. This is how the industry's changed.
"I think what's also important is for artists to support other artists. That's super effective. There's this great thread that we got on to the other day where you post on your story four or five bands that you're loving right now. And hopefully it spreads like that. And it's a pretty good time for remote collaboration. Stuff like that."
Audrey Kang: "Lightning Bug is in a slightly different position because we're just starting out, and have never toured before. We've never made much money from our music...I think the whole crisis reveals the existing flaws in the way things operate. Artists shouldn't be put in the situation where they're desperate and scrambling in the case of an emergency like this one. Nobody should be. We have to fix the system so that people have a safe place to fall in a time of crisis.
"In terms of other forms of support from the music-loving community that aren't financial...music and art are such beautiful places to escape to when you're anxious and cooped up. The best form of support I can think of is simply to know that our music is helping someone out there feel better. A moment of connection like that could get me through a whole month of physical isolation."
"Currently in this alternate 2020 universe we are all quarantined at home. Uncomfortably (or too comfortably?) stuck in an unfair science fiction. Everybody is guaranteed to be on their phones or computers 95% of the day taking in lots of information and hopefully some positive content. We are so lucky to have art SO accessible at a time like this. Please consider the shows and tours and postponed production happening at the moment for artists. I know you are cause duh you're stuck at home when you could be dancing with us! Our outlet of expression and face to fan interaction is currently on hold. I can't think of anything worse! On top of that this is how so many of us make money and keep afloat. If you can share the cost of a ticket price, t-shirt, that over priced beer you woulda bought, even a pin pack please visit our Bandcamp!
Your loyal comrades - the paranoyds + community of musicians"
As told to Steffanee Wang
Sean Solomon: "Our album is coming out tomorrow. We were supposed to be on tour, celebrating the release. First, that was cancelled. Quickly, that escalated with South By being canceled, and then our tour being cancelled, and our release show's cancelled. My roommate works in the hospital, and he worked with a patient that had coronavirus, and so I can't go home and am staying at my girlfriend's house. That's been really strange and hard to deal with, not even being with any of my stuff.
"I've just been flooded with different, new things that people are trying, like live-streaming. It seems like everyone's trying really hard to piece together the music community and come up with creative solutions. It is a little bit difficult for me because I'm a guitar player and the band relies a lot on, like, backing tracks and synths, samplers, and things that I don't have. So I've been having to completely rework my songs to fit into this idea of streaming and to be honest, it's been really frustrating. We've been spending months preparing to go on tour and the songs were really complex, and we had sort of figured out how to play them live a certain way.
"I got an email today suggesting we use Twitch because Twitch has streaming revenue capabilities, whereas Instagram doesn't. Six months ago, whenever a manager's mentioned Twitch, I laughed at them. I was like We'll never use Twitch, that's idiotic. We're a rock band, what are we going to do with Twitch? And now, I'm like, Fuck, I gotta learn how to use Twitch. I'm trying to adapt. I've ordered some new gear on the internet that's supposed to help you plug your music stuff straight into your phone. I'm not really sure what I'm supposed to do. I'm grateful that we can still share music, and I don't know what I would do if I was laid off and didn't have these sort of new obstacles to deal with. At least a live-streaming situation is giving me something to work towards.
"Our manager always says this thing: the album is the trailer to the movie. When you're an indie band, what's important is the thousand people that like you or whatever the small number is. If they all pay for the ticket and they all pay for the shirt and they all pay for the record, you know, then that's when you have a career. But if all you're doing is sitting at home trying to make pennies with streaming money, it's a lot harder. As far as money is concerned, that's the least of my concerns right now. I'm worried about everyone else who has it harder than musicians. Every time I feel myself going into this state of self-pity, I remember how grateful I am to be an artist right now."