Over the course of mere days, COVID-19 has changed our lives in ways we never could have imagined. While we’ve heard countless stories of workers being laid off due to the economic strain of the stay-at-home order, musicians, who rely on ticket sales to pay their rent, have been relatively forgotten amid the madness.
Though big artists who’ve made millions in hit records will probably make it through these uncertain times without incurring irreversible damage, “low-tier” professional musicians who are just starting their music careers have been greatly impacted by show cancellations. As artists who rely on touring to gain a following and who barely make anything from streaming, they are facing severe financial struggles after investing much of their savings into crews and equipment for touring, only to have all of those shows canceled.
I had the opportunity to chat with Jordy Searcy, a folk singer/songwriter based out of Nashville, about the unique impact of COVID-19 on musicians and what’s being done to support them during this time. As an artist working his way into mainstream music, Searcy has been supporting the Nashville music community by hosting livestreams on his Instagram every Tuesday night, with each virtual show dedicated to raising money for a different band.
“I had the idea (because) I have a lot of friends that are touring off of their first record and they’re starting to make fans, but it’s really just like the first year of gaining some success and starting to sell out rooms, but still having a lot of expenses,” Searcy said. “A lot of my friends are the people that got hit the hardest because they may not have streaming, or online merch sales, or savings from a bunch of hit records saved up like a lot of other professional musicians do. A lot of my friends rely exclusively on touring for income. They rely on touring, but it’s like five people that rely on one tour to pay (each member’s) rent.”
Last Tuesday, Searcy hosted a livestream to raise money for The Brook and the Bluff, a pop-soul band out of Nashville that had their shows canceled due to the virus. On top of public show cancellations, the group also had their private events canceled — which would have been a major source of income heading into the summer.
“A lot of musicians make cash not just from tickets to shows, but also from unpublicized special events, like a high-profile wedding, or a bar mitzvah, or a corporate event,” Searcy said. “The Brook and the Bluff had a lot of big corporate events booked to keep them afloat through the summer, and all of those got canceled.”
While Searcy is an out-of-work musician himself, he claims he is doing well for the time being and wants to dedicate his time to helping the artists that truly need it.
“I actually got pretty lucky because I make most of my income from streaming,” Searcy said. “My cash flow actually wasn’t affected and I’m kind of on a gradual rise this year anyway. I’ve been lucky enough to now be making a little bit more money than I was making even a few months ago.”
Though Searcy is the one coordinating the livestreams, he believes their success comes from fans’ willingness to help out.
“I’m not the one giving cash. I’m just basically playing a few songs, orchestrating it,” Searcy said. “What’s been really cool is the number of people watching every week has grown. The number of dollars that the fans give to the bands has been growing every week too, which has been really cool. It’s been really encouraging to see people support my friends, who I love a lot.”
On top of performing some of his own music and covers, Searcy invites other musicians to join the livestreams in an effort to get the entire Nashville music community involved. Searcy has featured the bands he’s raising money for, as well as outside artists like Caleb Chapman from Colony House, a rock band based out of Nashville, who played a few acoustic songs from the band’s new album.
Staying true to the spirit of struggling musicians, Searcy films the livestreams from a van he recently purchased for touring.
“We bought the van maybe a month and a half ago and then everything got canceled, so it’s basically my office now,” Searcy said. “The van was a touring thing and now I’ve built that out a little bit. I moved everything into my van, and now I record and write out of there.”
During his livestream dedicated to raising money for the band Sawyer, a female indie-pop duo, Searcy had to pause the livestream periodically to talk to Mike, the stranger that was allowing Searcy to park his van on his property. About halfway through the livestream, something must have come up, and Mike politely asked Searcy to move his van, forcing him to find a new spot to park so he could finish the livestream. Needless to say, Searcy has been on a lot of adventures during this quarantine.
“Last week I took (the van) out surfing for a while, self-quarantined in the van and surfed for a week, did one of the livestreams from out close to the beach,” Searcy said. “Now the van is parked in Nashville, so usually my daily routine is I drive out to a little secluded area like a scenic park and just park it and work all day in the van in my office-studio thing, and then I drive it back home.”
As someone who loves to perform live, Searcy has missed the in-person interactions that can’t be replaced by virtual shows, but he still believes he’s been able to make unique connections with his fans through livestream concerts.
“What’s cool is that with technology these days, there are some pretty seamless interactions that you can still have with a lot of people,” Searcy said. “Now in my DMs when somebody sends a message (saying) ‘Hey, I love your music, really enjoy it,’ I can usually say ‘Oh, how’s quarantine been for you?’ and communicate with someone who’s listened to my music from another country and hear what they’ve been up to.”
Plus, Searcy just came off of a busy touring season, so the stay-at-home order has allowed him to catch up on some much-needed rest. “I love playing music live so much, so it is a bummer not being able to play,” Searcy said. “But at the same time, I was in a really heavy touring season right before, so there was a little bit of a breath of fresh air. In February I didn’t really get a lot of sleep. I was traveling a lot, playing a lot. It is nice to be forced to stay home and get some rest and take care of myself, but it’s also nice because everyone is online and ready to communicate. I feel like I’m still able to post a song and see people enjoying it, or share it with friends.”
In addition to his own efforts, streaming services such as Spotify have organized their own fundraising, donating money to artists by matching donations given by fans or advancing payments to artists so they can make their earnings from streaming without having to wait the traditional three-month period. While some fans have been skeptical of their efficacy, Searcy believes these efforts are important to support artists in these times of need.
“I think everybody’s getting over the shock of all the cancelations and we’re starting to live in the real situation like ‘Okay, sweet, so now we know (who) needs help,’ and so I think a lot of the grassroots (fundraising) that I’ve been doing have turned into a more organized thing, which I think is really good and really practical,” Searcy said.
In an effort to expand his livestream fundraising, Searcy is looking to partner with nonprofits so that more artists can be reached.
“I actually have a call with an organization that’s a nonprofit supporting musicians in other contexts,” Searcy said. “They saw the livestream and I’m gonna talk with them, brainstorm with them, and (see if) they can take the idea and do something similar.”
Support from large organizations is crucial to supporting artists, but Searcy believes fans play an equally important role and can support their favorite artists in a variety of ways.
“One of the biggest ways you can support your favorite artists is, one: by buying merch online. I think it’s huge,” Searcy said. “If you had cash to go see your favorite band on tour, (you can buy) a merch bundle now. You can get an awesome t-shirt, or tote bag, or vinyl. Go buy that online from your favorite bands.”
On top of merch sales, simply following artists on Spotify can greatly impact the streaming that earns them cash.
“Following on Spotify is actually pretty huge. I think it’s not one of the social medias you think about like ‘Oh I’m gonna go follow, I’m gonna keep up with this artist, I’m gonna go follow them on Instagram.’ People don’t follow on Spotify in the same way,” Searcy said.
In addition to the livestreams, Searcy has connected with his fans in other ways, encouraging other songwriters to work on their craft.
“I’ll do a thing now where every Friday I post a verse and a chorus of a new song and see if anyone wants to finish it. That’s been a really fun thing,” said Searcy.
When he’s not on Instagram, Searcy dedicates his free time to writing music and sharpening his guitar skills.
“It’s been fun to take advantage of the time and try new things,” Searcy said. “I’m doing a lot of Zoom co-writing, which has been really fun. I’ll send voicemails back and forth with some friends or hop on a Zoom call and write a song. And that’s been a really fun thing, actually, making a lot of music during this time, which I think is important.”
While more songs are being written during this quarantine, Searcy doesn’t believe this means we’ll see more music releases as things return to normal.
“Yes, there will be a lot more songs written, but there’s not gonna be as much passion to record those songs,” Searcy said. “That’s one thing I know a lot of my friends are faced with. (A lot of them) were about ready to start recording or working on new singles to put out. The people that have more resources are going to put out new music, but a lot of my friends have to use this cash to figure out how to pay rent instead of pay for the next single, so that’s a bummer.”
Searcy said he has an optimistic view of the situation and has been amazed at the number of fans showing up and donating to the bands they love.
“I do think that, at the end of the day, people are good and people want to help each other. I think we’re definitely going to see more of that. As we see more need, we’ll see more people willing to help out,” Searcy said. “I always get encouraged by seeing people that are paying a friend’s rent. I think in the midst of hard things, if you look for the people that are helping out, it’s always better.”
Check out Jordy Searcy’s Instagram livestream concerts to benefit out-of-work musicians every Tuesday night at 9:30 p.m. CST.