As you all know, we now live in a terrible episode of Black Mirror in which social gatherings are a health hazard. As the coronavirus pandemic has forced us into relative isolation, it’s no surprise that countless live music events have had to be postponed or cancelled outright due to the risks of transmitting the virus from one host to many. It’s something that must be done, and like many other industries—it’s hitting music to the core.

It’s a trying time for all of us. For musicians, music venues, promoters, labels, and others who support their livelihoods and creative endeavours through live music, the reality of the current situation has severely disrupted our ability to bring in income. But all is not lost. There are still some ways that the public can help support people in the music industry—financially and otherwise.

Donate to artists

If you are able to, the most direct way to support artists right now is by donating money to them. A lot of artists have set up accounts on platforms such as PayPal and Patreon to accept donations to offset the losses they’re experiencing during the crisis. Take some time to see which ones on your feed or in your social network are seeking donations, because chances are they really need it. Although this seems straight forward, a lot of artists may feel uncomfortable soliciting money from their network. In these cases, the next suggestion could be much more suitable.

Buy band merch and music online

A lot of smaller, independent bands depend on merchandise sales to keep the engine running—particularly touring bands. With tours being cancelled across the board, now would be a great time to check out some merch from bands you like. It costs money to make, and often artists find it tough to break even and move merchandise. It should be noted that ordering physical merch right now is not the best idea due to the disruptions in the supply chain, which has put a lot of strain on companies that depend on shipping. But making a list of some items that you want to purchase once things normalize is a great idea. Whether it’s a sweet new band t-shirt or a new record to add to your collection, making a list of items to order will allow you to remember in the future what to buy when the time comes.

However, something you can get right now is digital music. For example, Bandcamp is a great way to consume music online. They offer compressed MP3 downloads of songs and albums, as well as audiophile-quality versions of the songs for us nerds out there. Artists control how much they want to charge for their music, if anything, and the company takes a nominal fee from purchases. Even more, Bandcamp has just announced that today (Friday, March 20) it is waiving their end of the fees so that artists get 100% of the revenues from music or merch purchases. In any case, this is a solid way you can show support. It’s more beneficial than streaming services such as Spotify, which hardly pay artists at all.

Live streams

Since we can’t get together in person, why not get together online? A lot of artists have taken to the internet and social media to get their music out to their fans. And, surprisingly, the audio and video quality of the videos are generally impressive. Connecting with others is particularly important at this time, and while it’s not the same as being at a show, it’s still nice to hear music being played live. Not only can you participate in your music community via video streaming plaforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitch—you can also discover new music through numerous groups that have been set up for artists to post their live music streams. The Ottawa Live Music Streams Facebook Group already has over 1500 members, and the videos being posted by artists from their living rooms are getting hundreds of views. The DJ crew of Timekode, for example, is live streaming their DJ set tonight (Friday) instead of their regular monthly dance party to keep the vibes going.

Some artists are using streaming platforms as a creative outlet instead of a platform to share their music. For example, veteran local musician John Carroll has taken to Facebook live for some…interesting content.

“I’ve been doing live streams of myself reading children’s literature to the apocalypse now soundtrack, singing lullabies in the wee hours, reading Oprah quotes that I modified to records playing in the background, or remaking the classic 80’s late night TV show “Night Ride” driving around in my car late at night recording the barren streetscape whilst listening to jazz recordings. Basically, whatever interesting or amusing ideas I can come up with. This has helped me spend some of the creative energy that would normally go into doing my regular live shows. Hopefully it is keeping some other people entertained as well.”

A lot of artists have set up donation pages via their live streams, so this is another way you can help artists financially.

Check in and let people cope their own way

Supporting people in music doesn’t just mean supporting them financially. It is a very stressful time for everyone and we all cope in different ways. For me personally, going to shows and bringing the community together in a space is like therapy. I thrive off of those connections, and being forced to distance socially is tolling on mental health.

Checking in with people you know is integral right now. Even just a quick hello to see how someone is holding up can go a long way to making their day less lonely. Isolation in one’s home away from others can be a crushing feeling, and it’s important to let people deal with the crisis in their own way. Some people would rather not stream their music to the public, and instead cope by getting lost in a book. Telling people to “write new music” or “get creative” in isolation may not be helpful, and in fact, might make them feel worse about not being able to participate.

Similarly, telling music venue owners or promoters to share your music or support musicians is neglectful of the fact that their businesses have ground to a halt. They still need to pay bills and support their families and themselves, and their capacity to lend their free time and effort into supporting musicians may be non-existent at this time. Now is not the time to be telling people what they should or shouldn’t be doing in isolation. Community support is a two-way street.

Let’s all do our part to be supportive. Whether it’s through financial means or through human connection and understanding, we can all help to soften the impact that the COVID-19 outbreak is having on the community and society as a whole.