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EASY ED’S BROADSIDE: Will Music Disappear Without a Trace

Roots music
The old Trace movie theater, refurbished (at least inside) into the Westside Theatre nightclub and meeting place in Port Gibson, Mississippi. The Trace burned twice, in 1948 and 1968 — the latter blaze putting it out of business for good.

It’s week number whatever here in New York and the social isolation experiment seems to be working. They say that thanks to our efforts, we’re flattening the curve. Unfortunately, the death count in this state sadly keeps hovering between seven or eight hundred poor souls each day, so I highly doubt that any friends or family of the departed are experiencing jubilation over this particular flattening episode. People are usually unable to say goodbye to their loved ones, but instead can see a daily video feed of the refrigeration trucks parked outside of hospitals holding the corpses or the mass burials on Hart’s Island.

I’m reminded of a recent Facebook post from a friend of mine that read:

January 1: It’s going to be a great year!!!
March 15: I wiped my butt this morning with a coffee filter.

Despite the spin from a certain somebody who is hawking an unproven COVID-19 miracle drug on his daily infomercial/campaign rally with the slogan of “What have you got to lose?” and receives his consultation from the guys who run wrestling and mixed martial arts extravaganzas, things aren’t looking too good. While some say we’re just days away from reopening the country for business, many government and public health officials are whistling a different tune. For example, this past week both the mayor of Los Angeles and the governor of California have indicated that mass gatherings, such as sporting events and music concerts, are likely not to start up again for at least a year. Let that sink in.

This past month has been a bonanza for livestream and online concerts, with most having no entry cost and a few that offer a virtual tip jar to leave a donation for the performers. I don’t know how that’s working out, but it’s likely not paying anyone’s bills. New albums, which are introduced along with plans for press, publicity, and tour dates, are still being released minus the exposure, support, and revenue. And we still haven’t figured out how the creative participants of the music industry can or will survive the streaming model, let alone with live performance opportunities now taken away.

I keep an eye on Chris Griffy’s biweekly ND column Crowdfunding Radarand many of the recent projects he’s featured have been hitting their rather modest targets in a pre-COVID-19 world. But the question remains if it’s sustainable, and perhaps more important will be the public’s ability or appetite to commit to a monthly donation through a platform like Patreon. Given that we are on the edge of a full-blown depression, I must admit that I am not hopeful of this model.

Every few weeks I enjoy going to The Strand, one of the oldest and largest indie booksellers in the country. It’s three floors of incredible inventory and selection, and the last time I was there it was just a week before it closed down. It was oddly empty; the city’s fear was just beginning to take hold. The store, on the edge of Union Square and the NYU campus, is always bustling with people and now it stands shuttered. I wonder about its future in the same way that I think of record stores. These are tactile environments where we all touch, hold, and check out the product. I don’t think disinfectant wipes will work well on paper or cardboard.

Guess it might be a good time to offer my apology for wasting your time with all this doom and gloom. As is often the case when writing a weekly column, I try hard to seek out a topic of interest that may help expose new musical avenues for y’all to explore. That was my goal when I sat down and flipped open the Mac, but I’ve lost both my will and the way forward.

So here’s what I’m going to do. No Depression is a nonprofit entity and for my services, or lack thereof, I receive a small salary. (I’m reminded that ND’s co-founder Peter Blackstock once said that I was lucky to even be making a cent. Non-working music writers can be found for nearly a dime a dozen.) Anyway, when I get my check this month I’m going to drop it all into a few of those virtual tip jars, or perhaps support a project or two. It’s just a tiny drop in a big bucket, but I don’t know what else to do. I guess I’m helplessly hoping for better days ahead.

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