Tag Archives: covid-19

jay blumenthal

White House Covid-19 Task Force

This July, it became increasingly clear that the Biden Administration’s goal of having 70% of the US population fully vaccinated by July 4th was not going to be achieved. While vaccines have been available, vaccine hesitancy has slowed the rate of getting shots into arms.

As of July 14, 56% of the US population had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 48% were fully vaccinated, but coverage varied widely among different groups. According to The New York Times, 70% of Canadians had received their first dose of a COVID vaccine and 46% had been fully vaccinated. The push to reach the goal of 70% of the US population fully vaccinated continues.

On June 22, 2021, the Arts Entertainment and Media Industries cohort of the Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO (which includes the AFM) met by Zoom with the White House COVID-19 Response Team. During the brief meeting led by Asma Mirza, chief of staff of the team, we discussed vaccination events and the ability of entertainment unions to assist in spreading the word about the importance of getting fully vaccinated. Since musicians’ ability to safely return to work hinges on a high percentage of the population being fully vaccinated, the AFM is very supportive of this White House initiative.

White House Messaging

Getting vaccinated gets us back to normal. Getting fully vaccinated (two doses for most vaccines) is the best way to defeat this virus and get back to safely gathering with family, friends, weddings, sports, and travel. 

The vaccine is free and available to everyone. Vaccines are available at no cost to anyone age 12 and older living in the United States, regardless of immigration or insurance status. Many pharmacies and vaccination sites are now offering walk-in vaccination, so an appointment may not be necessary.

If you have questions, talk to your doctor, pharmacist, or health care provider. Estimates show that 90% of doctors have gotten a shot themselves.

More than 170 million Americans have received a vaccine. They are protected from this deadly virus and are on the path back to normal.

Find a Vaccination Site:

Visit vaccines.gov or vacunas.gov

Text your ZIP Code to 438-829 to find a vaccine near you.

Call the National COVID-19 Vaccination Hotline (1-800-232-0233)

For updates and other material resources, visit wecandothis.hhs.gov.

Returning to Work—Signs of Life

As more people become fully vaccinated, returning to work becomes more realistic. Over the last few months, the initial steps toward musicians returning to work have begun. At the time of this writing, discussions with the Broadway League over Pamphlet B touring are nearing an end and a few shows are scheduled to begin touring in late summer or early fall. COVID-19 safety protocols are part of the current discussions with the Broadway League.

NYC Broadway shows are scheduled to start again in mid-September and many symphony orchestras are announcing their 2021-22 seasons. While there is a long way to go before musicians are able to return to pre-COVID activity levels, the feeling of having turned the corner is a long-awaited and welcomed relief.

Deborah newmark

In Times of Crisis – Finding New Ways to Communicate

by Deborah Newmark, AFM Director of Symphonic Electronic Media

As I write this, we are 15 months into the COVID-19 pandemic and on the threshold of transitioning back to normal in the US. At the start of the pandemic, as musicians all over the world were sent home without any idea of when they would be able to return to work, orchestras in the US found themselves in uncharted waters. The AFM recognized, from the very beginning, that we needed to act fast to make it viable for orchestras to stream content as quickly as possible, while at the same time ensuring that our musicians would continue to be compensated.

The first agreement in March 2020, which was a side letter to the Integrated Media Agreement (IMA), got us through the balance of the 2019-2020 season. The next IMA side letter covered the 2020-2021 season. We now have a new IMA side letter for the 2021-2022 season, which hopefully will be the last one and may not even be needed through the entire season. That would be terrific news!

So how do you measure success under these circumstances? Certainly, the most successful measure by far is that most symphony, opera, and ballet musicians continued to receive compensation at either 100% or at a fairly significant percentage of pre-COVID wages. Most employers worked to ensure their artists would be able to survive, keep their homes, and take care of their families. A small handful of employers chose not to do this, treated their artists abysmally, and left them without any means of support. In our field, they were gratefully in the minority.

And what about our loyal audiences? The introduction of these streaming side letters made it possible for orchestras to release existing content, and in many cases, create new content, to make sure the connection with their audiences remained strong throughout this crisis. The streamed music kept those connections alive and brought solace to our audiences as we all went through this shared, frightening experience.

We saw a burst of creative ideas born out of necessity as we grappled with how to create new content under compromising circumstances. At first, musicians recorded music alone at home. Very few musicians have professional recording equipment at home. Many struggled using their smartphones to capture their performances. The next discovery was the composite video that appeared like a zoom screen where individuals contributed tracks to a unified whole. As the year progressed and small groups of musicians were allowed into venues, we started to see small ensemble programming of chamber music. And finally, we saw venues open to larger ensembles who were then able to start recording traditional symphonic repertoire.

Through all of these stages, opportunities were created for employers and musicians to think outside the box. Musicians provided countless terrific ideas that took advantage of the reduced forces. Musicians found themselves playing repertoire they would not normally play in a traditional symphonic, opera, or ballet setting. It opened the door to a lot of new and interesting musical choices. There is an inherent desire to connect with music. This crisis created an environment of opportunity to create something truly meaningful for both the performers and their audiences.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic produced content outdoors at the Hollywood Bowl, playing to an empty 18,000-seat arena. A drone recorded the vast, empty expanse, capturing the moment in time. The San Francisco Symphony found interesting ways to incorporate musical content into documentaries about the history and culture of their city.

A few opera companies rose to the challenge when faced with restrictions on placing singers in the same room as musicians. The singers and the musicians were recorded separately, and the final product was assembled to great success. In order to do this successfully, we recommended use of the new media provisions of the AFM Basic TV Film Agreement for these direct to streaming releases. We also saw a lot of activity in educational programming created by many orchestras and shared with pre-K, elementary, and high schools all over the US, including classes on Zoom.

Members of the New York Philharmonic took to the road on the back of a bright red open-bed truck, in some cases accompanied by countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo. He joined these spontaneous pop-up concerts all over the five boroughs of New York City. To avoid crowds, none were announced in advance. However, the faces of the appreciative audiences they found at every location showed the power of music.

Times of great challenges can bring opportunity and our orchestras found many new ways to engage in the art form while streaming. They gained valuable experience along the way, which will only help produce better content in the future.

May we never have to experience something like the past 15 months ever again, but what we learned from this time will reap enormous benefits now and in the future.

After COVID-19, Some Patients Face Chronic Symptoms

For those who survive COVID-19, it’s a relief. After weeks, or even months of experiencing the worst of the virus—cough, shortness of breath, fever, exhaustion—you turn the corner and soon expect to be your old self. But it doesn’t happen. There is no longer a live coronavirus running amok in your system, but symptoms persist. Patients with post-COVID conditions describe shortness of breath, joint pain, brain fog, headache, and heart palpitations. Some patients complain of unrelenting fatigue. 

Long COVID Syndrome or post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection, as per the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is the condition in which symptoms continue long after the infection has subsided. Some research indicates that 50% to 80% of patients continue to have symptoms three months after the onset of the virus, and preliminary reports say that up to 30% of COVID-19 survivors might have long-term health concerns. 

Some researchers speculate that initial damage to nerve pathways precipitates a longer recovery. But a big clue for long haulers may be a robust, unabated immune response. “If you have a brand new virus and the virus is winning, the immune system may go into an ‘all hands on deck’ response,” says Dr. Nina Luning Prak, co-author of an NIH study on COVID-19 and the immune system. While all viruses find ways to evade the body’s defenses, a growing field of research suggests that the coronavirus unhinges the immune system more profoundly than previously realized. 

With more patients complaining of lingering and chronic effects from COVID-19, experts say that care for long haulers requires new guidelines and an interdisciplinary approach. Though it primarily attacks the lungs and respiratory system, it is now clear that the virus can target almost any part of the body, including the heart, brain, and nervous system. Following a congressional hearing, the CDC announced that it is issuing long-COVID guidelines for clinicians. 

What’s striking is that post-COVID-19 syndrome is not just afflicting people who were gravely ill with COVID. Young patients, especially, who have weathered mild cases, talk about the debilitating health problems post COVID—and how different their lives are now. Mental health practitioners say the psychological effects cannot be overstated. Physicians attribute depression and anxiety to virus-related stressors or the impact on the brain or vision-vestibular system. 

Laurie Hatcher Merz of Local 30-73 (St. Paul-Minneapolis, MN) is second bassoon/contrabassoon in the Minnesota Opera Orchestra. She contracted COVID early last December. A week after she tested positive, she was quickly losing hearing in her left ear. “It was frightening,” she says. “It started with buzzing and humming. I thought this is a career ender. The loss was significant and very fast.” 

A former student of Merz’s, who is an audiologist, told her to see an ear specialist immediately. Among other things, COVID attacks the vestibular nerve and can leave permanent damage. Merz had bouts of vertigo, one so severe she went into shock and landed in the hospital. After a heavy dose of steroids and physical therapy, her hearing came back at the end of January. Five months after her COVID diagnosis, though, she still has no sense of taste or smell. 

“Emotionally, it drags on,” she says. “For long haulers, there’s an emotional component that doesn’t get a lot of attention.” This, along with losing more than a year of her career to COVID, has been taxing for Merz. She’s recorded with the opera and performed online, but she says, “It’s not how we were trained as musicians. The soul of music is in the interaction of people being together in a hall.” 

“You have to be very creative, explore other talents, to find something that will pay the bills and will be somewhat rewarding.” In between making reeds and managing a lakeside property, she works as a hospice assistant. “It’s hard to form that new life, but still keep music a part of you—still alive and thriving.” 

Merz, who also performs with the choral ensemble VocalEssence and Minnesota Sinfonia, a chamber orchestra, says that the rate of vaccination among the local orchestra community is very high and, in fact, her chamber group offered members a $100 incentive to get a COVID vaccination. 

Recent reports, surveys, and at least one study indicate that some people with lingering COVID symptoms have found some relief after receiving one of the US- and UK-approved vaccines. A nonscientific survey of 450 people by Survivor Corps, one of the first grassroots advocacy groups for COVID-19 survivors, found that 171 people said that their condition improved after vaccination. For her part, Merz tells everyone to get vaccinated. “It’s necessary if we want to eradicate this disease and go back to work.” 

Post Covid-19 clinics are cropping up around the country. Around 30 hospitals have units to help patients struggling with post-COVID disorders and illness. In addition, Congress has provided $1.15 billion in funding over four years for NIH research into the prolonged health consequences of COVID-19. 

COVID-19 Vaccine Data from the CDC: 

  • COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the United States are effective at preventing COVID-19 as seen in clinical trial settings. 
  • Side effects after vaccination are normal. 
  • It typically takes two weeks after vaccination for the body to build protection (immunity) against COVID-19. 
  • A person is not fully vaccinated until two weeks after the second dose of 
    a two-dose vaccine or two weeks after a one-dose vaccine. 

Broadway Tour Discussions Begin as Pandemic Recedes

More than a year after the COVID outbreak prompted the lockdown of global population centers, halting public gatherings, darkening entertainment venues of all sizes, locking out musicians and performers, and eliminating thousands upon thousands of jobs, wheels are now in motion for the reopening of the live entertainment industry and a mid-summer return for concerts, festivals, and Broadway touring productions.

The advent of a return to the road for Broadway touring shows is a welcome development for musicians who travel with the tours and for local musicians who augment the productions in certain locations where the shows are booked.

Last year, during the week of March 15, 2020, a total of 23 AFM-covered touring productions were suspended—shutdown on the road—as a result of the raging spread of coronavirus and government imposed social distancing regimens. The Federation negotiated a shutdown agreement with the Broadway League that provided for cancellation payments and necessary expenses for musicians to return home.

We are now preparing to bargain a successor Pamphlet B and Short Engagement Tours Agreement that will cover musicians who become engaged as the tours resume. It will also impact local employment at certain venues along the tour. AFM touring agreements are administered by our Touring, Theatre, Booking Division, managed and supervised by Director Tino Gagliardi and Associate Director George Fiddler.

Discussions with League representatives during the pandemic shutdown concerning a timeline for a return to the road varied with each conversation. Estimates ranged from late 2020 to early 2021, then late 2021 to early 2022, but were never certain due to the alarming spread of infection, the severity of the disease, and changing expectations for relaxation of social distancing.

The current planned ramp-up for a comeback of Broadway tours coincides with an accelerated vaccination rollout and congressional stimulus money, spurring confidence in a more rapid pandemic recovery and improved economic outlook. Optimism from these developments has prompted performance venues to plan for a return of indoor, full-capacity productions. Regional arts centers want Broadway tours to resume as soon as possible, pointing to the tours as being critical to their recovery.

With vaccines available by mid-May to everyone, regardless of age, producers and venues hope that a safe return to full venue capacity can happen soon thereafter, pending any major problem caused by COVID variants. Arts center managers are indicating that a return to profitability cannot be accomplished unless they can sell 100% of the house. With profits from food and beverage sales still curtailed by pandemic regulations, selling only 80% of the house may not be enough.

Optimism that the resumption of tours can succeed is based on audience retention of pre-COVID tickets. Reportedly, a large percentage of ticket holders did not request a refund on tickets to canceled performances, holding on to their prepandemic tickets to use for rescheduled shows. Venues and presenters see the retention and volume of presold tickets as a sign that substantial consumer demand exists for the return of shows.

In April, theatrical presenters across the country were selling subscription packages and single tickets for 20 Broadway touring productions, some with engagements advertised as early as mid-June. An eight-show subscription series package pitched to theatergoers by a Dallas venue opens with a resumption of the Wicked tour on August 4, for five weeks, followed by touring productions of Hamilton, Hadestown, Frozen, Jersey Boys, Mean Girls, Oklahoma, and Jesus Christ Superstar.

In the Dallas package, the promoter has restricted its single ticket sales. Admission to the most popular shows, such as Wicked and Hamilton, is available only by purchasing a subscription package that includes access to a bundle of other shows. Popular shows are in control of the venues, with promoters using the hit shows to sell tickets to those that are less popular.

While tour producers, venues, and managers believe that demand for Broadway tours is robust and has not diminished during the pandemic shutdown, promoters are wary of taking any kind of hit when reopening their businesses. Negative publicity—increased health risks from COVID variants or press coverage of pending labor disputes—could provide a reason for attendees to avoid the shows, interfering with a clean return to the venues and creating additional financial risk during precarious times.

Despite the optimism from accelerated vaccine programs and economic stimulus, we might still be in limbo. The safety of our talented musicians who travel far from home, performing for diverse audiences, night after night, is of paramount importance. We are musicians. We do not produce the shows and we do not operate the venues. We will not assume the producer’s risk. But, as we all struggle to emerge and return to some sense of normalcy and security in our artistic lives and livelihoods, we realize that the day of absolute certainly may never arrive.

When we meet the League for our Pamphlet B discussions, our negotiating team will include members of the International Executive Board, Division Director Tino Gagliardi, Associate Director George Fiddler, a representative from the Theatre Musicians Association (TMA) player conference­, led by TMA President Tony D’Amico of Local 9-535 (Boston, MA), together with the presidents of Local 5 (Detroit, MI), Local 6 (San Francisco, CA), Local 9-535, Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL), Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), Local 72-147 (Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX), Local 149 (Toronto, ON), plus rank-and-file traveling musician representatives Susan French of Local 802 (New York City) and Elaine Davidson of Local 72-147.

As the Federation prepares for these negotiations, our team will meet to identify, articulate, and prioritize our members’ needs and develop plans of action to address those needs. To achieve our goals, we will compile and analyze necessary information. We will use every means at our disposal to focus, sharpen, and deploy union power.

We will employ every pound of leverage we have to obtain a fair agreement, not only for those who perform in the orchestra pits, but in the interests of patrons and the public as well.


As We All Go Back to Work, Know Your Value

by Terryl Jares, International Executive Board Member and President of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL)

As the world begins to get back to normal, albeit what will most likely be a new normal, we will go back to work. For many of us, this has been more than a year without real employment. The ability to bring our talents to live and appreciative audiences was abruptly taken away by a relentless virus of which we had limited control.

Things are beginning to look brighter as we turn the corner and get back to work. However, it is extremely important to assess your value and know your self-worth. Understanding your musical abilities, remembering what you bring to the workplace, and the contributions you make to musical products are essential as we return to work.

First, you must have positive self-esteem. Feel comfortable with yourself and your abilities. Approach work with confidence and professionalism. Prepare yourself to go back to work and be ready when the time comes. To quote the tennis great Arthur Ashe, “One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.”

Next, strive to make a difference. Whatever opportunity lies ahead of you, do your best to meet the challenge. If you are called to serve on a negotiating team, accept the role. Get involved and work to improve your contract. Know what your peers want and work toward achieving those goals. You may not get all you ask for, but you sure won’t get anything if you don’t ask for it.

Try to find and accept work that is exciting and fulfilling. We all have had gigs that we took just for the money and others that we truly enjoyed. Those that were fulfilling stick in our memories, add to our positive attitude, and enhance our creativity. As hard as it might be, try to avoid performances that are stressful and aggravating. They challenge your self-esteem and are not worth the money you may earn.

Finally, set financial goals and don’t allow yourself to undercharge for your musical talent—especially now, at a time when most venues had to abruptly shut down, dates were postponed or canceled, and everyone is struggling to get back on their feet. It may seem appropriate to discount your value or give added services. Employers will offer wages below union rates or even ask you to perform for free. There is a temptation to take the work just to get back into playing. Remember, unionism is based on setting wage standards that allow each of us to earn a living wage. We are stronger when we work together. This solidarity is the core of our existence and one we all must strive to achieve.

The American Rescue Plan: In Unity There is Strength

As I write this column (March 12, 2021) the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, with its relief provisions for multiemployer pension plans, has passed the Senate, was approved by the House of Representatives, and was signed into law by President Biden. If there were ever a day to celebrate the power of collective action and concerted activity, to pay tribute to grassroots political organizing, to unionism and the determination by organized labor to protect and improve the lives of tens of millions of workers and preserve the dignity of retirees, today is that day.

When the Butch Lewis Emergency Pension Relief Act of 2021 was introduced by House Ways and Means Committee Chairperson Richard Neal (D-MA) and was included as part of the larger COVID-19 supplemental bill (now known as the American Rescue Plan), I huddled with Federation National Legislative Director Alfonso Pollard and asked him to head up an “all hands on deck” Federation-wide lobbying effort to help keep the pension provisions in the omnibus supplemental bill, and then push the final legislation across the goal line.

Alfonso and his team rose to the occasion. Our voices, and those of other union members, were heard. AFM members, active and retiree participants, and employers in the American Federation of Musicians and Employers Pension (AFM-EP) Fund will feel the positive effects of the American Rescue Plan for many years to come.

Despite the deeply divided partisan attitudes in Congress toward the American Rescue Plan, 61% of Americans supported its passage. It includes direct stimulus payments and supplemental unemployment benefits—all desperately needed by out-of-work musicians and performers who may be the last to return to work when the pandemic eventually recedes. It also sends billions in aid to hard-hit state and municipal governments to offset COVID costs and to provide help with delinquent mortgage payments, back rent, and utility payments for the jobless, including struggling gig workers.

Passed under the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and their leadership teams of Richard Neal (D-MA) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) in the House and Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) in the Senate, the American Rescue Plan contains a number of provisions that provide substantial relief to multiemployer pension plans that have been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the AFM-EP Fund. Employer contributions to our Fund have been decimated by job losses from government-imposed pandemic-related shutdowns caused by an abrupt halt in employment in the live entertainment industry last year.

The COVID crisis increased the urgency for pension relief. It has been estimated that absent this critical legislation, millions of Americans would have eventually lost significant percentages of their retirement incomes. Thousands of businesses would have been forced into bankruptcy costing tens of thousands of workers their jobs.

But for participants in our pension fund, the American Rescue Plan, with its embedded pension fund assistance, could not have been adopted a moment too soon because it eliminates the need for benefit reductions. The legislation creates a new special program of financial assistance at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) to provide troubled plans with funds needed to pay full, unreduced participant benefits for 30 years (until 2051).

We want to thank every senator and member of Congress that voted to adopt this important legislation. These lawmakers knew what we needed. They knew what we were up against, and they chose to help professional musicians and the working people of our country. We all also owe a huge debt of gratitude to all of our Federation officers and staff for their steadfast support, and particularly Alfonso Pollard, who designed and oversaw AFM’s massive lobbying effort that mobilized thousands of members and Fund participants to contact Capitol Hill during the crucial weeks leading up to final Congressional consideration. That effort brought together Director of Organizing Michael Manley, Lead Organizer Alex Tindal Wiesendanger, and player conference heads John Michael Smith (Regional Orchestra Players Association), Meredith Snow (International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians), Marc Sazer (Recording Musicians Association), and Tony D’Amico (Theatre Musicians Association), who together spearheaded a Zoom call outreach, targeting support from lawmakers in key congressional districts.

While we rejoice in this historic legislative success, we are also mindful of our responsibility as a union to protect the Fund from future shortfalls by negotiating increased employer contributions in successor collective bargaining agreements. To do that, we have to get back to work. Still, no one can say with any degree of certainty when social distancing restrictions will be lifted, or when our various communities will be deemed safe enough to risk reopening our performance venues so that professional musicians can begin to recover from the disruption of this pandemic.

But when you are back on the concert stage, in the theater pits, in the arenas, restaurants, and clubs, performing in venues of every size and shape, please remember that the American Rescue Act protected your pension. It happened because of Unity. We never took our eye off the ball. We elected lawmakers who cared about us, and they had the courage to act. Unity is our power. In Unity there is strength.

IMA COVID Side Letter – Take 2

On March 8, the AFM reached agreement with the Employers’ Electronic Media Association (EMA) on a new Integrated Media Agreement (IMA) COVID Side Letter for the 2021-22 season. This agreement is available to IMA signatories whose musicians are guaranteed compensation for the 2021-22 season.

We had certainly hoped that we would return to some semblance of normalcy over the course of the 2020-21 season. That did not turn out to be the case, although we do have some orchestras performing in front of live audiences. However, it has become evident that we need to continue with the model we had in place for the current season for those orchestras that want to continue utilizing the free streaming rights contained in the 2020-21 IMA COVID Side Letter in exchange for a commitment to once again guarantee to compensate musicians at one of four tiers available in the agreement.

In August 2020, the AFM entered into the first full-year IMA COVID Side Letter with the EMA to help orchestras navigate the expected challenges for the 2020-21 season during the COVID crisis. Many orchestras took advantage of the side letter. In addition to the EMA version, we also offered a version of the side letter to those orchestras signed to the Individual Employer IMA. Eligibility to use the side letter required the employer to commit to a level of guaranteed compensation for the current season. The level selected put an orchestra into one of four tiers. Each tier came with a package of free streaming rights—the higher the tier, the larger the monthly streaming package. Signatory orchestras were able to post programs using existing archival material and those orchestras working at Tiers 3 and 4 of the IMA side letter could create new content in accordance with the terms of the agreement.

The 2021-22 IMA COVID-19 Side Letter

The new agreement is essentially identical to the 2020-21 COVID Side Letter. It retains the same tier structure and compensation requirements, with the same allocation of monthly streaming minutes tied to each tier. The agreement permits archival streaming in all four tiers, educational content in tiers 2, 3, and 4, and in the top two tiers offers the ability to stream newly created content of “performances” and provides some expanded volunteer promotional recording. The number of available minutes of content for both archival and new content varies by tier.

As in the 2020-21 side letter, the “Newly Created Capture” provisions (available at Tiers 3 and 4) address the issue of what constitutes a “performance” for purposes of media capture when there is no audience present in the hall or even a reduced audience. The regular IMA permits capture in performance (and in some cases, rehearsals) for a variety of releases under the agreement but establishes a separate “special call” rate for services called solely for the purposes of recording when no audience is present. The AFM and the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) and the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) media committees felt strongly that “performances” without an audience present must not be allowed to morph into multi-take recording sessions, and the agreement reflects that commitment. The IMA signatory orchestras that choose not to work under the side letter with a Tier 3 or 4 compensation commitment, but who want to create new content in the absence of an audience, must pay their musicians the special call rate for the capture plus the applicable release rate under the IMA.

Under the side letter, the media wages for the amounts and types of streaming distribution covered by the agreement are waived, so long as the employer maintains compensation and benefits, including health insurance, at the level required. All other terms of the IMA remain in place.

Term of Agreement

The one change from the 2020-21 IMA COVID Side Letter is the term of agreement. The employer’s right to use the provisions of the side letter will be available until 180 days after such time as the relevant governmental authorities permit resumption of public performance without restriction on audience capacity (no COVID-related restrictions on the number of patrons permitted to be present in the hall) and the employer is actually able to resume public performance without COVID-related restrictions on the number of patrons permitted to be present in the hall or June 15, 2022, whichever comes first.  This will allow for some additional time to transition and to continue using the side letter even after audiences are allowed to return.

The same circumstances we faced at the beginning of the 2020-21 season remain as we head into next season. Some states will open the doors to concert halls sooner than others. Vaccination numbers continue to rise. However, we are not yet at a point where we can safely get the entire orchestra back on stage and full-capacity audiences back in our concert halls. Streaming remains vitally important.

We continue to work closely with the ICSOM and ROPA media committees about how best to help our organizations through this challenging time in ways that will provide streaming content, both old and new, to share with our audiences while at the same time ensuring compensation for our musicians.

It is our fervent hope that our orchestras will soon return to performing in front of their beloved audiences. In the meantime, this agreement will continue to make it possible to maintain that connection as we await our return to the concert hall.

If you are interested in learning more about the agreement or you would like to discuss your IMA orchestra becoming signatory to the new agreement, please contact me at dnewmark@afm.org or by phone at 646-269-1823 or 212-869-1330 ext. 225.

Wind Musicians’ Risk Assessment in the Time of COVID-19

by Adam T. Schwalje MD, DMA and Henry T. Hoffman MD

COVID-19 is a severe and dangerous disease. Its heart-wrenching infectivity and virulence hit home for many musicians, as we learned of the several choirs which were affected by superspreading events early in the pandemic. One was in Amsterdam, where 102 of 130 participants wound up with coronavirus infection; one in Washington state, where 52 of 60 participants were infected; and at least two others in Europe. Several choir members unfortunately died as a result. These were early hints that singing itself might be risky. The risks were strong enough that an alarm was raised by Dr. Lucinda Halstead and others in a National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) webinar, leading many—including the Metropolitan Opera—to forego their upcoming seasons.

Because of similarities to singing, there is concern that wind players might also be at additional risk for spread of COVID-19. It is vitally important to be clear about the current uncertainties in COVID-19 risk assessment for the wind instrumentalist.

Novel coronavirus continues its rapid spread throughout the world. Infections with SARS-CoV-2 are increasing and number more than 12.2 million worldwide, with over 550,000 deaths reported as of July 10—and many more likely unreported due to well-publicized issues with testing and the high prevalence of asymptomatic infection.

The pandemic is serious and deadly. According to various medical studies, more than 1 in 3,000 Americans have died from the disease so far. Symptoms are gradual in onset and flu-like, however, many infected individuals are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic and still infectious. It is likely that COVID-19 is several times more deadly than influenza, which itself is a dangerous disease. Most deaths from COVID-19 are in those who are elderly and/or have serious pre-existing conditions. However, over 15 percent of US deaths—numbering over 17,000—have been in people younger than 65 years.

The spread of SARS-CoV-2 is mostly by droplets or aerosol. The larger droplets can deposit on surfaces, while smaller droplets and aerosols can hang in the air and remain infectious. The smallest aerosols may lead to more serious disease, as they can be inhaled further into the lungs. The six-foot radius of safety is commonly mentioned as a distance over which larger droplets will not remain airborne, but, for example, if an infected individual is coughing in a small room, the air in the room can remain infectious for some time due to aerosols. An international group of 238 scientists recently authored a paper in Nature highlighting evidence for airborne spread of SARS-CoV-2 via microdroplets, leading the World Health Organization (WHO) to acknowledge an urgent need to further study the importance of aerosols in the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

Musicians and SARS-CoV-2
K-12 programs, collegiate programs, and orchestras are struggling to imagine how they might survive the tremendous challenges represented by COVID-19. Despite the ongoing pandemic, a few orchestras are already back to work, and many music programs and ensembles are making plans to resume operations.

It is understandable to wonder what the additional risks are for wind musicians, above the non-zero background risk of COVID-19 spread. How might we mitigate these risks for ourselves, our colleagues, audiences, students, and families? Some groups have put out detailed guidelines which purport to reduce risk of transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Others have put out blanket statements to the effect that any potential risk of infection or transmission of the virus from wind playing is essentially gone as long as proper social distancing and other precautions are being observed. The risks are unknown, but they are assuredly not zero.

Scientific and Ethical Underpinnings
It is more important than ever to read studies and guidelines with a critical eye and keep in mind the basics of scientific inquiry. A scientific study would cite sources and be peer reviewed, in the case of COVID-19, it would have the input of a physician or infectious disease specialist, and would be clear about who is producing the study and any conflicts of interest. The ability to replicate results is crucial. Musicians who do rely on the conclusions of non-reproducible studies might underestimate either the risks of their activities or the uncertainty involved in assessment of these risks. Unfortunately, there are several recent, widely circulated, pseudo-scientific assessments of risk and risk mitigation strategies for wind musicians. The good news is that there are several scientific studies on these questions also, most of which are still ongoing.

If we assume there’s no risk, or if we assert that unstudied risk mitigation procedures work, then people can’t make an informed decision about whether to put themselves in those potentially risky situations. Also, if there is at least an acknowledgement of risk, then those who are at greater personal risk from COVID-19 (the elderly, those with co-morbidities, etc.) may be able to seek accommodations for risk mitigation from their local governments. In the US, for example, this might be accomplished through the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Specific Risks of Wind Playing

The Issue of Aerosols
Much attention has been given to the risks of singing, largely because of early superspreading events. The mechanism of singing requires deep breathing, vibration of the vocal folds, active manipulation of the larynx, pharynx, tongue, and lips, and produces aerosols which can hang in the air for at least hours. Some individuals produce significantly more aerosol than others, for unknown reasons.

Risks of playing a wind instrument are probably different than those involved in singing, though there are similarities. The flute, for example, creates a strong airflow, though other instruments do not. But airflow does not tell the whole story. Playing a wind instrument involves deep breathing, sometimes forceful exhalation, and possible aerosolization of the mucus in the mouth and nose, along with secretions from deeper airway structures. The only peer-reviewed, published study on a wind “instrument” and aerosolization investigated the vuvuzela and found significant aerosol production. There is, therefore, at least a theoretical risk of droplet or aerosol transmission during wind performance, but more study needs to be done.

Two often-referenced recent studies, one from Vienna Philharmonic and one from Freiburg University, investigated airflow and wind instrument playing. Neither of these were peer-reviewed or published in a journal. Neither of these addressed aerosol generation, which is the main issue, as aerosols can hang in the air for extended periods of time and can be infectious. Dispersion of aerosols was hinted at in both studies, but dispersion is dependent on external factors like room airflow and mixing dynamics, which were not examined in either paper.

A lack of evidence about aerosol generation and elements of aerosol dispersion is explicitly noted in the Freiburg review. Even if there is minimal airflow from playing, if aerosols are produced especially in the context of deep breathing, there is a risk of spreading the aerosols around the environment. This risk is not quantifiable at the moment. Several centers in the US are investigating aerosol production from wind instrumentalists, these include University of Colorado at Boulder, Colorado State University, Rice University, and University of Maryland.

Other behaviors associated with wind playing might also be risky: Wind players buzz on their mouthpieces, blow out tone holes, blow out spit valves, clean their instruments with swabs and feathers, and might have leaking embouchures or nasal emissions during playing. How to mitigate these risks is not yet known, though many approaches have been suggested and are even being put into use.

One example is the use of disposable rags to blow out spit valves for brass musicians. This is intuitively cleaner and less likely to spread infection than, for example, emptying them onto the bare floor for everyone to track around—but the potential for aerosolization if any force is used to expel the contents, for example, is not known.

Another strategy is use of shields of plexiglass surrounding wind players. This strategy has not been studied for wind musicians, but is reminiscent of (though not entirely similar to) the idea of using polycarbonate face shields to protect healthcare workers from aerosol spread—effective in the short term to protect from an infected patient coughing in one’s face, but after 30 minutes during which aerosols mixed with surrounding air the face shield was found to be ineffective.

The risk of aerosol production posed by wind instrument performance is not known, though there are several indications that it might exceed background risk of COVID-19 transmission. Studies on this risk, and the effectiveness of risk mitigation strategies, have not yet been completed.

Reedmaking is a large part of many people’s livelihoods. But, it is important to recognize that there are no guidelines, no US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations, no EPA or FDA recommendations, and very little science that specifically supports or instructs on how to make a reed safe from coronavirus. There is no validated method that will eliminate the risk of viral transmission from reeds. The safest approach would be to treat all reeds as if they are infectious: to not work on others’ reeds and not share reeds with others. This can be difficult, especially for double reed players.
CDC guidelines which have been referenced by some reedmakers, like the suggestion for a soak in 70% alcohol, are designed for disinfecting already clean surfaces. Unfortunately, reeds are not like other typically studied surfaces. Played-upon reeds include proteins, respiratory secretions, and dead skin, in addition to the structure of the reed itself—all of which would probably tend to stabilize the virus, according to multiple studies. The CDC has no recommendations on how long, or with what, to soak or process a reed to render it safe from coronavirus.

There is some timeframe, of unknown duration, during which virus particles deposited on and in a reed will lose their ability to infect a new host. Unfortunately, it is unclear how long coronavirus particles remain infectious on or in items like reeds. The closest available comparison is with cardboard, on which virus particles seem to remain infectious for a relatively short time (24 hours compared to 72 hours or more for solid surfaces). However, SARS-CoV-2 remained infectious on a wooden board for at least 96 hours. In any case, the materials tested to draw these conclusions are not soaked in someone’s mouth for hours on end, and these types of tests generally exclude presence of other substances like proteins.

Therefore, applicability to reeds in a real-world situation is unknown.
Another theoretical option for reed disinfection is a high-temperature soak (e.g., at 77 degrees C or 170 degrees F, for 30 min), which is more conservative than the 30 minutes at 65 degrees C used for heat inactivation of commercially available SARS-CoV-2. This might be a way to ensure that the entire reed is disinfected—though this method has yet to be validated.
For cleaning and disinfecting reedmaking equipment, a reedmaker might be able to use resources like the CDC’s Interim Recommendations for Cleaning and Disinfection for Households or the EPA’s list of disinfectants to use against COVID-19. Knives and other reed tools should be treated like food preparation equipment; potentially dangerous chemicals should be removed from their surfaces before use.

Putting one’s mouth on a reed which has been sucked on by another person is not without risk in the COVID-19 era. It is impossible to quantify this risk. It is likely that some procedure like heating in water or waiting for a specified time decreases this risk, but it is impossible to say how much the risk is reduced with this or any other method. To support those who choose to wait for some length of time before using a reed which has been played by others, reeds should be marked with their date of last play-testing. Using a “sanitizing procedure” could give a false sense of security but is probably better than doing nothing, if there is no alternative to sharing.

Music Education
Less-experienced players are more likely to have leakage of air around the embouchure, to have stress velopharyngeal incompetence or nasal emissions, and to work harder to produce sound—all of which may create more risk of aerosol production and subsequent COVID-19 spread.
Practice rooms are small spaces which might easily be filled with aerosol. These particles may take hours to settle and could still remain infectious on surfaces even when settled from the air. Appropriate ventilation and cleaning precautions should be used, with some minimum time required before cleaning and re-use.

In K-12 school music and collegiate methods courses, sharing and storage of instruments present another set of challenges. While brass instruments can probably be effectively cleaned using the CDC guidelines for surfaces, using an instrument brush/hot soapy water for cleaning followed by a disinfectant wash, it is unclear how other instruments, made of delicate woods, felts, and corks, can be cleaned or disinfected. Careful management of a full class of school-age recorder players, in this context, would be difficult. The instrument storage room presents additional possibilities for spread of potentially infectious droplets.

Unknown Risks
The risks of wind playing in the COVID-19 era are unknown. There is a possibility, currently being studied, that the risks of wind playing and associated behaviors are greater than baseline risk of spread of COVID-19. This has wide ramifications as programs are attempting to re-open. Acknowledging the risks and attempting to mitigate them is important—but should not lull musicians into a false sense of security. Unfortunately, the available scientific evidence is too scant to reliably inform decisions about risk mitigation strategies for wind musicians. Musicians should be empowered to make their own decisions based on their individual risk tolerance. Leaders should be cautious in their representations of risk and clear about uncertainty regarding the efficacy of risk mitigation strategies.


This article has not been peer reviewed. There is no external funding source. It represents the general opinions of Drs. Schwalje and Hoffman and is not intended to offer or replace specific medical advice. If you have questions about your medical situation or your specific risks regarding COVID-19, please contact your physician.

For a list of the references used in completing this article, see https://rb.gy/ack7vw

Dr. Adam Schwalje is a resident physician and National Institutes of Health T32 research fellow in the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. He also holds the DMA in bassoon performance from the University of Cincinnati College – Conservatory of Music. He has played in professional orchestras and been a music educator, and is currently the medical liaison for the International Double Reed Society.

Dr. Henry Hoffman is Professor of Otolaryngology at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. He is director of the Voice Clinic and is involved in research addressing laryngeal pathophysiology. His bands, occasionally including bassoon, can be heard throughout southeast Iowa.


Getting Through This Crisis

We have all been hunkered down for over two months now while confronting the most formidable health emergency in a century. The current pandemic has created serious challenges for members, locals, and the Federation. In what seemed like overnight, the music industry came to a screeching halt, leaving musicians unemployed, sheltered in place, and wondering when the next paying gig will be allowed to take place. Broadway theaters, concert halls, nightclubs, recording studios, venues large and small have been closed.

Shelter-in-place directives have forced the temporary closure of all our Federation offices, while most AFM employees continue to work remotely. The Federation has been focused on ensuring musicians were eligible for unemployment benefits available from states and the federal supplemental amount added to the state benefit. While small businesses can avail themselves of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) helping small businesses keep their employees on the payroll, this support has not been made available to unions. As AFM revenue streams have been severely compromised, locals and the Federation are feeling the effects. While a short duration can be withstood, it has become increasingly clear that this will not be over anytime soon.

In fact, the experts are predicting it will be at least 12 to 18 months before an effective vaccine will become available—and that’s just a best guess. While other businesses may be able to engage in a careful, phased-in opening, it’s hard to imagine the public being willing to enter a concert hall or a theater anytime before a proven effective vaccine is widely available. So we must be ready to endure this for the long term.

Whether a member, a local, or the Federation, preserving resources, reducing expenses, and creating efficiencies are necessary at this time. Before making any purchase, ask yourself if you really need to make this purchase now or can it wait for when times improve? Better yet, ask yourself if you really need to make the purchase at all.

Before COVID-19 changed all our lives, the prevailing financial advice had been to keep six to nine months of emergency funds available for necessary expenses in a crisis. Now, based on the predicted 12 to 18 months it will take to return to some sort of “new normal,” it has become clear the six to nine months of reserves is insufficient.

There will be many lessons learned by all of us as individuals and together as a country while we navigate our way through the current crisis. As individuals, we need to be prepared mentally, physically, and financially for various situations that may well have profound consequences. As a country, I’d like to think we have learned that allowing most of our manufacturing jobs to leave our shores creates a national security risk. Being dependent on other countries to supply us with critical supplies during a crisis can be fraught with danger.

It has been a painful experience for all of us, especially those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. As I hear about some of our AFM members lost to this pandemic, I think about how they spent their lives bringing the joy of music to so many. What a wonderful legacy they have left us all, although their lives were cut short much too early. We will miss them dearly.

Finally, I urge everyone to stay safe and healthy. Please don’t give up hope. I am so looking forward to the day we can all return to the concert halls, theaters, night clubs, and all venues where live music can once again enrich all our lives.

new reality

The New Reality for Musicians: How Our Union is Working For Us and How We Can All Adapt to the New Environment

new reality
Dallas Symphony Orchestra

We are more than two months into the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide quarantine, with just a glimmer of hope beginning to shine that society and the economy may start opening back up soon. But even a Phase 1 reopening will not much help musicians, whose profession relies on people in close contact, whether it is in studio, onstage, in a restaurant or bar, or at a large outdoor live music venue. Musicians practice a communal craft, and, currently, musicians are nearly 100% unemployed.

But that does not mean musicians have been forgotten or neglected, that their interests are being ignored. The AFM—at the local, national, and international levels—has been fighting tirelessly for its members’ rights and needs.

It also does not mean that union musicians have no outlet for their creativity. The new reality is a digital one, in which musicians have transitioned to online existence in order to keep creating, marketing, and sharing their music.

Our Union on the Job

The April issue of International Musician detailed what the AFM had done up to that point to respond to the coronavirus crisis and to assist and protect its members. Since then, union members have relentlessly continued working: lobbying state and federal legislators to include musicians in all relief legislation, ensuring financial and health assistance is available for its members, directing members to further assistance, keeping track of employers and holding them responsible for adhering to union contracts for pay, benefits, and residuals; and creating new, necessary side letters and contracts to expand flexibility in existing contracts, thereby ensuring nobody gets left out of the new reality of the music and entertainment industry.

As President Hair and AFM Legislative Director Alfonso Pollard have explained and will continue to explain every month in these pages, the AFM has been on the front lines in Washington fighting for musicians’ recognition as affected employees in the US economy. After the first national coronavirus relief legislation became law, the AFM, joining with other industry unions and organizations, decried the egregious absence of freelancers, independent contractors, and part-time workers—or W2 wage earners—from the bill, and fought to remedy the situation the subsequent legislation. The AFM is also fighting to ensure that once a return to work is underway, musicians are not forgotten in terms of opening venues, limiting audiences, and ensuring healthy workplaces.

Up north, the Canadian office likewise fought for employment insurance for gig workers, joined a task force to fight for the entertainment industry, and participated in a second coalition of organizations to identify long-term issues of wages, benefits, and safety once musicians return to work. The AFM is present in talks at the highest levels, as shown in Vice President from Canada Alan Willaert’s column last month, in which he was on a conference call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

On the symphonic side of things, with regular season concerts completely suspended and cancelations for summer seasons beginning to roll in, symphony orchestras in the US and Canada have turned to digital means to maintain connection with their donors, patrons, subscribers, and local communities. The most creative and effective of these strategies capitalize on each orchestra’s unique place in its community and help reinforce the orchestra’s existing “brand.”

new reality

Many orchestras are using content for which musicians previously received payment under the Symphony, Opera or Ballet Integrated Media Agreement (“IMA”) or other AFM agreements and which is still in a “rights period” during which the employer is entitled to distribute it via streaming. Other symphonic employers are availing themselves of streaming opportunities pursuant to a COVID-19 IMA Side Letter, which provides flexibility to stream archived concerts via a private link, password-protected site, or to individuals who provide contact information and agree to receive marketing from the employer. Some are taking advantage of both paid-for media and archival streaming pursuant to the Side Letter.

The IMA and COVID-19 Side Letters also allow for the creation and distribution of more informal “promotional” content, including pieces that rely on the over-layering of individual home recordings to generate a virtual ensemble. Individual orchestra musicians (and the numerous musician couples sheltering together) speak and perform directly from their living rooms and home studios, reaching homebound audiences with an unprecedented degree of intimacy, despite the physical separation. These projects have artistic value but function most vividly to reinforce the shared experience of musician and concertgoer, both temporarily exiled from the concert hall. While these conditions are not ideal, these smaller, individual offerings are unique and let our audiences see and hear the talents of our exceptional musicians in a way they probably never have before.

AFM agreements to expand flexibility for streaming during this crisis period are predicated in every case on the employer continuing to compensate musicians pursuant to the terms of the CBA, whether or not services can occur. Orchestras that have over the years accumulated significant recorded archives are taking this opportunity to share historic performances with their audiences. Some are building more robust digital platforms that will also host newly created content when musicians return to their stages and orchestra pits. The current expansion of digital distribution will have a lasting effect on how orchestras and their audiences interact.

Similarly, projects recorded under AFM agreements administered by the Electronic Media Services Division can and have resulted in much needed income for musicians. As EMSD Director Pat Varriale explains in his column this month, re-broadcasts of daytime talk shows and taped performances done under union contracts, as well as documentaries containing clips licensed from signatory companies, have resulted in significant reuse payments to the musicians on those shows, which is a great boon during the current pandemic.

The AFM and its members are also doing their part to help raise funds for their brothers and sisters (both inside the union and in their own communities), whether it be by participating in large fundraising events or by hosting smaller online livestreams. On April 26, a historic all-Canadian special television broadcast, Stronger Together, Tous Ensemble, raised more than $8 million for Food Banks Canada. The 90-minute special—done under an AFM contract—was broadcast on hundreds of TV, radio, streaming, and on-demand platforms and featured nearly 100 Canadian artists, activists, actors, and athletes, including union musicians such as Sarah McLachlan of Local 145 (Vancouver, BC), Geddy Lee of Local 149 (Toronto, ON), Charlotte Cardon of Local 406 (Montreal, PQ), Sam Roberts of Local 406, Randy Bachman of Local 145, and Jann Arden of Local 547 (Calgary, AB), among others.

On a smaller scale, 30-year AFM member Ray Chew of Local 802 (New York City) hosted a four-part virtual series on Facebook Live to raise funds for union freelancers who have been impacted by COVID-19. Each episode featured music by and interviews with some of music’s greatest artists. The series was done in conjunction with the AFM, and was also promoted by the AFL-CIO.

New Performance Reality

new normal
Boston Pops Orchestra

Since social gatherings are prohibited across North America, the new performance reality for musicians is digital. Like Ray Chew, many musicians are taking to Facebook and other social media outlets like Instagram, YouTube, Twitch, and more, to not only showcase their music, but to support their fellow musicians and human beings, and hopefully to even make some income.

The Boston Pops Orchestra, under the direction of Keith Lockhart—all members of Local 9-535 (Boston, MA)—recently posted a musical video tribute on YouTube, Summon the Heroes, featuring the work originally composed by John Williams for the 1996 Olympic Games as a tribute to first responders. John Williams, also a member of Local 9-535 and Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), joined the virtual tribute with a musical and spoken introduction taped from his home studio in Los Angeles.

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra—like so many orchestras in the US and Canada—put on a virtual orchestra performance about one month after quarantines started.  They performed the final movement of Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, and did it under the volunteer promotional provisions of the IMA.

DSO harpist Emily Levin of Local 72-147 (Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX), wrote about it in the Dallas Morning News, and came away from the experience inspired by her colleagues. She stated she expected everyone to just record their parts at home and send them to her for editing, but instead she found the string players worked together to coordinate their bowings, the woodwinds came up with recording systems that allowed them to tune to one another, and players recorded multiple takes and created videos of the highest musical and technical quality.

“They went to extraordinary lengths to make the project a success,” she wrote. This made her realize that her fellow musicians were committed to the same level of artistic excellence they strive for every week while playing live. “That spirit of camaraderie was still thriving in the DSO, even though we had to stay separate,” Levin wrote. “The virtual art we created may be only a taste of the joy that comes from being enveloped by the sound of a live orchestra, but I hope it reminds us all of what we can look forward to experiencing, once we are together again.”

Numerous orchestras across North America are turning to the internet to post virtual concerts to keep their fans happy and their brands alive and relevant. Thomas Derthick, principal bassist with the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera and president of Local 12 (Sacramento, CA) told Sacramento Magazine that he encourages supporters of the arts to help keep music alive by donating the cost of tickets that have already been purchased back to the respective orchestras.

“That cash will help keep the doors open for the arts organizations. This is true for theater, for dance and for anything else,” he said. “The sooner we can share our work in person, in the flesh, in the room with an acoustic, with people, the better for humanity.”

While virtual concerts are keeping musicians playing, they are not paying the bills or promoting musicians the way gigs did before quarantine.” Derthick said he has seen the “heartbreak” from his fellow union musicians across northern California. “Our local, like so many in the Federation, is facing major challenges as our work dues income has now evaporated. In the meantime, the work continues as we seek PPP monies from employers for our members,” he said.

In an interview with WUTC 88.1 Chattanooga’s NPR station, Taylor Brown, principal bass of The Chattanooga Symphony and Opera and president of The Tri-State Musicians Union, Local 80 (Chattanooga, TN), said how musicians endure the current crisis of their profession depends on their individual situations. Some musicians do nothing but play and perform, while others have additional forms of income that are still viable. Brown is in the latter category, but still, he says, the future is “concerning.”

“When all of this started many of us lost about a month of work in a day, and now it’s stretched on for a few weeks, and I personally have lost five months of work,” he said. “And it takes a long time to get that stuff accrued, to become in demand and go to just so you can have a year of work; and very quickly it went away.”

new normal
Dallas Symphony Orchestra

Brown says that turning to the internet to produce music, as many musicians are, is “helpful” and “a good option to have right now,” but nothing can replace in-person contact, performance, and collaboration. “I’m very concerned about 1) when will we get to go back to work, and 2) what will that look like? Large gatherings are crucial to music-making and art-making. I wonder when will we do it, and will people be hesitant to gather again? I certainly hope not, but it would make sense,” he said.

Guitarist and singer Phil “The Tremolo King” Vanderyken of Local 174-496 (New Orleans, LA) also wrote about his concerns in a recent opinion piece on
www.godisinthetvzine.co.uk. “Streaming took away our ability to sell recorded music, and Corona took away our ability to gig and tour for God knows how long. So, strictly speaking, we have lost all our streams of income,” he wrote. “But giving up won’t do. We must find another way. We have to rethink the entire industry … along lines of solidarity and cooperation.”

Vanderyken stated that not only do musicians need to work together, but so do musicians and business owners and tech companies. He believes musicians need to embrace the idea of new business models: co-op venues, co-op labels or management companies, pooling resources to increase efficiency and reduce overhead. Also, streaming rates need to be raised, consumers need to be educated about the economic realities of streaming for musicians, and musicians need to look at owning their own tech infrastructures and start-ups and thereby cut out the companies that give the content creators a pittance as a handout.

Interestingly, just last month, Facebook announced plans to allow users to charge for livestreams, which would provide a way for musicians and other creators to monetize their performances and events on the platform. The company also announced it will be expanding its “Stars” tipping system to musicians, although, as Variety.com pointed out, with a $.01 tip per star, “a bag of groceries will require a galaxy of stars.”

Some musicians have moved from livestreaming on Facebook to creating subscription-based Patreon platforms so they can make some sort of income off their craft. “The response to the livestream has been overwhelming and very touching …  but I, and all of my musician friends, have begun to realize that it may be up to a year or more before people are comfortable sitting in a jazz club or a concert hall,” stated Local 802 jazz pianist Fred Hersch when announcing his recent switch to the Patreon platform.

Professor Gigi Johnson of the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music and host of the Innovating Music podcast says the new quarantine reality is rapidly changing the music industry on numerous fronts. The first and most obvious change regards performance venues. Virtual concerts and drive-in concerts—such as those happening in European countries—are the new normal. The “tremendous consumption of online content” is “creating new ways for musicians to connect with fans and audiences often without an intermediary,” Johnson says. This can actually increase artists’ branding, sales, and exposure in ways they may not otherwise have achieved simply by playing live gigs.

However, the new question now is not just when will we go back to live performances, but what will consumers want to do when we can go back? Will outdoor performances become more prevalent because the risk of coronavirus exposure is less than in indoor settings, or will virtual performances be a greater draw because that has become the norm?

Johnson says she also sees union organizing increasing, especially in European countries, during this time of pandemic because the “really important question” currently for creators is: How do I have a voice in this new environment? She says numerous organizations are now “stepping up” to better serve their members with online availability, training, and community access. This is also leading to a massive transformation of music education in terms of how music is taught, what size and type of audience can be reached, and how to manage online teaching as a growing revenue stream.

Johnson’s advice to musicians during this time is to 1) focus on your mental and physical health, which may necessitate a reconfiguration of your creative processes; 2) reevaluate your skills and don’t be afraid to pick up new ones, especially technological skills, now that so much of music and performance is online; and 3) realize that people are at home and are therefore immensely more reachable. Invest in your “ecosystems”— it’s more important than ever to stay in touch with your colleagues and peers, and thereby expand your audience through artist cooperation and collaboration.