Supporting Our Musicians
By Tyler Russell McCusker
For many musicians, the “rockstar” life can become a nightly chore. You schlep your PA system to a bar, spend an hour setting it up, play some Eagles covers to an inattentive crowd, get your $300 check and go home. Meanwhile, your original songs—perhaps your life’s work—remain unrecorded and unheard. The album you’ve always planned to release seems like a faraway, expensive goal. But you can’t do anything else. Writing and playing music is your calling, whether anyone is listening or not.
And that was your life as a gigging musician before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, all you want is to have it back.
Most local musicians aren’t incorporated businesses. They aren’t eligible for a Small Business Administration loan. Most aren’t employees either, meaning they can’t file for unemployment. Most prefer to be paid under the table in cash, so they’re not eligible for employer or government assistance.
We have talked plenty about retail and restaurants that are suffering because of the pandemic. But our local musicians are a crucial piece of our artistic lifeblood in Laguna Beach, and there’s no light at the end of the tunnel for them. Even if most of our restaurants and bars do re-open, are they going to have the budgets to immediately start booking talent again? I’ve heard from many of my gigging friends that certain spots in town have been paying the exact same amount of money for a gig for more than a decade, about $300, and the pandemic certainly isn’t going to help raise that amount anytime soon.
Musicians did have one victory last week. Assembly Bill 5 (AB5) was going to require all employers to put musicians on payroll, rather than pay them as independent contractors. This was going to make being a freelance musician very difficult. However, after much vocal dissention from the music industry, the language in the law was amended in musicians’ favor. The amendments will take effect upon the state legislature’s reconvening.
Here at home, we need to do as much as we can to support our local musicians. For Laguna Beach to consider itself an arts colony in the 21st century, our community need to give our musicians the same recognition as mixed-media artists. For many of us, music is our favorite art form to enjoy during warm summer night at Festival of Arts, a sweaty dance-off at the Dirty Bird, or an 80s sing-a-long at The White House (RIP).
Hats off to The Cliff for creatively live streaming a concert with Robert Jon and the Wreck last week. This gives a band some work, creates goodwill for the restaurant and gives isolated folk something to enjoy online! I hope more restaurants known for live music will follow suit.
At KX FM, we are trying to do our part to raise money for affected musicians. On our Facebook page, you’ll find some videos of bands performing a song from their homes exclusively for the Laguna Beach audience. You can make a donation on that same page, 100% of which will be given to participating performers.
The station recently interviewed Sandpiper owner Chuck Harrell. They have no income for the first time in decades.
“I’d like to go back to doing live music like we did before, but I don’t know,” Harrell said.
He joked that he’s mulled replacing the carpet, which is covered in 30 years of gum, but doesn’t want to “ruin their image.”
Please do what you can. Donate, book artists for web shows, or support the institutions that support them.
Tyler is general manager of KX FM 104.7 and raising three kids in Laguna.