Live music for the small ones (musicians, venues, agents and managers all) is once and for ever changed. The slate has been wiped clean, and while things may appear to back to normal, normal is going to be far different. Many of the smaller coffee-house type venues will be gone. Larger performing arts centers will need to balance bringing in their usual audience with big names and the inevitable greatly reduced attendance to pay for them.
Those bars and pubs that gave the occasional fringe-genre band a chance will not have the luxury of lower bar sales; they’ll need to go with basic bar cover bands. For the next year six months or so, they’ll either be closed or have very limited attendance. Social distancing regulations mean inside dining will be so spread out, few will have the luxury of keeping space for a stage which will only get used at certain times of the week. Profits will be so much lower that spending money on bands will be tough: local rockers will play for peanuts, so anything out of the ordinary will be a tough sell.
Doom and gloom? Hardly. That leaves a number of venues that will still be available. But there’s a “but”, as usual. The last ones standing will be the all-volunteer church basement type series, or the smaller coffee houses that feature music, as opposed to exploit it. They’ll be looking for fresh faces, and the talent cupboard of touring musicians will be bare.
It’s simple math: for example, a venue that might be able to afford to pay a band $2000 a year or two ago can now only operate at half capacity, even as expenses increase. That means a maximum pay of $1000 for that same band, which makes most touring impossible. However, for a young local band, that amount is phenomenal. Now, it’s probable that the young band won’t earn that as they don’t necessarily have the skills or the following of the experienced tourer, but that’s where the venue comes in.
Most folk clubs or church series have spent years building up a community which is loyal and enthusiastic, even when presented with musicians they’ve never heard of. As a musician, you are being invited into their community. As they’ve seen and heard musicians for years, the dynamic that has developed is not what you’d expect: the musician is not the main event, the gathering of the community is.