The same day Code Orange released its fourth album, Underneath, on Roadrunner Records, coronavirus precautions canceled its hometown show the next night (March 14). But the Pittsburgh metalcore act quickly pivoted — and livestreamed itself playing to an empty 1,500-capacity venue on Twitch. Vocalist Jami Morgan recalls how it happened.
“We had 48 hours max to pull it together... Instead of sitting there and saying ‘Woe is me’ when this shit happens, you have to activate. I talked to some people close to me, and we were like, ‘I don’t know why nobody’s talking about doing something like this. Everyone’s going to start doing [livestreamed concerts], so let’s be first.’ Our roots in the hardcore community are a lot of what allowed it: I called [videographer] Sunny Singh from hate5six; he was down to drive to Pittsburgh from Philadelphia to film it, and he brought Jeff Davis from Feet First Productions, another hardcore YouTube [channel]. My two buddies — Justin Boyd, who was Mac Miller’s photographer before he passed, and Tim Semega, another great photographer from Pittsburgh — were taking photos. Roadrunner has a really great relationship with Twitch, and we had invested so much time into the video content for the tour, with [keyboardist Eric] “Shade” [Balderose] creating all the original HD animation over the past months. We utilized the content to make it more like a movie than a show. Even festival livestreams aren’t like that.
We didn’t want to charge [for the livestream], so it was important to have all our merch up for sale because that was the only way we’d make money. Our merch store is totally run by us. I was nervous because it was in front of so many people and 1,000% live; if something went wrong, it would have been really embarrassing. But my guys came through. Metal and hardcore — especially hardcore — can be a niche thing, so they’ve always had to be resourceful and creative in order to survive...[Underneath] matches up to this situation in a weird way. It’s not based on the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s about where we’re heading in this overcrowded, disconnected world [and] having to look at yourself and the decisions you make.”
The Mija Mgmt founder spent a car ride from Los Angeles to San Francisco, where her artist La Doña was scheduled to perform a release show for her debut EP, on endless calls with clients and their larger teams. In the end, the show did not go on.
“On March 12, when we released La Doña’s EP, Algo Nuevo, we decided to drive as a team from Los Angeles to San Francisco instead of fly, obviously, to her release show. That same day is when news started circulating: The California governor released a statement [recommending] no gatherings over 250 people. The first call I made that morning was at 8 a.m. to La Doña’s agent. The entire drive was me on the phone with publicists, attorneys and our artists, having to figure out whether or not to postpone her release show. The venue was down to move forward, even though it was promoted by Live Nation and they were shutting down everything; at that moment, they were asking us to make the decision. Ultimately, we postponed the show. La Doña’s mariachi class [that she teaches] was supposed to perform, and her mom was supposed to perform, but her mom is over 60. We didn’t want to play a role in furthering this pandemic. That’s the first time I had to talk through it with one of my clients.
I’m seeing a panic ensue between band and crew members that rely on just touring income. I’m seeing my friends who are touring managers, lighting designers, production managers, seeing their entire first half of the year’s [worth of] work completely disappear. I’m seeing people move toward livestream to feel proactive; it’s great, and it’s a way for artists to stay connected with their fans who may need it as a driving force of healing, but at the same time, it’s not going to bring people’s touring jobs back. There needs to be a call to action for a directory for resources. Even as a manager, I’m struggling to see where those resources lie. How do I step up for the extended team of my clients, the band or crew members that rely on these checks to survive? I’m seeing so many posts from creatives saying how they are not going to be able to pay rent this month. The entire live space has crumbled right now. All of these shows are postponed until the fall, but we don’t know what will happen in the fall or what’s next. We don’t know how this virus is going to play out in the next couple of months; we don’t know how it’s going to ultimately affect our economy. We’re going to have to deal with the ramifications of this for a minute. We are collectively suffering right now. We need to figure out how to help each other heal.”
Though the Austin-based independent artist had a long drive home ahead of her, she was eager to start picking up the pieces of a tour that was just kicking off — and exploring how else she can -promote her recently released fourth album, Superstar.
“Our tour got canceled while we were in Pittsburgh. Everybody lives in a different city, but a couple of my bandmates live in Vermont and we were close enough that I ended up just driving them, and then I have been trying, desperately, to make my way home to Austin. I feel like I’m in this zombie movie and I really need to get home before the zombies arrive. It’s definitely a strange time — everything is very up in the air. I feel strangely calm about the whole thing. We have to be positive, or else panic will ensue even further. First and foremost, I have to think about my band because I feel personally responsible for them as their boss to make sure that they can pay rent. Right off the bat, people have been really generous. I’ve gotten messages from people like, ‘Hey, I had tickets to your show. Can I just give you the money for the tickets?’ I gave that money directly to my band and crew. There’s a second wave of funds that I’m holding for them so that they can pay rent and their bills, and pay for groceries and $50 toilet paper, whatever. But then after that, it’s like, ‘OK, what’s the next step?’ I’m going to try and sell merch so that I can pay my rent for the next two or three months, because right now I’m out of work.
I personally don’t have faith that any government plans are going to cover everyone in the country. It’s just not the way that works, and it’s going to hit the poorest people the hardest and the worst. It’s times like these where you have to put everything in perspective and be like, ‘Yeah, OK, I was looking at the first sold-out tour of my career,’ but there are people that are so much worse off who have kids and families to take care of, and they’re looking at not being able to work for months and not getting any government help. I have to take this all with a grain of salt. I feel like people need to be comforted in these times, and it’s going to be a really interesting experiment to see what people come up with. What better time to make stuff, even if it’s just recording it on your iPhone or into a voice recorder, whatever you’ve got.”
Dre London, founder of L.A.-based London Entertainment and manager of Post Malone, wants to make the most of this extra time; but as soon as the quarantine is lifted, he and his superstar client can't wait to finish what they started and knock out the last few dates of Post Malone's successful arena tour
"It’s all about quarantine, quarantine, quarantine. I don’t feel the government is doing the right things to combat this. Post’s biggest thing is that everyone is panicking too much. He feels that if everyone just does what’s supposed to be done, we’ll all be okay. I understand that straight away. We all need to worry about the elderly people and do our part. Right now, he’s taking time in the next couple of days to finish the studio at his house. And if worse comes to worse, we’re going to be making quarantine music. Me personally, I’ve taken the last couple of days to work extra harder. We have so many ideas and projects going on that it’s allowing us time to really get everything going. For the last couple of days, we’ve just been talking and texting about business plans. So for me, it’s been a good full stop because we’re always moving at a quick pace. This is giving us time to get it together and get it right. I feel like it’s a sign from above telling everyone that they’re moving too fast and they’ve got to get it together.
We’ve been thinking about [a livestream] as I’d had an idea about doing that even before coronavirus. And we’re seeing the concept blow up right now. He could do a nice solo guitar performance or unplugged kind of show that would be very good for everyone. We got all the way to the last five shows of The Runaway tour and we had to cancel it. But before that it was a good look for us. We’re planning to later reschedule those five shows so we can still please the fans and not upset anyone. But now is the perfect time for all artists to perfect their craft. In 2019 there was a lot of BS music to me — they should be using this time to put out better music in 2020."
*For more coverage of COVID-19's impact on the music industry, check out Billboard's newest Deep Dive, A Pandemic Playbook, here.
This article originally appeared in the March 28, 2020 issue of Billboard.