The coronavirus outbreak has left countless members of the music community in a financial bind, as each tour and festival cancellation means dozens of lost paychecks. That’s not to mention concern over the virus itself, which has begun to afflict members of the industry.
In response, the Recording Academy and its charitable arm, MusiCares, are today (March 17) launching a coronavirus relief fund for music professionals adversely impacted by the virus, starting with an initial $1 million donation from each. MusiCares is also in the process of securing donations from several major streaming services, record labels and other music companies, plus a number of high-profile artists, according to a representative.
The virus known as COVID-19 is just the sort of impossible-to-predict pandemic that MusiCares was set up for, Recording Academy interim president/CEO and chair of the board Harvey Mason Jr. tells Billboard.
The nonprofit helps individuals in all corners of the music industry cover a range of financial, medical and personal emergencies, meaning it has “boots on the ground, and people in the communities who know exactly how to help, and what’s going to be a difference-maker for a lot of people,” he says. “Some people need help with their rent, some need to buy groceries, some need medical care. The infrastructure around MusiCares is set up to deal with specifically that.”
Similarly, three days after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the gulf region in 2005, MusiCares and the academy dedicated $1 million to help victims of the storm. After a five-year effort, MusiCares ended up distributing more than $4.5 million to more than 4,500 music professionals — helping with everything from medical expenses and relocation costs to instrument repair.
Still, the coronavirus pandemic comes with new challenges for relief efforts: Not only is it a global problem with far-reaching effects, but it’s ongoing — yielding news updates daily and even hourly.
“My first thought was, ‘this is going to get out of control. The need is going to overwhelm us and our ability to help our music community,”’ Mason Jr. admits. But he and the academy quickly snapped into action: “We’re going to have to do something extraordinary to be able to keep up with that.”
MusiCares-eligible music professionals — those who have had at least five years of employment in the music industry, or six commercially released recordings or videos — can apply for funds on the MusiCares website, where they will be required to show proof of gig cancellations due to coronavirus precautionary measures. From there, Mason Jr. says, “It’s really a partnership between MusiCares staff looking into it and working with the individual recipient to find out ‘what happened, how did it happen, where am I, and where do I need the help?'”
He emphasizes that MusiCares will allocate funds based on need, with a preference for “people that really need help — that live paycheck to paycheck,” he says. “These are not the artists that are going on worldwide tours on jets.”
That’s why MusiCares is calling on those who can contribute to the fund to do their part, too — whether that’s by donating “$5 or $ million,” Mason Jr. adds.
“I think it’s going to be one of our greatest challenges for the next couple weeks and months, to be able to get this going and serve as many people as we can serve,” he says. “The Recording Academy and MusiCares are here for you in a time of need, and we hope to be able to alleviate some of the suffering or hardship you’re going through.”
MusiCares chair Steve Boom echoes the need for additional donors in a press release. “The music industry is built on the work of musicians, artists, and music professionals. It is in times like these, that the industry needs to come together to support those who are struggling, particularly those who rely on touring incomes to survive,” he says. “We know this fund will need to be significant. We will not be able to do it alone, and that’s why we are asking the entire music community including labels, streaming services, and anyone who is able to join us in this important effort. We’re all in when the good times roll, and it’s important that we’re all in when times are tough, too.”
Other coronavirus relief efforts for the music community include musician financial assistance organization Sweet Relief’s COVID-19 Fund along with local efforts, like the Seattle Artists Relief Fund and Banding Together ATX fund for the Austin live music community, following the cancellation of its South By Southwest festival.