Coronavirus. COVID19. Wuhan. China.
Sorry, just trying to get some keyword impact on my post…
Yes, the #1 topic anywhere and everywhere you look is THE VIRUS and how it has impacted life as we know it around the world. In the United States, most states have enacted some form of quarantine/lockdown/stay-at-home/”stay safe” order that prevents citizens from venturing out for anything but necessities, and even so, must practice some form of social distancing (a term that, like wardrobe malfunction, has been engrained into our subconscious at this point). The businesses and facilities deemed “non-essential” to daily function (or that can somehow continue through remote capabilities such as streaming or teleconferencing) have had their physical spaces closed until such time as it is deemed safe to return (which, for most, means “indefinitely”).
Among those “non-essential” facilities are churches. While most states have stopped short of banning church gatherings (lest they face a lawsuit for violating the First Amendment), quite a few have “strongly recommended” (sometimes to the point of harassment) that churches switch to a remote broadcast of their services rather than meeting in person. And yes, some churches have opted to continue meeting in person anyway, but by and large, most churches have adapted to a streaming service of some sort, if only to avoid legal distractions.
Aside from churches, all concert halls, theaters, and other such venues have been shuttered until state administrations decide it’s safe to open them again (some sooner than others). This lack of venue coupled with stay-at-home orders that vary from state to state has effectively shut down the southern gospel touring circuit. Everyone from weekend warriors to Gaither has had to cancel dates for the foreseeable future. Some artists have attempted to re-book for a later date, but given the uncertainty on timelines, especially from state to state, it’s impossible to say when a full-time touring schedule for ANYONE might resume.
So, how are artists handling this in the mean time? Without going too far into the business side of things, there are some artists who are full-time employees, some who are part-time, and some who are independent contractors. Going without touring can have a huge financial impact on a group, especially individual members who may not have another source of income.
To account for this, many artists have taken to social media to stream live performances. Triumphant posted a full concert (complete with stage lighting and professional sound and video) on Facebook, while Gold City went to their studio with a select group of musicians and performed a live set (the performance has since been removed from their Facebook page). Other artists have gone the iPhone route, offering intimate performances from their living rooms (or wherever they may be). In nearly every instance, these artists have given viewers the ability to make donations to their ministry efforts using platforms such as PayPal, Venmo, or good old mailed-in checks. Hey, at least they’re trying to earn their keep, right?
Scott Godsey seemed to come up with a solid solution (whether the idea was his or inspired by someone else is up for debate…cough cough….). He launched the Hope Sings series of “virtual concerts,” where artists come to his studio and perform live concerts via Vimeo. The catch is that, in order to get the link to these concerts, you had to purchase a virtual ticket for $20 per artist, but again, it’s a fine solution for artists to be able to not just continue singing, but also continue to bring in some sort of income.
Now granted, some folks are not too keen on the idea of paying for a live streaming event (especially if it appears that very little effort is being made on the part of the artist to give a professional presentation), but I personally have no problem making a donation to or paying for a ticket for an artist to stream a concert online – so long as every effort is made to present a solid, professional performance (see Triumphant). In fact, I HAVE forked out money to multiple artists who have done this.
But what if a group has members that live in different cities or states? Well, some groups have adapted accordingly. The Gaither Vocal Band, for example, has been doing pre-recorded streaming in separate parts, which is then assembled and posted online. Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, in an effort to promote their new release, not only assembled their vocalists individually, but also multiple band members to perform selections from the release independently, which again are assembled and posted online.
Sadly, not all artists are able to adapt to such factors. Mark Trammell announced early on that his quartet would not be doing any live streaming because of the distance between group members’ homes, so that group is effectively shut down until touring resumes. I would imagine that other groups whose members live long distances away are in a similar boat without some sort of tech-savvy individual helping them.
Still, other artists have opted to simply shut down during the quarantine, regardless of distance. This may actually be an effort to help their group members, as they may qualify for unemployment under certain state initiatives. As long as an employee is laid off, they should qualify for unemployment; if they continue to work/accept payments for singing, this puts the unemployment in jeopardy.
In any case, it’s obvious that coronavirus has had an impact on southern gospel music in ways that nobody has ever seen before. Assuming that the world eventually gets back to “normal,” will some of these adaptations remain in place permanently (such as live virtual concerts), or will they simply be viewed as just a temporary means of sustaining artists?
From a business perspective, there is about to be an even wider disparity between the so-called “A-level artists” vs “B-level artists”. It at this point is no longer focused on the quality of the artists’ work, but how the artists ran their business. A good portion of artists who have incorporated their ministry and have actually employed their singers/musicians qualify for the PPP loan, and their employees can get temporary unemployment. Unfortunately there are an even larger number of ministries who are not that lucky. Those who have 1099 self-employed members are, no doubt, in trouble. The former-mentioned artists will most likely see even greater heights of success over the next five years, while chances are there will be a major scaling back on the latter-mentioned. I predict that the southern gospel industry will be looking a lot different in the not-too-distant future.
Covid-19 has affected all music, not just southern gospel. I’d say that the music industry as a whole could look very different once this is over. Maybe not as much of a reliance on live concerts, for example.