By Anjali Banthia (Board Member, Groupmuse Foundation) & Mosa Tsay (Executive Director, Groupmuse Foundation)
It’s no surprise that the financial impact of COVID-19 has been and continues to be incredibly hard on artists — and musicians are no exception. It’s also no surprise that music lovers everywhere have greatly missed the joy of listening to live music during the pandemic.
Since 2013, Groupmuse — the largest national platform for connecting audiences to local musicians — has pioneered a unique solution: intimate house concerts hosted by anyone in their home, open to our generous community of over 180,000 music lovers nationwide, where musicians keep 100% of audience contributions. During the pandemic, Groupmuse pivoted to virtual concerts, providing an invaluable lifeline to the musicians in our community. This summer, we’ve also opened up outdoor in-person events once again. At all events, Groupmuse guarantees a minimum payment of $100 per musician per event, and covers the difference for musicians when the audience doesn’t contribute this minimum.
Across 787 groupmuses from the start of the pandemic in March 2020 to August 2021, musicians earned $335,000 total, averaging $430 per musician per event until March 2021. Now, the average is $100 per musician per event.
Source: Groupmuse Data
Our recent research of the impact of COVID-19 on our musicians showed us how important this lifeline has been. We learned that over three-quarters of Groupmuse musicians faced serious financial stress and over half lost more than 50% of their income during the pandemic. Issues such as housing insecurity, rising debt, medical emergencies and even food insecurity are far too common. We realized that we needed to do better for musicians.
Over half of musicians surveyed lost 50%+ of their income since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Groupmuse was one of the only performance opportunities I had during the pandemic, it was so nice to be able to play music for people and be compensated fairly for it…from my bedroom! Everyone was so warm and receptive. I lost my other gigs. It wasn’t enough money to change everything, but it made a difference. I didn’t have to move homes, I had enough.
— Alfredo Colon, performed at 11 Groupmuse concerts
If you love live music, musicians need your support!
We are appealing to music lovers to strengthen our support for musicians in 3 simple ways:
- Attend a Groupmuse concert — virtual or outdoor! This is the easiest way to support musicians and you might just make some new friends. Check out our website to search for concerts in your area. Sign up, follow all COVID-19 safety guidelines, and contribute $20+ during the event. We encourage you to be as generous as you can, because 100% goes towards musicians directly. You’ll pay a $5 online RSVP fee which covers our platform expenses.
- Host a Groupmuse concert! It’s free and takes 5 minutes to sign up to host a concert. You tell us about your space and we’ll match you with local musicians. We’ll share the event with our community and you can help grow our community by inviting your friends and neighbors. The best part is that you do not need to have a large home or backyard to host. We welcome those, but also encourage concerts in smaller spaces, public parks, beaches or even your driveway. If you choose to host in a public space, please check your local municipal guidelines.
- Donate to Groupmuse Foundation! Click here to donate $5, $25, $50, or $100. If you’re interested in making a larger contribution, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your donation will support the following Foundation initiatives:
- Musician Council: Compensate Groupmuse musicians for their administrative work on launching the musician cooperative.
- Planetary Music Movement: Expand Groupmuse series featuring musicians of African descent. Learn more.
- Guarantee Musician Minimums: Increase guaranteed minimum payment to $100 per musician (up to 3 musicians) per performance.
- Livestream Musician Support: Provide webinars, coaching, individual tech support for musicians livestreaming concerts on Groupmuse. Learn more.
Hosting Groupmuse concerts, to me personally, is much more than just the music — which, of course, is the main ingredient in this experience. It’s the energy created when people are united with a common interest and appreciation, the personal interaction, the environment and the beauty of the moment. After a Groupmuse concert, this is where the second part of the experience starts — interaction, talking to the performers, learning from them about their background and story, meeting new people and potentially new friends, over a glass of a favorite beverage. It’s intimate and personal and meaningful.
— Damir Price, hosted 9 Groupmuse concerts in Los Angeles
Challenging ourselves to do better for musicians
Groupmuse Foundation conducted in-depth research this summer both to quantify the COVID-19 financial impact on musicians and assess how we could better support them. We explored topics like income changes, financial shocks and our community members’ visions for a more sustainable future for musicians. We received nearly 100 responses on an online survey and conducted 5 phone interviews with musicians. The musicians we spoke with ranged from a 26-year-old jazz saxophonist in Brooklyn to a 65-year-old Armed Forces veteran/guitarist quarantining in Canada, reflecting the diversity of our community. We used their stories to reexamine the structures that led to financial insecurity for musicians and challenge ourselves to invent new and more sustainable approaches.
Data on COVID-19 impact on musicians
Before the pandemic, the majority of musicians (66%) in our community earned between US$1000–4000 per month in total from all the work they did. At this income level, many were already in financially vulnerable situations with little safety net, making heavy income losses during the pandemic especially difficult:
The effects of these income losses during the pandemic were far-reaching and painful for our musician community:
We would have thought that these hardships would have caused many musicians to move away from music as a career, but that’s not what we found. We were so moved to learn that 83% of musicians in our community remain deeply committed to pursuing professional music careers.
Building a more sustainable and financially healthy platform for musicians
As we reflected on our research findings, we realized that these issues are symptoms of a larger and more systemic problem: musicians are far too often not paid what they deserve. We also know that musicians have rare opportunities to lead and own the organizations that they perform with.
With our musicians’ dedication to their craft came an imperative for us as leaders of Groupmuse: we need to do better for them. We need to build a more financially sustainable approach to support artists going forward by offering a platform and resources through which they can perform and strengthen their financial health. It’s not about charity; Groupmuse is about helping musicians grow stronger in the pursuit of their craft as a viable livelihood.
I learned in this pandemic that I was resilient….but resilience is exhausting. I believe in Groupmuse because they are not afraid to ask the tough questions: What does inclusivity mean in classical music? Is there a world where musicians can get paid fairly for their work…and get health insurance and help with student loans? Groupmuse has shown that they can build trusting, democratic systems — by and for musicians — at scale that challenge the norms of the current system. That’s what inspired me to be a founding member of the Groupmuse Musician Council.
— Adrienne Baker, Jersey City-based flutist, doctoral student and member of Groupmuse Musician Council, performed at 20 Groupmuse concerts
There are two pillars which form the core of our efforts at Groupmuse.
First, we continue to work towards growing our platform so musicians can do what they love: perform music. We heard it loud and clear from our musician community that the best way we can support them is to create more opportunities for fairly and generously paid performances on the Groupmuse platform. We also heard other critical needs emerge, including grant funds for special music projects, access to rehearsal or recording spaces, collaboration opportunities with other musicians and access to musician-tailored financial education.
Second, we are creating ways for our musicians to build ownership in Groupmuse. Groupmuse’s new path towards a musician-owned cooperative is poised to meet that need in a unique way. The pandemic showed that the traditional structure of music organizations is not well suited to meet the needs of a vast and vulnerable musicians community. (Read more about it here on The Boston Globe)
Musicians are traditionally separated from the Board + Management, which meant that a lot of institutions withdrew support for musicians to maintain their administration since the pandemic began — most famously in the case of the Metropolitan Opera. Musicians, upon whose labor these institutions were built, found themselves cut off from the patronage networks that they’d so long depended on, because they never had access to the institution’s core assets and relationships to begin with.
In our turn to musician-ownership, Groupmuse is inviting musicians to sit in the driver’s seat — by giving musicians direct control over our core assets: our email lists, our network of hosts, and the platform itself.
We learned through our recent research that cooperatives are surprisingly rare in the music industry, but that musicians are yearning for opportunities to lead and own, and they deeply value cooperative elements:
Now that we know more about what musicians want and need, Groupmuse Foundation will continue to set up infrastructure and resources for musicians to advocate for themselves — and each other.
We launched Groupmuse Foundation a year ago to lift up musicians most impacted by COVID-19. Live concerts are slow to return, but we also don’t want to return to how things were for musicians. Let’s build a new musical ecosystem in which musicians are empowered and valued.
Questions or comments? Please share in comment section below!