navigation contact search enquiry list

Virtual Gigs, Second Jobs & Mindfulness: How Musicians Are Surviving The Pandemic

Latest news

Latest news

With venues closed and most live shows postponed, the UK's gigging musicians have had to adapt and diversify in order to make ends meet.

Virtual Gigs, Second Jobs & Mindfulness: How Musicians Are Surviving The Pandemic

On 15 August the government finally gave indoor performances the green light, but the optimism was short-lived. Most grassroots music venues have said it would be financially unviable to re-open until social distancing is relaxed. With more lockdowns imminent, that date seems further away than ever.

Similarly, private functions and evening wedding receptions, where many gigging musicians earn their living, have been either postponed or cancelled. The result is that musicians continue to be separated from their audience and their income.

Whilst many musicians have been able to take advantage of the self-employed income support scheme (SEISS), a reported 38 percent of musicians surveyed fell short of the criteria required to obtain any government aid.

Musicians are resourceful self-starters by nature, but 2020 has put that to the test. From teaching online and getting second jobs to virtual gigs and recording work, the UK's musicians have been forced to adapt to the new normal.

Virtual Gigs, Second Jobs & Mindfulness: How Musicians Are Surviving The Pandemic

Online teaching

Musicians often teach music privately or at schools during the week, to supplement their live performance income at the weekend. During the lockdown, these musicians were forced to move their lessons online, as well expand their client base to compensate for the loss in gig earnings.

Video call platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom are free to use and straightforward to set up, but teaching online is not without its obstacles. Alex Jennings is a music teacher and bassist in rock'n'roll band The Boom Boom Club. "I live in Devon, so people's internet isn't always the best which is an issue sometimes," he says. "I also have a few young musicians working with me, so tuning guitars (if it hasn't already been done) can be hard then."

Despite the initial upheaval, some are finding unexpected benefits. Guitarist Ed Peczek is the director of The Classical Guitar Academy, in Derbyshire. When lockdown hit, he moved the entire operation online and started teaching online via Zoom. "We actually enrolled some new students from around the world, with some tuning in from as far away as Thailand to take lessons!".

Peczek is now relishing the challenge of adjusting further to the "new normal". "Lockdown has forced us all to think more creatively about the way we operate," he says. "I’m sure there will be a few permanent features that we will continue to offer in the post-pandemic world (when we finally get there!)"

Nick Kilroe, a drum tutor at BIMM in Manchester, agrees. "This has actually been an inspiring time in terms of delivering lessons" he says. "We've had to change teaching styles and tailor lessons to suit the students' needs. It has definitely opened up the possibilities of learning and this can only be a good thing for the future."

Virtual gigs

Many musicians have taken to live streaming their gigs on platforms such as Twitch, YouTube Live and Facebook Live.

Jeremy Goddard, a musician from Bristol, is one of many musicians who found themselves looking for alternative ways of reaching their audience after events were cancelled.

At first Goddard tested the water on Zoom to an audience of friends only, eventually launching his Virtual Piano Bar on Twitch and Facebook Live.

It took him a few weeks to get set up. "There are many more factors to consider than a normal gig or recording," he says. "It's like doing a music video, but for a few hours. Luckily there are tons of great tutorial videos on YouTube on how to set up a livestream so I quickly improved."

Goddard recorded alone during lockdown, so the biggest challenge he faced was making technical adjustments mid-broadcast. "How do you get the sound balance right, adjust the camera and lighting, deal with a dodgy internet connection and deal with latency issues between vision and sound – all whilst playing. You can't!"

To try and mitigate these problems during his live performance, Goddard asked a few trusted friends to sound-check him on a closed video call before the gig. After gathering feedback and making the necessary adjustments, he went live on Facebook.

To promote the gig he made short video posts, but quickly realised there was probably no need. "Facebook seemed to be favouring livestreams," he says, "such that any time I went live it was placing my stream at the top of fans' newsfeeds." He now uses Restream to stream to several audiences simultaneously across YouTube, Twitch and Facebook.

For Goddard, live streaming has reconnected him with people he hasn't seen in years, and he takes pride in the connection and joy he's provided for people during this difficult time.

"Because I take requests it can become a very organic and exciting evening with people watching form all over the world," he says.

"On multiple occasions I have had people watching and commenting from Australia, Africa, America and Brazil while I am performing in Europe. This feeling of worldwide connectivity and togetherness is truly beautiful. It also just got me playing more regularly and that alone was worth it."

Diversifying and second jobs

During the lockdown, many musicians turned to second jobs to support themselves and their families. Supermarkets around the country employed shelf-stackers, security staff and drivers to help them meet the high demand for groceries during the pandemic, whilst the NHS hired extra support staff.

Others have been been able to find jobs more closely related to music, aside from teaching. We spoke to musicians who have set up their own gear re-sale platforms or moved into instrument repairs, like guitarist Ed Peczek.

"Alongside my teaching work, I recently entered the world of retail, specialising in selling carefully selected student level instruments along with high end, handmade classical guitars," he says. "We’ve expanded our product range significantly during lockdown and we’re enjoying this brand new challenge."

Musicians with their own music online have benefited from a surge in the use of streaming services during lockdown. London-based pianist and composer Mark Fowler told us: "I've always had some revenue streams from my online music stuff - YouTube advertising, Spotify, iTunes sales, sheet music sales etc. During lockdown I ironically benefited from increased viewership and sales all round, particularly sheet music as I think many new piano players were made as a result of lockdown."

"It doesn't beat going out and playing and interacting with people of course but it has helped immensely, would definitely have had to get some other job I didn't want if not."

When his gigs dried up, London-based guitarist Jonathan Preiss supplemented his teaching income with freelance music production and notation work, some of which has been through freelancer sites such as People Per Hour.

"I was also home-schooling my 9-year old twins and growing large amounts of spuds, sweetcorn, broccoli and tomatoes on my allotment," he says. "So if things kick off again we've at least got food for a few months!"

Virtual Gigs, Second Jobs & Mindfulness: How Musicians Are Surviving The Pandemic

Writing and studying

Those musicians who were fortunate enough to secure a government grant have finally found themselves with the time to work on writing and recording their own music. Some producers and professional studios have also been working from home, and employing their usual musicians to do the same.

Valeria Kurbatova is a London-based concert harpist. "For me the extra time meant that I can finally start writing my own album", she tells us. "I have always been drawn to electronic music and have been principal harpist in the London Electronic Orchestra for many years but I’ve always wanted to write my own music and my goal is to release it by the end of this year."

Others have reported to us using the extra free time to up their practice regimes, or even take on full-time study courses. Now that universities are back in business in September, many are taking on the task of furthering their education.

Johnny Barlow, a Bristol-based musician, has decided to study music/songwriting at BIMM. "It seems like a strange time to go but I'm looking forward to it. I'm nervous about debt but excited to have the time to learn and be more creative... can’t wait to get back to gigging though!"

Virtual Gigs, Second Jobs & Mindfulness: How Musicians Are Surviving The Pandemic

Mental health

Musicians have not only had to focus on maintaining income, but their mental health as well. Creative artists were already the fifth most likely profession to suffer from depression and mental illness. The increased financial insecurity and withdrawal from social activity has only exacerbated the problem.

"This period has been hard for everyone and the need for human connection has only intensified" says Jeremy Goddard. "Of course, it has been particularly tough for musicians, but not necessarily for only the reasons you would at first think i.e. loss of income. Musicians are usually extremely empathetic people. They feel the pain of disconnection."

Some have actively sought to fill the void by volunteering with the NHS and their local communities, for example via the GoodSAM app. Others have turned to online counselling, meditation and yoga.

Stephanie Mair is an accordionist in French acoustic band Vive La France. "During lockdown I couldn’t touch my accordion for the first 3 months as I was too upset with all the daily cancellations", she tells us. "After that it was a waiting game as to when we'd be able to work again, so it was very up and down."

Once she began to recover, she worked hard on developing her act and took up sewing and gardening to fill her time mindfully. Fortunately, since her band is an outdoor roaming act she was able to resume gigging as soon as the lockdown ended.

Sean Rumsey, a London-based singer, found himself in a similar predicament. "During lockdown I was left with a lot of empty hours to fill," he says. "So I've been using the time to develop myself musically and really take time also to do more mindfulness stuff such as meditation and yoga. I’ve also found has had a positive impact on my music. It’s been a challenging time but also an opportunity for development."

Garden parties and makeshift gigs

It hasn't all been doom and gloom. When the lockdown ended and musicians finally emerged bleary-eyed into the summer sun, some were able to spend the remainder of the season performing at private garden parties.

This type of work typically benefits smaller, acoustic line-ups, such as solo guitarists, steel pan bands and dixieland bands. With no need to set foot indoors in search of a power supply, these musicians can simply turn up, perform at a safe distance, and leave.

Zoe Phillips a saxophonist from Hampshire, was one musician who made the most of this type of work. "I played solo saxophone in the garden of an old peoples home for their National Prosecco Day celebrations. Can’t think of a better party to play for!"

Even during the lockdown itself, Phillips found a way to reach a live audience. "I played outside in my garden for my neighbours to hear, on 3pm every Sunday, until the NHS clapping stopped. Some neighbours still come out at that time and sit to have a chat."

---

Help Musicians recently launched a free, 24/7 helpline called Music Minds Matter. You can reach them by calling 0808 802 8008 or via email on MMM@helpmusicians.org.uk.

---

Thanks to the following musicians for contributions: Jeremy Goddard, Ed Peczek, Alex Jennings, Zoe Phillips, Stephanie Mair, Sean Rumsey, Nick Kilroe, Valeria Kurbatova, Johnny Barlow, Mark Fowler, Jonathan Preiss.