Survey reveals dire impact of pandemic on Canadian musicians

Music Canada expects the COVID-19 crisis will fundamentally change the way musicians earn a living


Imagine if your livelihood and, in fact, much of your identity centred around expressing yourself musically in front of live audiences.

Think about the joy that comes with sharing songs that had been crafted, in some cases, for months before finally being ready to be heard.

Then consider what it would be like if all of this was taken away from you.

That’s what’s happened to scores upon scores of Canadian musicians as a result of COVID-19.

And music has been one of Canada’s greatest exports, putting us in the eyes of the world through the performances of everyone from Jessie Reyez to Céline Dion to Nickelback to Arcade Fire.

It’s yet another painful impact of the pandemic – and its magnitude was recently explored in a survey by Abacus Data.

It reached out to more than 700 musicians and came to some fairly dire conclusions.

First off, these artists say that the number of 2021 bookings is lower, so even if a vaccine is developed, their professional and financial pain will continue well into next year.

Of those surveyed, 85 per cent reported that if they can’t perform, it will be tough making a living in their chosen field.

The also survey found that on average, Canadian professional musicians perform 96 times per year across Canada and around the world.

But for the rest of 2020, the average number of bookings has shrivelled to eight.

“More than half of the musicians surveyed have zero performances booked for the remainder of the year,” wrote Abacus Data cofounder David Coletto on his company’s website.

Music Canada commissioned the survey.

“While live music is crucial to Canada’s professional musicians, both financially and as an outlet for their creativity, artists have strong concerns about the health risk of the virus and its impact on their ability to perform,” Miranda Mulholland, chair of Music Canada’s advisory council, said on the organization’s website. “And over the longer-term, the pandemic has fundamentally changed the way artists earn a living and create music.”

Many professional musicians have benefited from government programs, including the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which pays people $2,000 per month if their livelihoods have been interrupted by the pandemic and they don’t qualify for Employment Insurance.

But there’s growing anxiety about how long those benefits will continue to be paid.

“Not only are musicians anxious about the financial implications resulting from cancelled concerts and impossible profit margins due to social distancing restrictions, they are also worried about the health risks associated with the pandemic,” Mulholland said. “They are concerned about their families, their fans, audiences, and themselves. Even when safety precautions are being taken, the risk of COVID-19 is still too great for many musicians to consider touring for the foreseeable future.”

This story originally appeared in the Georgia Straight.

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