Cancelled Concerts, Stranded Musicians: How Coronavirus Is Impacting The Music World

Mar 18, 2020
Originally published on March 17, 2020 2:45 pm

COVID-19 is causing a downbeat for the music industry.

Huge festivals like South by Southwest and Coachella have been canceled. Live Nation, one of the largest musical promoters in the country, has postponed concerts through the end of March.

Brian Keigher, artistic director of the World Music Institute, says COVID-19 has sparked "major repercussions" for the music industry. Tours are collapsing and businesses within the industry like venues are also feeling the impact, he says.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Keigher says his colleagues in the industry worked to bring music from around the world to the United States to combat the prejudice that followed the tragic event. International flights were shut down for a few weeks after 9/11, but venues could still hold concerts — unlike now, he says.

"Now, we don’t even have that luxury of trying to bring people and music of other cultures together," he says. "So it’s had a much more profound impact now, I would say, than the 9/11 attacks."

Artists in the industry make more of their living off of live performances, he says, not streaming services or other means. The inability to hold concerts has a "devastating effect" on live musicians, he says.

The World Music Institute hopes to reschedule tours and concerts, but he says doing so requires starting from scratch.

"It takes a lot for artists to even get a handful of dates in the United States to make tours happen," he says. "It’s a huge puzzle that has to be reshaped and reshifted, and now we’re just waiting for the next steps."

Nearly 2,000 musical acts were scheduled to perform at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, this year. Singer-songwriter Madison McFerrin was one of them.

From Brooklyn, New York, Madison McFerrin's name may sound familiar because she’s the daughter of music legend Bobby McFerrin. Many national critics heard her sound for the first time during her South by Southwest debut in 2018.

McFerrin says the cancellation of such an influential event speaks to the severity of the situation.

"It’s an incredibly important festival, especially as an independent musician, to be able to have the kind of outreach that really helps jump start your career in many ways," she says.

McFerrin released her debut acapella album, "Finding Foundation, Vol. 1," in 2016 and her latest EP, "You and I," in December.

Watch on YouTube.

Now thanks to COVID-19, she says she's trying to adjust to a "new normal." All of her planned events are postponed and no one knows for how long, she says.

"Being a musician, live shows are how you make the majority of your income," she says. "So now it’s time to regroup and rework how we’re going to do that for the next couple months."

COVID-19 will test whether society can stay together and connected through social distancing, she says.

"Just because we can’t be in the same place doesn’t mean that we can’t still share music," she says. "It doesn’t mean that we can’t still spread joy and, you know, just be together in this collective community."

To hear Tonya Mosley’s conversation with Madison McFerrin, click here.

Emiko Tamagawa and Cristina Kim produced this story and edited it for broadcast with Peter O’Dowd. Allison Hagan adapted it for the web.

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