5 ways to support Canada's musicians during the coronavirus pandemic

From crowdfunding to Skype lessons, here's how you can help.

From crowdfunding to Skype lessons, here's how you can help

'Priced at 3 dollars for those of you hard up in these strange times. If you can afford to, please pay a more suitable rate. Stay home, enjoy.' — Daniel Romano, who's under a 14-day self-quarantine. (Rosie Cohe Photography)

When Austin's annual South by Southwest announced on March 6 that it was cancelling over coronavirus concerns, it set off a domino effect in the entertainment industry. In the days since, entire sports leagues have suspended their seasons, even more festivals have been postponed, and various forms of venues have been shut down.

As a result, many people's jobs are in danger, including musicians who no longer have concerts to play and tours to embark on. Being on the road and performing in front of audiences is the main source of income for many artists, especially since the rise of streaming services has diminished royalties.

So what can fans do to support their favourite artists? Below, we've highlighted five ways you can continue to show your love for them, if you are financially able to. 

1. Buy songs, albums, merch

The simplest way to support your favourite artists is to buy their music and merchandise. Buying albums and singles, especially through more direct avenues like Bandcamp, instead of just contributing to your monthly streaming service charge, is extremely helpful to artists right now.

And while tours may be getting cancelled, new music will continue to come out. Over the weekend, Canadian singer-songwriter Daniel Romano surprise-released a new album titled Visions of the Higher Dream. The release will be up on Bandcamp during Romano's own 14-day self-quarantine as he tells his fans: "Priced at 3 dollars for those of you hard up in these strange times. If you can afford to, please pay a more suitable rate. Stay home, enjoy."

Just in March alone, we will be receiving new releases from the following Canadian acts: Gordon Lightfoot, the Weeknd, Basia Bulat, Nap Eyes and Jessie Reyez.

2. Consider donating your concert tickets

The financial impact of widespread concert cancellations is significant, especially since so many performing artists are freelancers now facing weeks and possibly months with little or no income.

To help alleviate this financial pressure, many concert venues and presenters are offering their public the option to donate their tickets to cancelled concerts or transfer them to future performances, rather than seek a refund.

"Ticket holders will receive a gift certificate which can be used for future events," reads a statement on the website of Vancouver Opera, which has cancelled the remaining concerts of its current season. "Alternatively, patrons can donate their ticket(s) to the Vancouver Opera and receive a charitable tax receipt. These donations will continue to support the organization and our artists."

Christina Martin (right), pictured here with Dale Murray on a flight home to Canada on March 15, was forced to cancel several concerts on her European tour due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Christina Martin/Facebook)

Upon the cancellation of their tours, individual artists such as Nova Scotian roots-rocker Christina Martin have gratefully accepted financial contributions from fans via crowdsourcing sites. "Hi Christina, I had planned on coming to your show this Sunday in Grebenhain with a friend and was so looking forward to it," wrote one fan on Patreon. "The amount I would have spent on a ticket I will just deposit here and hope that it makes a small contribution to your expenses."

Of course, not everyone can afford to donate their tickets, but for those who can, these gestures make a difference.

3. Donate to the Unison Benevolent Fund

The Unison Benevolent Fund is a non-profit organization that provides phone counselling and financial assistance to members of the Canadian music industry, and the COVID-19 outbreak will no doubt put a strain on their finances. 

"Now more than ever, Unison's emergency relief assistance is a critical safety-net for members of our industry deeply affected by the virus itself and the precautions and protocols surrounding it," reads Unison's recent statement. "Please help us as we prepare to support the most vulnerable during this time by making a donation to Unison."

Unison's site has an extensive section on its services, which you can visit to see if donating makes sense for you. If you decide to donate, you can do it via Unison's "Support Us" page.

Unison has also also posted a list of ongoing, updated resources for the music community during the pandemic. For counselling inquiries to help deal with the financial or emotional impact of COVID-19, Unison directs you to this number: 1-855-986-4766.

4. Donate to bands who have set up a fundraising page

With tours being cancelled and venues shutting down temporarily, musicians are reaching out directly to ask for help. Last week, Ben Cook, member of Toronto hardcore band F--ked Up and leader of Young Guv, started a GoFundMe page to get everyone back home after the Young Guv tour (opening for Kentucky rock band White Reaper) had been cancelled.

"We were depending on this tour to pay our way through our travels," Cook wrote. "The mounting costs related to touring, gas, accommodations, and musician's fees have driven me deep into the red financially. To make things worse, I, along with every member of my band, currently have no place to go, as we have all sublet our rooms for the month of March." 

As of Monday, March 16, $6,007 had been raised, surpassing the $5,000 goal.

Yesterday, the Ottawa Live Music Streams Facebook group launched. Its goal: "to serve as a virtual venue to showcase our region's musical talent. Please consider tipping for performances you enjoy - be a patron of the arts in your city! Message artists directly for information on e-transfers or other payment methods."

5. Take a Skype lesson

With so many people self-isolating, some enterprising musicians, such as Ottawa guitarist Nathan Bredeson, see an opportunity.

"If you or someone you know is bored while stuck at home, maybe it is time to pick up a new hobby!" he posted on Facebook, along with his Kijiji ad offering guitar lessons via Skype. "I will use the magic of the internet to teach from a medically approved distance!"

If you find yourself with time on your (regularly washed) hands, why not employ a musician and learn to play an instrument? A win–win situation, if ever there was one.