VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – A new year can bring many opportunities, but little did local musicians know the first few months of 2020 would mark the beginning of weeks marred by cancelled or postponed shows due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
Going into what was supposed to be a busy tour schedule, Vancouver-based Sleepcircle was one of the many bands forced into a tough situation: having to cancel upcoming shows in the name of public responsibility amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
They were supposed to embark on a five-show tour with fellow Vancouver group Owlface, but instead, the musicians are now stuck in their homes practicing social distancing.
Kavian Iranzad, guitarist for Sleepcircle, said while the decision was a tough pill to swallow, he and his bandmates ultimately knew it was the right thing to do.
“It really sucks, honestly,” he said of the decision to suspend the tour that would have seen both bands travel between Vancouver Island to interior B.C. through March and April. “We’re going to be rescheduling them for the summer, but obviously, with the current situation as it is, we’re not looking to start putting in those solid dates until everything blows over.”
Cancelling a tour may not seem like a big deal to many outside the music industry, but Iranzad noted it’s a decision that can have significant impacts on bands and their members.
“As a local artist, going out and playing shows is where most of your revenue comes from,” he told NEWS 1130, estimating a lost revenue of up to $5,000 from this tour alone, forcing Sleepcircle to make some tough decisions.
“We’ve had to revamp our entire focus, you know, cut costs,” he explained. “A lot of the expenses that we were going to put together for developing new material, getting new merchandise – we’ve had to cut that back now because of the revenue that we won’t make from going out on the road now.”
Iranzad and his fellow Sleepcircle members are lucky in the sense they don’t have to rely on their band as a source of income. However, the money lost would have funded their musical endeavours to come.
Apart from the revenue they’ll now be missing out on for the time being, Iranzad said the biggest loss for the local band is the missed exposure playing in new cities would have brought, which in turn would have created new profits down the line.
The situation Sleepcircle has found itself in isn’t unique.
Jon Redditt with Vancouver group War Baby said it can cost a band thousands of dollars to plan a tour – and that’s even before they’ve hit the road.
“I’m not even sure our band will survive through this,” he said. “[The tour] was going to be next month, in April, and we figured it was just the right thing to do.”
He added there’s a lot of anxiety among other bands in the local industry who also had album releases set in the near future.
War Baby wasn’t the only band to cancel a tour that would have taken them outside of B.C. East Vancouver’s The Hallowed Catharsis had a cross-Canada tour set up as part of its record release, with all shows scrapped and no future dates set for the time being, too.
“Over the past year getting ready for this, we bought a tour van, we’ve ordered merch, we’ve already racked up quite a few expenses so this kind of leaves us in a very awkward situation,” Kyle Bains, the band’s guitarist, said.
Bains said he and his bandmates aren’t in as bad a situation as some others might find themselves to be in right now, with each of them having jobs as a source of income outside the band.
“We’re trying to make the best of a bad situation,” he explained, adding the emotional toll isn’t something to overlook.
“Definitely, financially it’s tough, emotionally speaking too. There’s hundreds of hours of work that not just me but my bandmates have put into planning the tour and making sure everything is ready to go. It really does hurt quite a bit,” he said.
‘Dessert and not just dinner’
Paula “Sparky” Spurr, a musician and actor based in Vancouver, said performing at local venues generates a big chunk of her revenue. Cancelling upcoming shows as a gig performer will likely hit her bottom line hard, she said.
“No one can go out and gather in such places anymore, so that part of my income stream has dried up completely,” she said, adding her additional revenue would allow her to afford “dessert and not just dinner.”
“I usually gig once a week – maybe twice if I’m lucky – and that adds a significant portion of change to my pocket. I can afford my bills with my other job, but I can’t afford anything extra,” she said.
Spurr, who estimates her losses for a month of cancelled gigs to hover around $500, said she’s heard from other artists who are in the same boat – some in situations more dire.
Despite recent support measures announced by the federal government, such as changes to Employment Insurance, Spurr doesn’t believe she’ll get much use out of them.
She’s been writing to her MP, who happens to be federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, to ask him to ensure people who are in the same situation she’s in aren’t excluded from being able to apply for help.
“I hear people sometimes say things like, ‘Oh it’s just music,’ but a life without any music, anywhere for anybody would be kind of bleak and sad, so it isn’t just music to me, it’s the way that I contribute to society by adding something that people can gather at,” she said. “So, until things can change back to social gathering instead of social distancing, how do I continue to share music with people in a way that brings them together? That’s my main concern.”
Spurr has plans for a show on Tuesday which will be broadcast online. People can make donations, half of which will go to the Vancouver Food Bank during these trying times.
With musicians and other artists now put in a tough spot, the message to the public is loud and clear: support your local bands.
“There’s a lot of people that are spending a lot of time at home, and a lot of those people are spending their time binging Netflix, listening to music – they’re consuming art, and it’s pretty easy to forget that in tough times like these, it’s artists we always fall back to, to fill those spaces,” Bains said.
He suggests supporting artists by checking out their online stores, buying a t-shirt or their music, and spreading the word about them.
It’s a point echoed by others, like Tim Bogdachev – who goes by “Russian Tim” – a musician as well as local promoter.
“I’m a glass half-full person, so just stay positive, be respectful, understand that this is serious, just the whole situation and all this effect on the music scene, and once everything hopefully settles, just go to a local show,” he said. “For the bands which have an online store, maybe buy a shirt from them if you know that their tour got cancelled. For some bands, it’s their livelihoods.”
In the meantime, while people are hunkered down in their homes in an effort to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, some companies have also taken steps to try and support artists.
Bandcamp – a publishing platform for musicians — for example, waived its revenue share on all its sales on Friday in an effort to support artists on that site.
“For many artists, a single day of boosted sales can mean the difference between being able to pay rent or not,” a message on the website read. “Still, we consider this just a starting point. Musicians will continue to feel the effects of lost touring income for many months to come, so we’re also sharing some ideas below on how fans can support the artists they love and how artists can give fans new, creative ways to provide support.”
Some musicians have put on web-based shows for free to entertain people and continue to grow their passions amid the pandemic.