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Your Music Career & COVID-19... Picking Up the Pieces

Last week, I shared about the pivot I made (which ended up being very fast) from teaching lessons in my home studio to teaching completely online.  You can read about my plan, as well as how I communicated with my students, here.

This will affect everyone, if it hasn't already.

From my observation, musicians based in the outer coasts of the US, as well as major cities throughout, began this mad scramble with their students at the same time as I did -- and by now, smaller interior cities are not far behind.

There is A LOT of work to be done while we quarantine.  Many have written and shared so much helpful information about bringing studios fully online quickly, but coming out of this, things will probably look quite different for the entertainment industry. So while there will be a significant amount of back-end streamlining of current work that we’ll need to do to stay sane, become efficient, and for many of us, devote time to rebuilding the rest of our musical careers.

Anyone who performs understands this need.  Concerts have been cancelled left and right for weeks, sometimes through the end of the season.  This coincides with the peak earning season for performing artists. It’s not just an issue because there are potentially 4-8 weeks of income lost, for many this income funds low cash-flow summers and tides folks over till the performing season picks up in the fall.

So, this article will focus on survival and rebuilding.  How to get through, replace lost income, and look ahead to weather future storms?  Read on to find the six steps you can take. I’m hoping this article will provide you with some helpful thoughts and practical action steps.

How to get through, replace lost income, and look ahead to weather future storms?

#1.  Put the fires out

If this hasn’t been you this past week, you’ll be in this boat soon.  So start planning ahead, and don't think that you have time, because you don't.

Communicate with clients

Communicate with clients early, to set expectations. Create your first stab at whatever you can move to online work.  It’s ok if things aren’t perfect right now.  What’s important is that you are clear to your clients so that they know you have a plan and feel safer with you IN their life, rather than putting things on hold during these uncertain times.  Even though things may feel scary for you and your livelihood, it will help to focus on what your clients are feeling/experiencing and what you can do to help them. Make yourself a resource to your clients.

Use tech and other resources

Use tech and online resources to help where you feel you have bandwidth to add.  Most of these have a free (or nearly free) platform.

Use your Google!! Don't be afraid to try something and change your mind. Take notes on what you like and what you don't about the things you try -- It will make it easier to make a decision when you're ready to make one.

Don't be afraid to try something and change your mind.

Cancelled Concerts?

For cancelled concerts: It’s understandable that these are getting cancelled, but the fallout for us as musicians is rough. For the bigger gigs, you may not have much say on how the contract is handled. That may be up to the organizer or your local Union. However, for those gigs that you’ve booked independently, ask your venue organizer to sit down together with you to explore creative options for handling the crisis at hand.

  • Will they agree to postpone instead of cancel?

  • Can they pay you now and postpone the event to a later date?

  • Will they consider full or partial payment as an act of grace?

  • Will they engage your services in an alternate way (virtual performance, masterclass, or even sell them a different offering or area of expertise)?

  • Could you produce a virtual experience (or several) to their audience, and could you give even more value by providing an interactive component to the audience (interview, audience participation element, printout of extra educational materials)?

#2. Give yourself time

Do what you need to do to handle the immediate fires -- and then give yourself space to think.

Many of us have lost the rest of the season of performances. We now have a whole lot of time on our hands. So batten down the hatches, turn off media, grab your journal, and take some time to regroup -- so that when you do work, you work smart.

... Batten down the hatches, turn off media ... and take some time to regroup.

#3. Resource & Runway

Examine your resources (financial, as well as skills) to understand what kind of “runway” you have. What do you have in the bank right now, and how long can it last you? What skills can you use to make up for at least some of the income you have lost? Spend some time brainstorming these in a journal or on your computer. You might find you’ll want to come back and add more ideas later, as the ideas get flowing.

  • Savings. What savings do you have? How many months could you stretch that if you needed to?

  • Skills. Do you have other skills that you can offer, either in the music industry, or outside? This has huge potential to help you right now, so I’m going to talk in more detail about it below.

  • Barter. From whom can you ask for practical help? Need to know how to set up a website? Call a friend who has done it. Can you offer your skills to them in return? Enter in, the barter economy. This is an incredible way for us to help each other survive and adapt. If neither of you have to use monetary resources to grow or strengthen your income streams, that’s better for everyone.

  • Borrow. Do you have family that could help tide you over if you needed a short-term loan? Talking about money can be awkward -- but don’t forget to set up clear terms for all parties and to follow through graciously on your agreement. Put it in writing!

#4. Re-Budget

We need to consider the likelihood that the landscape of public events may change significantly once we overcome the immediate hurdle of quarantine / social distancing / shelter in place / lockdown. Things will make their way back to “normal” … but it’s going to be a “new normal,” and it may take a while to find our footing.

So let’s look at the future as a completely different thing, and budget accordingly.

For many, that may mean on top of understanding your current resources, you’re going to need to re-evaluate your cash-flow and track it carefully.

If you haven’t done a budget before, here’s a great place to start. There are a number of really excellent apps that can help you to track your expenses and set goals or limits on spending in different categories. If you’d rather not tie your banking info to an outside app, then this website has a number of great suggestions for budget templates you can use offline or at least not connected to an app.

Good goals for the short-term future:

  • Reduce expenses. Do everything you can to reduce your optional expenses. Give yourself a small budget for self-care, but hold yourself to it. You can increase this amount again as things get back to a more stable place.

  • Reduce expenses... again. Is there anything you’d think of as essential, that you can actually do without or postpone purchasing? Insurance is not on this list! I’m talking about brand-name vs generic, or holding off buying that fancy pair of sneakers.

  • Re-build your emergency fund. The best way to weather storms is to plan for them. It might be hard now, and you might dip deep into that bulk ramen supply you’ve been keeping in your pantry, but you’ll feel much better when it’s done. Give yourself a goal (with a date attached to it) when you aim to have your emergency fund rebuilt. A good rule for an emergency fund is usually 3-6 months of expenses.

#5. Use your skills to replace income lost.

Let’s get creative here. And let me tell you now, there is NO SHAME in pivoting your time right now, or at any time, for that matter. That’s what adaptive musicians do. You are an amazing human who possesses a myriad different talents, including -- but not limited to -- what you currently do with your music. If you do something else for a while, that doesn’t change who you are -- it helps you to survive. It helps you to grow into the person and artist you’ll be tomorrow.

Off of the top of my head, below is just a random list of skills I’ve jotted down that I’ve observed in my amazing colleagues and friends. This is in addition to their primary instrument or craft Do you see yourself in any of these?

Tangible Skills… can you do__________?

  • Video editing/production

  • Sound editing

  • Web design

  • Graphic design

  • Project management

  • Leadership / Team management

  • Teaching (music or other skills)

  • Arranging

  • Composing

  • Social media management

  • Fundraising

  • Writing

  • Copywriting

  • Editing

  • Curriculum planning

  • Event planning (online, too!)

  • Client / Customer support

  • Communication skills (write great emails, respond promptly)

  • Librarian

  • Advocacy / Policy making

  • Accounting

  • Financial planning / wealth management

  • Tutoring

  • Delivery person

  • Fashion consultant

(Friends, just LOOK at what we do to run our careers!!)

There are so many more skills we possess, I just couldn’t get them all. I’m writing fast to get this resource out to you as quickly as I can, so please do think about how you’d add to this list (and I’d love to hear from you!).

Look at that list. What skills do you have? Now’s not the time to be modest. If you have used it in the past, then it counts.

How can you apply these skills to augment your existing business offerings? Can you secure work by offering that skill to a colleague, or in another industry? Don’t hesitate to use sites like Google and Craigslist to look for job opportunities, or to post in your social network what skills you have to offer.

One last consideration: You may find that you don’t need to use all of your time trying to replace income. Your newly re-worked budget may give you some space you didn’t think you had… and therefore while you may want to dedicate some (substantial) time to that, leave a good amount of bandwidth to look toward the more long term.

#6. Begin to think long-term

Folks, we are definitely headed toward a recession -- and with all sensitivity to folks who are experiencing loss or hardship during this season (including myself) -- if you were around for the 2008 recession, you know that things will eventually turn around.

And in general, small businesses are FAR better equipped to adapt to major structural changes than corporations, because overhead is low and it takes less time to make and enact large-scale decisions.

The question of the long-term is a huge topic, and there’s enough to talk about for a whole other article. So I’ll stop here for now. (Please make sure you subscribe if you want to be notified of the rest as soon as it comes out.)

What will your takeaways be?

I hope you’ll give yourself some grace and some space… and then make an action plan that is meaningful and brings you peace during uncertain times.

Remember -- You. Are. Resourceful.

#1. Put out the fires

#2. Give yourself time

#3. Resource & Runway

#4. Re-Budget

#5. Use your skills to replace income lost

#6. Begin to think long-term

Take care,


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