With the continued spread of the coronavirus outbreak, governments throughout the world have implemented various forms of lockdown, now affecting a third of the global population including the major cities of North America. The impact of the pandemic on musicians and performers, due to the ban on public gatherings, has shut down entertainment venues of all sizes, halted nearly all media production, and eliminated thousands upon thousands of jobs.
The live entertainment industry has gone dark. In the freelance gig economy, we are 100% unemployed. Under emergency governmental restrictions, we are unable to publicly perform. The virus has locked us out—employees, employers, and audiences alike. We are all in limbo. No one knows when or where the infection curves will “flatten.” No one can tell us with any degree of certainty when restrictions will be lifted. No one can say when our communities will be deemed safe enough to risk restarting non-essential businesses and performance venues with the resumption of live entertainment.
Today, as we ride out this deadly virus, we are in uncharted territory. Nobody—the musicians in the gig economy, the promoters, the audiences who support us—none can hazard a guess where or when the venue doors might re-open. Where will the next paying live gigs be? What will they look like? Fear is the stalking horse of uncertainty.
More broadly though, what short- and long-term consequences will we endure from this severe economic shock, and how will we recover? Will we return to our level of pre-shock earnings and productivity? Will the social distancing legacy of the COVID crisis choke economic activity in the live entertainment sector? If so, it could adversely affect our workplaces—the theaters, the concert halls, the convention dates, the nightclubs, the bars and restaurants.
In every economic downturn, winners and losers emerge. How will our employers and those who control our work behave toward us as the lockout ends and the economy comes back to life? Will employers see a window of opportunity from depression-level unemployment to depress wages, extend profit margins, and gain more power over musicians’ lives?
These are hard questions for hard times. Our individual and collective strength will be tested as the pandemic eventually recedes. The decisions we make as the smoke clears may profoundly shape the rest of our lives.
While musicians are sheltering in place, venues closed, worried about the next gig and long-term shifts in live entertainment spending, there remain some positive relationships between musicians, employers, and the Federation as of this writing, April 20. I hope they will outlast the coronavirus.
There are no symphonic concert performances, but the majority of the 52 major US symphony orchestras affiliated with the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) are continuing to pay rostered musicians in accordance with agreements governing the shutdowns negotiated with their respective local unions. Some agreements continue wage payments into the summer.
Touring Theatrical Musicals
A total of 23 Pamphlet B and Short Engagement Tours were suspended during the week of March 15. Together with other workplace unions, the Federation negotiated a shutdown agreement with the Broadway League covering touring employees providing for cancellation payments and necessary expenses for musicians to return home. The unions are expected to meet and discuss workplace issues in connection with the resumption of touring production prior to the end of suspensions.
Motion Picture/TV Film/Live Television
Film producers and TV networks halted all production in mid-March. Company heads are now in discussion about easing back into production and what content to show in a society changed by the pandemic. Despite the hiatus, some films and dramatic TV series had finished production before the emergency declarations. Scoring sessions have continued for those shows with the Federation facilitating contract applications during the crisis (also applicable in sound recording) for the use of remote recording sessions, where individual musicians perform simultaneously, captured alone in safety, but all mixed together for the soundtrack master. In live TV, the late-night bands have continued to be paid, with some shows hosted live, and others remotely, using clips from previous episodes. Primetime TV shows like The Voice are airing prerecorded shows. Musicians in live TV production receive substantial payments for re-runs.
With the proliferation of home studio technology, remote recording sessions have continued and are being processed through the Federation’s Single Song Overdub Agreement and Sound Recording Labor Agreement remote recording applications for use during the crisis.
Commercial Announcements (Jingles)
While slowdowns in local and regional media advertising have taken hold, national accounts are continuing to advertise via online and traditional media. New original sessions will likely decline short-term, with increased use of licensed pre-recorded content such as legacy sound recordings. Musicians whose performances are embodied in original and licensed recordings will receive new use and reuse payments as ad cycles continue.
The pandemic and its social distancing regimen will alter how consumers consume, work, and play. In America, the virus has killed over 46,000 people in just two months. It has also killed businesses and it has killed our jobs.
Live musical performances are social by their very nature. Through our performances, we are social and cultural drivers. The disease has already caused the adoption of unfamiliar ways of doing business, but it won’t stop the power of our music. And it won’t stop our union. When the lockout ends, we will adapt, we will perform, and we will thrive.