| COVID-19 has transformed the music industry. Here’s how indie bands responded
The COVID-19 outbreak has put many people in the music industry in a uniquely difficult situation. Musicians and bands have been hit hard, as countless artists whose entire livelihoods depended on creating music with others and performing for sizable audiences are now being forced to find alternative means of operating.
Social distancing guidelines and other measures to slow the spread of the virus have disrupted the music industry’s recording process and many musicians’ performance tours. Band members cannot easily record together, due to concerns of spreading the virus. The possibility of live, in-person concerts has almost entirely been eliminated. Despite these new circumstances and challenges, artists and band members have found new and creative ways to collaborate and perform live.
“It has affected us pretty drastically, as far as all of our plans, and just kind of living situations, and just stability in general,” said Scott Hermo, chief songwriter and singer of indie-rock/pop band Boyscott.
Hermo’s group has been put in a difficult position, as an up-and-coming band steadily growing in fans and popularity. Boyscott had planned to embark on a tour with fellow indie bands Vundabar, Great Grandpa and Destroy Boys, but the tour fell through and was ultimately canceled. Now, the band has only tentative plans of returning to in-person shows, with the earliest discussed dates being in July 2021.
But Hermo maintains an optimistic outlook and attitude about the band regardless of any problems or uncertainties. He spoke of how his band was able to turn a profit selling the merchandise from their cancelled tour. Hermo also revealed that he is moving to Memphis, Tennessee, with bandmate Emma Willer, both of whom had lived together in Connecticut. The move was motivated by their desire to be closer to the rest of the band’s members to make recording easier and attempt to alleviate a creative block caused by the band’s lack of touring shows. Boyscott has also taken to the occasional live performance over platforms like Instagram, where the band performs stripped-back sets and answers questions and comments from fans in the chat.
“In a way it was almost easier to play that way, because we weren’t using microphones … there wasn’t much we were working with. It was just, you know, playing guitar and singing just out loud, and hoping that the microphone of the phone picked it up,” Hermo said. “And luckily it did. So yeah, we were surprised at how wonderful that experience really was and how easy it was to adapt to.”
Another band, the Arizona folk-punk group AJJ, faces its own struggles. Any chance of in-person performance has completely disappeared, and the band has had to cancel each of the several tours they had planned. Though the band has rescheduled dates starting in March 2021, frontman Sean Bonnette voiced his concern with any upcoming concert dates.
“We had four tours scheduled that are now, you know, being pushed further and further into the future, with no actual end in sight,” Bonnette said. “I’m not holding my breath for any live music. at least, I won’t be playing any for, any truly live music, for a very long time.”
Even though the band may not have live shows anytime soon, Bonnette and AJJ have continued to hone their craft. The band launched its own Patreon account to maintain an income and have been recording songs together, sending tracks back and forth remotely. Bonnette also held nightly solo performances of AJJ songs over Instagram live around the beginning of quarantine on Mar. 16 and has since adopted a schedule of online performances each week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Boston indie rockers Vundabar have also found their own unique way around in-person performance restrictions. With their tour alongside Boyscott canceled, the band was left without a way to get the songs off of their latest album “Either Light” out in a live setting. But the band swiftly found alternatives. While they’ve held their own share of online live performances, their approach to providing fans with music is their recent series of Instagram performances, meant to simulate what it would be like to see the band in person. These edited performances exhibit the band’s newest array of songs in a pseudo-live setting, featuring lead singer/guitarist Brandon Hagen and drummer Drew Mcdonald playing at various outdoor locales, with the occasional appearance from bassist Zack Abramo.
“We’ve been doing video recordings of songs, just as a way to do something that felt genuine in the way that live music does. That isn’t a crackly live stream, I guess.“ Hagen said. “Where we can control the video quality to a degree and the audio quality, and make it aesthetically pleasing.”
Hagen also details his band’s latest creative burst. The band has studio time booked for September, and while Hagen admits the new collection of songs they plan to record are still taking shape, the band is determined to get back to recording now that touring is looking less and less likely.
Phil Elverum, the prolific musician behind critically acclaimed projects The Microphones and Mount Eerie, is experiencing his own creative boost. Being a home recording artist, Elverum’s creative process remains relatively unharmed by quarantine. Now that his several tours have been canceled, Eleverum has found himself with much more free time to devote to his music, as well as his daughter, who is out of preschool due to the virus. Though he described how he would miss in-person shows and setting up his merchandise table to meet his fans, he said that he has been feeling more productive and inspired during these new circumstances, and is balancing his time between music and caring for his daughter.
But while Elverum is putting more time into his family and recording, he is putting less into live performances. Unlike other bands, Elverum prefers to stay away from digital performances, opting instead to keep to himself and continue with his work.
“I don’t really want to interact on social media or on the Internet. Or even… I haven’t done any streaming shows, that’s not really my cup of tea. So, sort of, just like, I’m in a black hole for a while and that’s fine, because I’m making lots of stuff.” Elverum said.
While Hermo, Bonnette, Hagen and Elverum all admit their futures as touring artists is uncertain, it has not stopped them from doing what they can in their current situation. Boyscott, AJJ and Vundabar have found unique workarounds to the problems posed by the pandemic through their online performances and new methods of recording together while Elverum has found even more time and inspiration to put towards his recording projects.
The landscape of the music industry has changed drastically as a result of COVID-19, but from what these bands and musicians have shown, they have adapted to fit the new circumstances. It may be a long time until everyone is able to meet up again face-to-face, and even longer for live performances to start back up, but for the time being, indie musicians have found their own ways to record music and play live.
The Microphones, Vundabar and AJJ have all released new albums this year. Boyscott is in the process of recording new music.