Musicians hurt by COVID-19

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Capital News Service

LANSING — When COVID-19 closed music venues across Michigan, William “Love” LaTournuea saw the three to five shows he was playing weekly disappear.

The Pistil Whips’ versatile musician, who prefers to use his stage name, lost his

side job as a substitute teacher at North Central Academy in Mancelona as well when Michigan closed schools. Love, 23, of Boyne City, will lose the bulk of his income. He’s trying to qualify for unemployment. 

Despite the “debilitating” impacts he knows the shutdowns will have on him if they extend into the summer, he thinks it’s more important now than ever to do his job.

“I’ve just been trying to record new stuff — keep the musical presence going — because everyone seems to be kinda depressed right now,” Love said. “Literally, a musician’s job is to bring people up, so I’m just trying to do anything I can.”

Previously, out-of-work musicians might drum up meal money playing in a public space with an open instrument case collecting donations from passersby. Love has been posting videos of himself on Facebook playing the flute and saxophone. He accepts donations through Venmo.

“I’ve just had a resounding amount of people tell me and reach out to me saying, ‘Hey, this video made my day. Watching you play and watching you be a goofball made me smile, and I really needed that right now,’” Love said.

He said he’s made about $400 so far.

Love is among the musicians struggling to stay afloat while in-person shows are canceled for the foreseeable future.

Holly August, a 24-year-old Petoskey resident, and her band “Daddy” just finished their first album. While the band wasn’t performing live yet, August pulled in about half her income doing solo shows around the state before the shutdowns.

The album was supposed to be released in late spring but will likely be delayed as more festivals and shows are pushed back, August said.

“When you write music, the most exciting thing is seeing other people hear it and like it,” August said.

The band hasn’t had an opportunity to shoot music videos and cover art for the album as planned.

To stay afloat during the shutdown, August initially took song requests in exchange for donations through Cash App and Venmo. She performs on her Facebook page and said she was receiving a few donations each day ranging from $10 to $100.

Then August switched to a virtual concert approach where she sings and plays the guitar, while asking for donations. The concerts are open to anyone to view on her Facebook page.

“I’ve never really cared much about making money to begin with,” August said. “I’d much rather have a big audience and shallow pockets than vice versa.”

August said she made a couple of hundred dollars taking requests, but less than $100 in her first concert, which lasted around an hour. She said she hopes the concerts will gain more traction as she performs more.

August, who founded Wildwood Coffee in Indian River less than a year ago, had planned to move in with a friend around the time of the shutdown. However, the economic fallout changed those plans, and she moved in with her parents.

She said she’s grateful for the support of her family, but with the coffee shop closing and gigs canceled, she expects her car will be repossessed.

“If I hadn’t moved in with my parents, I wouldn’t be able to eat,” August said. “I feel really lucky to have my family looking out for me right now.”

August had been getting back into the music scene the last couple of years after an extended absence. Losing shows is also a blow to networking efforts, she said.

“That’s what gets me even more than the money, just missing out on making possible connections,” August said.

Like August, 30-year-old Grand Rapids musician Max Lockwood is holding public virtual concerts through Facebook and Instagram to raise money.

Lockwood performs solo and as a part of a Tom Petty tribute band called “The Insiders.” He lives with bandmate Eric O’Daly, and the two have put on shows from home together.

“Watching the comment threads as the live streams are happening, it’s just really clear that people really need it,” he said.

Lockwood, who studied classical music, gives one-on-one music lessons to a few students on bass and guitar. He gives the lessons over platforms like Zoom, Facetime and Skype and is looking to bring in more students because of the loss of live shows.

Lockwood estimates he’s lost 70% to 75% of his income since shows were canceled.

“Gigs are where we make most of our income,” he said.

Elle Lively is doing her best to minimize COVID-19’s sting on musicians.

The Michigan Music Alliance was founded last year to provide artists with business education and networking opportunities, Lively said.

The nonprofit organization launched a relief fund on March 13 to help them survive the shutdowns. It’s raised over $20,000 so far.

Michigan musicians can apply for up to $500 in relief.

“There really is no plan B for a lot of musicians — this is what they do,” said Lively, who runs the Grand Haven-based alliance.

Still, there won’t be enough money to go around.

“If you look at the number of freelance musicians in Michigan and then you consider the sound engineers and the tour managers and all of the jobs that are roped into the live music industry just in Michigan alone, it’s insane,” Lively said. “It’s a huge chunk of income for thousands of people.”

To raise awareness of the fund, the Michigan Music Alliance had a four-day virtual concert with 42 artists in March.

Now, it hosts a virtual concert with a different Michigan artist at 7 p.m. every day on Facebook to raise contributions.

Individuals looking to help their favorite local musicians should visit their websites and buy their CDs, as opposed to using only streaming services, Lively said.

“It’s weird because the music industry is really flipping back to where it used to be,” she said. “If you want to support somebody, you have to go buy their physical CD.”

Lively said she hopes musicians will qualify for unemployment benefits as “self-employed” but hasn’t heard from any who have received relief. Even if they do qualify, the process takes so long, it could be too late for many, she said.

“It’s millions of people really, all using a system that was already broken to begin with,” she said.

Love said the support of musicians and his fan base provide a silver lining.

“It seems to be, strangely enough even though we’re all separated, really bringing people together,” he said.

With time to create new music, Love said the Pistil Whips will emerge stronger than ever.

“When live performances are hopefully allowed to be up and running again, we’re going to have some amazing new material,” he said.

Lucas Day writes for Great Lakes Echo.

Shutdowns related to COVID-19 hurt musicians like William Love of Boyne City. Credit: William Love.
Holly August of Petoskey says her car will likely be repossessed because of the shutdown of playing venues. Credit: Holly August.
Max Lockwood of Grand Rapids teaches one-on-one music lessons to a few students and is looking for more. Credit: Max Lockwood.

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