5 Ways Musicians are Responding to the Pandemic

May 27, 2020

Among the broader disruption, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an especially detrimental impact on the world of music. Although online consumption of music has risen – Spotify, for example, has seen a lot of new subscriptions – most music-makers are still suffering. Many only get a small payout from streaming sites, and with public gatherings limited – concerts, tours, and festivals currently on hold – many musicians are concerned about their future.

Yet, at the very same time, people from all around the world have turned to music as a way to cope with the crisis. From the biggest stars livestreaming concerts from their living rooms, to neighbourhood balcony sing-alongs, music has become embedded in the way people are responding to the disruption of their lives. With both music lovers and creators depending on digital technology right now, a wide range approaches to making, sharing, and experiencing music have shown themselves.

Here’s just 5 ways musicians are responding to the pandemic.

Music About the Crisis

The Rolling Stones haven’t released a single in fours years. What’s more, they haven’t had any new, original material since 2012 – But all that changed with the release of “Living In A Ghost Town.” Although it was written about a year ago and mostly recorded in 2019, “Living In A Ghost Town” was rushed to release thanks to how much it resonated with the current situation – quiet city-centres during the lockdown – albeit after a little rewriting and remote recording.

The single has already topped the iTunes chart in 20 countries, which is probably a pretty good indicator of its eventual success. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

Remote Collaboration

The Stones may be the seasoned musical veterans, but they’re not the only ones doing something interesting. Some of you may have heard the inspiring story of Captain (now Colonel!) Tom Moore, the World War Two veteran who raised millions of Pounds for the NHS by through walking 100 laps of his garden. Well, the Colonel has taken another step and has become the oldest person to top the UK charts!

With some help from Michael Ball and the NHS Voices of Care Choir, Tom covered Gerry and the Pacemaker’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” It is an incredible example of how musicians are getting around the physical limitations that go with the lock down to collaborate online.

Ensembles of every size and shape, from garage bands to local choirs, and all the way up to symphony orchestras, have simply refused to allow the pandemic to stand in the way of jamming, and are turning to a wide range of software and technology to connect and maintain their relationships and collective creativity!


While there has been a fair amount of buzz concerning career milestones like the Stone’s new single, or the record-breaking work of heroes like Colonel Moore’s chart-topping cover, stories like these are far from the only important public service announcements. Take Randy Newman’s new song, “Stay Away,” which is a response to a request from the Southern California public radio station KPCC. He was asked, as he put it, to “say some words about social distancing – because of my scientific background, because apparently there’s some disease that’s going around.”

Celebrities of all kinds have been using their fame, and their platform, to help local and national governments reinforce their health and safety messaging. Newman chose to do so in the best way he could; musically, and with his characteristically wry wit, combining the PSA’s message with a love song.

Proceeds from the song are being donated to a New Orleans music charity founded by jazz icon Ellis Marsalis, who passed away in April from COVID-19

Livestream Venue Fundraisers

The charity record is a time-honoured tradition. They go back at least as far as the 18th century, when Frederick Handel held a fundraiser performance of his anthem Messiah for the Foundling Hospital in Bloomsbury.

Over the centuries, the idea has changed very little, but in the current crisis, it’s music venues that need attention. Around the world, thousands of venues are at risk of closing shop – permanently – with far too few receiving the help they need. The challenge has been making the broadly distributed experience of online streaming work on the local level.

One such example comes from Frank Turner, British punk-folk singer and patron of the Music Venue Trust.

Turner has turned his attention to one venue in particular. Playing from his home via a Facebook Watch Party, Frank Turner raised over £10,000 for The Joiners in Southhampton – a stage with personal significance to the singer-songwriter – and helped save them from closure. Taking Turner’s example, the Music Venue Trust has formed the Save Our Venues initiative, which looks to partner venues in the UK with artists for targeted fundraising. The streaming performances then go out over the venue, artist, and Save Our Venues websites and social media accounts to draw as much attention as possible.

Rediscovering Old Music

One of the greatest things about music is that the collective experience isn’t limited strictly to musicians, or the hippest online collaboration platforms (I’m looking at you Zoom). Rather, it spreads across more established platforms, like social media, too.

Tim Burgess, front man for The Charlatans, has been spending the pandemic hosting nightly listening parties on Twitter using the hashtag #timstwitterlisteningparties.

Each night consists of one session, each of which offers a classic album for participants to discuss and remember communally as they each listen at home. Musicians from the featured albums – including members of Blur and Oasis – occasionally drop in and share their own memories and photos.

These listening parties have become something of a cross between fan engagement, an intimate conversation over drinks, and a private listening session.

Music makers the world over have risen to the challenges presented by COVID-19, providing emotional, financial, and cultural resources and support for a population that is locked down. But this time, more than any crisis that came before, they need to protect their own livelihoods as much as everyone else.

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