Every industry has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, from servers and bartenders to small business owners and teachers.
In the Bay Area and beyond, artists and musicians are seeing events cancelled through 2020, and their main sources of income gone completely. We spoke to a few local musicians whose lives and plans have been turned upside down by the pandemic.
MH the Verb
For Marcus Harris, better known by his stage name, MH The Verb, the next couple months were going to be crucial.
"I just released my new album after two years of working on it," said the rapper, producer, and DJ. "I had a bicoastal tour scheduled with more than 20 dates that have all been cancelled or postponed now."
MH, originally from Philadelphia, added that he also makes a living freelancing as a DJ and performer at corporate events and weddings in the Bay Area. Spring is typically a busy time of year for these events, and with California on lockdown, MH will lose five events that promised big paychecks.
"That accounts for more than half of my overall income," he said. "All of that work has dried up, and it's frustrating not knowing what to expect going forward."
Though the loss of the money was a big setback, MH says that the cancellation of the tour has been the hardest to swallow. He looks forward to every part of it, including the travel aspect and the opportunity to visit new places.
"That's usually a time when I'm able to connect with so many of my friends and family across the country. Sometimes I feel very isolated in the Bay. Being able to go out and share my art with people and connect with communities is a huge part of my health and wellness. I'm trying to stay positive, be responsible, and keep myself busy at home, but it definitely isn't the same."
While music and art are his primary sources of income, MH, like many musicians, has a side hustle. He works as a freelance digital media and marketing consultant for several small businesses. Though some of his clients have already asked to defer payments or cancel services, that work hasn't gone away entirely.
Luckily, MH also landed a part-time job that will provide him healthcare during this time – something he says is crucial for freelancers.
"We don't have the same access to health care and insurance, so we are extra vulnerable in these times."
Like anyone else, MH is worried.
"I'm afraid this might be the new normal, and I wonder how this will affect artists who deal with mental health issues and really rely on the social aspects of our community. It's necessary for us to be a community and deal with this together."
Despite the hard times, MH says he is still creating. He plans to use this time to focus on engaging his community with new music videos, remixes, live stream performances, behind the scenes footage, and interviews. He also plans to connect more directly with the community through FaceTime and phone calls. The final thing on his agenda: resting and recharging.
"I think this is a unique opportunity for us to take some time and really connect with each on a deeper level without distractions."
Singer-songwriter Eric Long makes his living playing music in and around San Francisco, both as a soloist and as a bandleader. His music is fundamentally folk and combines notes of country, blues, and bluegrass. He released his debut album, A Long Way From Home, in 2018 and has performed on three continents, opened for Grammy-winning acts, and performed at High Sierra Music Festival.
"Times are tough," Long stated after the shelter-in-place order went into effect in the Bay Area. "I feel really bad not just for the entertainment world but also for everyone living paycheck to paycheck and holding jobs where remote work isn't possible."
Long recorded a full band album in December 2019; its big release show was scheduled for March 27th at SF's Neck of the Woods. It was, of course, cancelled.
"That was an especially big bummer as you can usually count on a lot of merch sales at release shows, like vinyl, CDs, T-shirts.'
Long also has several festival appearances that are currently pending. In addition to performing his own material at festivals and on tour, he makes a living playing more standard gigs and performing covers at restaurants, bars, and on boats. All of those have also been cancelled through the end of May.
Long says he is still promoting his music during the shelter-in-place order. He released a single from his upcoming album last Friday, titled "You Only Love Me When You're High," and another on March 25th, titled "Bluebird." He is promoting his latest record, Looking Up, which dropped Friday, March 27th—from home.
Aviva Le Fey
Aviva Lipkowitz, who goes by Aviva Le Fey, had plans to move into her van and travel the country, playing shows along the way.
For the past year, she has been living in her childhood home, but when her mom decided to sell it, she saw the opportunity to make money and build markets across the country. Two weeks before the shelter-in-place order swept the Bay Area and then California, Lipkowitz made the move. Then everything got cancelled.
Now instead, she's hunkered at a friend's cabin in the foothills.
She writes and sings what she describes as "dreamy folk" music; quiet, sweet, and melancholy. She also plays upright bass for a number of bands, most frequently John Craigie, a musician based out of Portland. Before leaving the Bay in mid-March, she had planned to play a going away party show at Oakland's Starline Social Club.
"I was really looking forward to my goodbye show," she said. "That's my home base venue, where I played my first ever sets and had my album release show last summer." She had even been writing some new songs to debut at the show, and was planning to bring a violinist for the first time.
"I thought we were going to get to share something special with my favorite people."
The show was planned for a few days before the shelter-in-place went into effect, but Lipkowitz, who actually has a Master's degree in public health, called off the show anyway.
"I felt like I couldn't in good conscience ask people to gather," she said. "At the time it was very confusing and really tormenting. Now, it seems totally obvious. I can't wrap my head around the fact that that was barely a few weeks ago."
Lipkowitz also had a handful of house shows and private events booked locally, which would be followed by an artist residency in Eastern Oregon and a few festivals throughout California. Her plan extended to July and August, when she was going to hit the road in her van and play throughout the U.S., and eventually make the move to touring Europe in September and October.
"I was talking with bookers in Italy, Sweden, and the UK. I was about to start booking dates, but now that everything's up in the air, I don't think anyone is making plans until they know when the venues are going to be open again."
With most (if not all) of her plans out the window, she plans to do quieter things. Along with releasing some new songs, she hopes to write, practice, and study—the things she has always wanted to do but couldn't find the time.
"I don't expect to perform for the rest of the year, but it's so out of my control," she says.
"It's not just musicians who are getting the rug pulled out from underneath us. It's everyone. This is so unprecedented, and so unknown still. The more we can help each other, the better off we'll be."
How You Can Help Bay Area Musicians
The Bay Area artists we spoke to agree: Streaming the music on Spotify is fine, but it won't help them directly.
"Streaming services don't pay," says Aviva Lipkowitz. "I think I get something like half a penny per Spotify stream."
Instead, they say, buy their music on vinyl and merchandise on their websites.
"No one buys digital music anymore, which is why artists like myself invest in our merch," said Eric Long.
If you still have income, consider donating directly to the artists via Venmo, PayPal, or Patreon (links to these are usually in artist's Instagram bios).
You can also donate to fundraisers like The SafetyNet Fund, which helps people in the music industry pay expenses during the pandemic.
And don't forget to follow the artists on social media, watch their livestreams, and share their music.
"The songs will be out there doing their jobs," says Lipkowitz. "They'll be bringing people together, making them cry and all that good stuff—and, if we ever manage to turn this thing around, when we get back on the road there might be brand new people in the audience."