Not Just Venues, Music Itself Impacted By the Pandemic

Local artists reflect on how the conditions of a pandemic changed the content of their music.

February 8, 2022

2020 was a year filled with shuttered stages, canceled tours and awkward live stream performances, and the artists who made it all possible were left to salvage what they could of the largest sources of income for the music industry.

At first, it seemed as if the mainstream music industry did not know how to react to shutdowns or a global pandemic. Musicians that depend on their local scenes and venues to promote and play music were equally as confused, but they had even fewer resources to find solutions. The return of live performances has been a central pillar of the return to normalcy, but the pandemic brought something else to musical artists that were an unexpected side effect of a sick, isolated year. The ubiquitous feelings of an entire nation are not necessarily rare in the grand scheme of music history, but the lack of live performances makes this situation unique when compared to a similar cataclysmic event in the music industry: the terrorist attacks that took place on 9/11.

9/11 changed the landscape of the music industry, and suddenly an anti-establishment or anti-authority message was frowned upon. Country music is the most obvious example of a genre that responded to the uncertain industry that existed after the attacks. Songs like “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” and “Courtesy of the Red White and Blue (The Angry American)” were created directly in response to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.

The current pandemic and its effects on the music industry are still emerging. Some artists experienced the pandemic in a deeply personal way. Alan Brown, known professionally as Corduroy Brown, is a Huntington-based musician who spent days on a ventilator and was briefly thought to be dead during an emergency helicopter ride to a hospital. As open as he was with his story, it was easy to tell that this experience has transformed his life and the music that came along with it.

“It truly sucks living through major historical events sometimes… I think of stuff like this on the brighter side. It almost takes stuff like this for people to have a reset. It’s so easy to get caught up in the everyday routine that you forget to live, you forget to be in the moment… I think this music definitely reflects some of that too.”

Featured on Brown’s newest album released in August is a song titled “Better on the Ground” which was written by his friend and collaborator Jeffrey McClelland while Brown was in the hospital. The song deals with facing the possibility of death and asking God for a second chance at life.

The lessons Brown learned will not only inform the music he makes in the future and how he performs it, but this experience has also fundamentally changed his life.

“There’s a lot that you learn when you’re in a hospital bed and faced with your mortality. You learn not to waste time. That doesn’t mean not to rest or take breaks, but what are you putting your energy into? What do you want to do with the time you are given?” Brown asked.

Outside of his time in the hospital, Brown explained how his vision for an album that focused on collaboration was forced to move much slower than other music he had worked on in the past. That was not necessarily a negative thing, as Brown explained that this allowed more time to be taken on each song in a way that may have been impossible at a different time.

“It allowed us to take more time on the album, I don’t know exactly how it shifted the sound, but it gave us the ability to create more with what we have if that makes any sense. We could really sort of sit on those things [ideas] and re-digest them over and over.”

Some artists and bands have allowed 2020 and its difficulties to influence the music and the tone of their work. Major artists were even tasked with making a pandemic-related pop hit. Most notably, Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber did this with their quarantine-inspired collaboration “Stuck with You.” Other artists like Brad Goodall of the band Ona, specifically mentioned how the band was purposely trying to do the opposite of this: making music that would take people’s minds off the past year and allow them to enjoy life again. However, the band was not without its struggles in response to a covid-riddled year.

“Not being able to tour, to perform, can really hurt a bunch of musicians’ happiness, you know? We get a lot of comfort from playing, it’s what we do, it’s what we like to do, it’s what keeps us going, so taking that away from our profession and our lifeline, definitely put a damper on things for a long time.”

Most artists make up about 75% of their income through touring, and the arrival of the pandemic allowed no method to recoup this income for artists not on the level to host virtual concerts or listening parties.

Asking Goodall if the band’s music has been influenced by the past year to which he responded: “It’s been influenced only by the fact that writing songs about what went down, and tried to avoid writing songs that were downbeat, sad, or whatever. We want to come out of this like a flower in bloom. We’re not gonna write any songs that address it, at all… We rebelled against thinking about it or writing about it.” Brad said.

Music combined with the age of the internet has created an environment in which speed has transformed how music is consumed. Artists without a record contract can easily record an entire album and release it independently on the largest music services around the world. This has created an environment in which many smaller artists can make music about how they are feeling at the current moment and publish it immediately. This was something that has only become possible with the democratization of digital technology seen throughout the 21st century. Naturally, such a massively impactful event like a global pandemic would leave its mark on music that is popular and local alike. World-changing events like this can leave people with a newfound perspective on life or harden a band’s resolve to continue creating the type of music that made them successful in the first place.

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