One week into the COVID-19 pandemic, its impact on the music industry has been brutal. With all live events cancelled for the foreseeable future, it’s put artists who rely on live performances as a primary source of income into an even more precarious position. Needless to say, the ripple effects on managers, labels and agents have been profound as well, as some tours are already—perhaps over-ambitiously—being rescheduled for the fall.
Who knows what the world may look like by then, but what won’t change is the need for new music. For this reason, the publicist’s role has never been more crucial, or more challenging in terms of helping build an audience willing to purchase an artist’s product. We are already seeing a proliferation of online concerts via YouTube and Facebook Live, a trend that will only keep growing in the weeks and months ahead. But that will likely only be a temporary fix.
The fact is, publicists have had to adapt to a rapidly changing media landscape for at least the past year. Music coverage in traditional print outlets and on television has dwindled to almost nothing in favour of click-bait content, while the rise of podcasts has put some notable blogs out of commission, and the relevance of streaming numbers has yet to be definitively determined. And although there are certainly online outlets such as Tinnitist and Canadian Beats (not to mention FYI Music News) tirelessly working to help expose independent Canadian artists, it seems that every day an increasing number of them are scrambling to get a piece of a shrinking media pie.
We asked several prominent Canadian music publicists how they are handling the current situation and, as befits their job, they are all remaining generally optimistic for now.
Cristina Fernandes and Jen Cymek / Listen Harder: Thankfully, music is one thing we can all take solace in and share with others. We feel everyone needs musicians and their music more than ever right now. So far, artists, managers and labels we’ve spoken to are moving forward with planned releases and announcements over the coming months. Obviously, many artists have had to cancel or postpone upcoming tour dates in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. That is especially unfortunate as many of them make their living on the road, or were already on tour to support their album releases. But we’re encouraging artists to tap into their creativity online and on their social platforms. As the saying goes, “when life hands you lemons…” Our friend [journalist] Aaron Brophy tweeted something like, maybe now’s a good time to buy a t-shirt from artists you love and want to support. Pretty good idea.
Ken Beattie / Killbeat Music: The biggest impact for us as music publicists is the cancellation and postponement of live performances and tour dates. As of today we have 24 artists that we work with that are in this situation and I suspect there will be a few more in the next few days. Album release dates, so far, have not changed so the approach there has remained mostly the same. In general, we have been doing what we always do, which is to look for as many opportunities as we can for the artists we work with. Things are changing rapidly though, so we will continue to stay current with how this is affecting our community and try to find the best ways forward. Certainly, we have already seen the music community getting creative in order to share their message as we all knew they would. Personally, I think we need art more than ever right now and we are committed to doing everything we can to help share our artists' music and stories no matter what the situation.
Samantha Pickard / Strut Entertainment: For us, the impact is wide-reaching and immediate and our reaction was swift. We are so fortunate to have incredible artists on our roster and we have all been communicating a lot with them and their teams since the news broke in Canada about closures, cancelations and postponements. We are fully aware of what changes are coming within our roster and are also able to offer support to our clients, and peers in their moment of extreme stress as their livelihoods are disappearing in front of them.
For us, and I dare say most of the music community, there is an immediate loss of business from tours and events being cancelled, and single, EP and album release dates being postponed to dates that are between 3-6 months away. Income for the balance of March right through to July is being impacted but our expenses have not changed. We still have bills to pay and wages to pay. The other area we are all exposed in is money currently owing for work that is already completed; most of us will find some of those payments for work that has been done hard to secure in the next few months.
The other side of it is the media—a lot of in-person media opportunities will not exist for as long as the virus is active and TV and radio are scaling back how they engage with guests on their shows. This affects your ability to do your job as a publicist. I have spoken to many entertainment industry friends and other publicists who are service providers and all of us agree that for each of us the loss of revenue will be somewhere between $10,000 to $85,000 each this year.
Luckily for my company, I created new business streams quite a few years ago, so we are able to switch gears a bit more in the coming weeks and focus on our social media, project management, consulting and mentoring services, all the services that are less impacted by media being functional. Hopefully this will stem some of the bleeding.
Eric Alper: So far, it’s full steam ahead with releases and videos and singles, and I’ve been working with artists from coast to coast to assist with them going live on social media and doing their own concerts. I’ve gone from a few hundred tour dates on the schedules to almost nil, but that’s okay. All of them will be rescheduled shortly, and I don’t expect much to change—except outlets like FYI will be very busy with news about new dates coming.
Sarah French / Sarah French Publicity: I am fully expecting COVID-19 to affect my business in that many of the artists have cancelled performances and recording sessions, and therefore are going to be short on cash to pay their bills for PR services. I am fortunate that my office is out of my home and I can still be working as usual in these times of worry. This is all new territory for us, and I am finding comfort knowing that we are all in this together and will be stronger for it when things get back to normal. Lots of artists are putting on live shows from their living rooms so we can all enjoy music still. I haven’t prepared for an unprecedented event like this, but I am able to use my extra time preparing for upcoming projects and I look forward to leaving my house again!