New help for local musicians/artists during pandemic
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A band performs at Huntsville's Lowe Mill. (File photo)

Creatives certainly aren’t the only ones out of work during coronavirus.

More than 30 million Americans are in that predicament.

And counting.

But a gig economy in which all gigs are suddenly cancelled has been particularly devastating for musicians, artists and the like.

Brian Lynch, of musician grant program Backline, says unemployment laws have expanded to include many creatives not previously eligible.

Unfortunately, awareness is lacking.

And so, not enough musicians, artists, etc. are receiving assistance available to them amid the pandemic.

“On the creative side that requires a public education campaign whose message is getting lost in the myriad of news from this crisis,” says Lynch who’s Backline’s director. “On the government side this has required new processes and rules that often causes programming delays and real-time messaging of the rules and procedures.

"Combine these two dynamics and making sure that creatives have access to new programs like unemployment becomes a critical community responsibility.”

Enter, a new initiative by Backline's parent organization, a Madison, Wisc.-based startup accelerator called gener8tor, and RCP Companies, the developer behind Huntsville's MidCity, an entertainment, retail and multi-use project.

Their Huntsville Emergency Response Program is offering local creatives, artists and musicians a free week-long webinar to help them identify and leverage resources to make ends meet during coronavirus. Registration deadline is 10:59 a.m. May 4, via gener8tor.com/emergency-response-program/Huntsville.

The program runs May 4 - 8. Key facets include employment law experts to help participants navigate unemployment applications and benefits, as well as CARES Act guidance and resources. Lynch says any creative who depends on their work for income is "absolutely a small business owner." However, he adds, "We have found that this creative as a small business owner is an underappreciated aspect of American entrepreneurship that often results in support gaps. This small business challenge is even harder given the scope of tasks a creative often has to manage. For example, a painter is the de facto CEO and creative force behind their own business, while also managing orders, inventory, marketing, etc."

The new Huntsville program also offers instruction on how creatives can take their business online. Twenty years into the 21st century, hopefully most creatives have some sort of online presence, for example creatives-friendly platform Instagram. But TikTok and paid platforms like Patreon are still being underutilized," Lynch says. "Patreon allows artists to directly supply their biggest fans with exclusive content. Like anything, it takes time to grow this audience, but 100 subscribers at $1 each month, or 50 subscribers at $250 each month could be helpful to the right person."

Speaking of TikTok, that trending socials platform isn’t just for your cool niece to obsess over for hours everday. While TikTok’s artist payouts are less than streaming platforms, according to Lynch, it’s invaluable in building a track or artist’s popularity. And then converting that buzz to mega streams on other platforms. “This has rearchitected the music distribution model,” Lynch says, “on a platform that has become one of the world’s largest in an incredibly short period of time.”

In addition, the Huntsville Emergency Response Program provides mental health and wellness resources. Basic self-care principles remain the same during coronavirus. But many artists and creatives have additional worries because of the pandemic, making it more difficult to maintain those basic needs.

For example, "Musicians are losing out on touring revenue, and freelance graphic designers are seeing jobs disappear as small businesses that they support shudder," Lynch says. "Some people will be energized by the free time and others will have a hard time getting out of bed. It’s important to know that both are totally okay. It’s normal to lose your sense of purpose during a once in a lifetime global pandemic."

For musicians, the program's most intriguing component may be a listening session with, as a press release puts it, "a national industry professional." Turns out this claim isn't hyperbole. Planned pros include Fernando Garibay, best known for producing Lady Gaga’s "Born This Way" album, and Will Knipper, Los Angeles based manager for acts like Girl Talk. "The feedback ranges from mixing and mastering to songwriting to beat selection," Lynch says. "We can’t make any promises. But an exciting part about past listening sessions is that the A&R or producer has reached out to an artist to make intros or ask for demos to circulate."

Gener8tor connects entrepreneurs - startup founders, artists, etc. - with investors, universities and corporations. After starting in Wisconsin eight years ago, the venture now employs 50 or so full-time staff spread across North America, according to co-founder Joe Eckhardt. Eckhardt says gener8tor has been working with RCP for a few months, regarding potential for the gener8tor model in Huntsville. This led to discussions with Huntsville Urban Development Director Shane Davis, Sound Diplomacy "music audit" consultant firm CEO Shain Shapiro and even reps from Muscle Shoals' legendary Fame Studios.

“Alongside those discussions we saw early in the COVID-19 crisis,” Eckhardt says, “that the impact on our creative communities would be historically harmful. We wanted to adapt our accelerator model to the crisis.” The goal for the Huntsville program, Eckhardt says, is “to go directly to artists and musicians” to get them “the most help in the shortest time.”

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