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19 May 2020

Call for Think Pieces: Working in Music and the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Composers Society of Singapore (CSS) has received an interesting call for texts based on the COVID-19 pandemic:

Working in Music and the COVID-19 Pandemic: Call for Think Pieces

Since the Covid-19 outbreak was announced as a pandemic by the World Health Organization in March 2020, most countries announced lockdown or semi-confinement measures almost immediately, with all public events being cancelled. This had an immediate and direct effect on artists all over the world whose livelihood is heavily dependent on public performances. 

Not always seen as “essential” to survival, commercial entertainment is what is most easily compromised when financial resources are scarce; cultural outings and subscriptions are first to be cancelled. What we see with the current crisis, however, is that non-commercial forms of entertainment – homemade and cheaper – bloomed immediately after lockdown started: singing collectively on balconies in Italy or dancing together at windows to the same radio channel in Switzerland, among many other examples. Famous artists and entire orchestras also started performing online from their homes through YouTube or Facebook Live and similar channels on social media, even dedicating their performances to frontline workers as a solidarity gesture. The need for art and music seems to be felt as ever, but lockdown measures impose a change in modalities: a spectrum between back to basics such as homemade singalongs, and moving professional performances online. 

With the current Covid-19 crisis, the “back-to-normal” not only still seems far, but will potentially be different to what we knew before. The cultural sector is one of the worst hit in all countries, as these are workers amongst those with the least employment stability and protection even in non-crisis times in most parts of the world.  

We invite short think pieces (from 250 words to max. 2-3 pages) from scholars studying musical work on the impact of the current crisis on musicians and musical workers as well as research on musical work. A similar call has been launched at the Max Planck Institute covering a larger area and entitled “Music in times of the COVID-19 pandemic” with promising results. On our end, we would like to focus specifically on issues dealing with working in music during the pandemic. 

The goal is to start a conversation about these topics and pool our resources together, though still being in the middle of the hurricane, data is still scarce. For a rough guide regarding entries, you can refer to our blog entry guidelines

Being an international network, we are particularly interested in gathering insights into the different national contexts. Topics are open, but the following two seem particularly relevant. 

1. Musical work and workers in different national contexts during and after lockdown

How is the current crisis affecting musicians, technicians, agents and the other actors involved in producing and diffusing music? How do musical workers cope with the crisis at an individual and/or collective level? That is, financially, socially, psychologically, culturally, creatively, etc. What are the different measures taken (or not) by governments or public organizations to support musicians during the crisis? 

Some of the financial measures we have seen include mutual aid, government subsidies, charity, crowdfunding, online gigs, etc. In Switzerland, for example, days within the announcement of cancellation of major public events, though 2 weeks before official lockdown, a petition was launched to crowdfund a compensation fund for creative workers. The government also announced a financial support-plan for the cultural sector, while grocery stores such as Denner started playing exclusively local music to support musicians. Meanwhile in Belgium, it is the professional federations that are particularly defending the artistic and musical sector. Since mid-March, they relay demands concerning subsidies and the unemployment insurance system to the federal and local governments, while also urging local radios to play more Belgian artists and carrying out an online survey on the consequences of the lockdown and its trail of cancellations. 

Furthermore, it was recently reported that music streaming is decreasing since lockdown measures were taken in different countries, while film streaming is on the rise by up to 300%. This may be linked to the population’s habits that are being forced to change: streaming music on the way to work and back home is now less relevant, and watching movies at home is now replacing cinema-going or a night out.

What types of support for the music sector do we find in the different national contexts? What about the effectiveness or long-term effects of such measures? Will playing local music remain a short-term act of solidarity or become more common and change our listening habits? What effect can these current changes, including those of streaming habits, have on musicians, their work and the industry as a whole? 

2Researching musical work while in lockdown

How to continue research while in confinement? How to replace fieldwork and observations? Can all interviews become online; with what effect? How do/can researchers adapt to the new working conditions? Are there new rising methodologies?

Our colleague Eileen Karmy just published two pieces on doing digital archival research on Chilean musicians, both available on the Latin American History blog (part 1 and part 2). Niels Hansen (Aarhus University) has in turn launched a crowd-sourced database of videos, hashtags, media clips and other resources documenting the uses of music during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Share your tips, experiences and digital resources on researching musical work during lockdown. 

We will collect the entries and present them on our website and Twitter account (@working_music).

You can send your piece to Gabrielle Kielich at gabrielle.kielich@mail.mcgill.ca

Gabrielle Kielich
PhD Candidate, Communication Studies
Department of Art History and Communication Studies
McGill University