Pandemics, Big Data and Empty Venues.. What Happens if the Music Stops?

Credit of featured image: Hayley K. Stuart photography- https://hayleykstuartphotography.format.com/

The reality of the musician’s trade in 2020 with Crome Yellow’s Adam Doheny.

If you’re a musician in today’s world then you already had a mountain to climb. Today’s streaming era means that it’s unrealistic for anyone to want to pursue music full-time. Perhaps a bitter irony is that art, in all its forms: music, podcasts, books, the things we relied on to offer us escape during times of lockdown, could be the very thing that covid-19 eradicates completely. The proof is plain to see, we will all suffer if the day comes when artists can no longer afford to create and the last drop of creativity is drained from the world around us. With the arrival of the pandemic, all hopes of live performances and promotional opportunities for the coming year were dashed, with no light at the end of the tunnel either. All artists want is to share their gifts with us, and perhaps if we enjoy it, that we could support them in return. The unfortunate reality is that this is just becoming harder and harder.

One such man who finds himself in this predicament is Crome Yellow’s Adam Doheny. Crome Yellow are an alt-rock, four-piece band from Waterford who tend towards the psychedelic. Combining a modern sound with that of the 60s and 70s, they create a vibrant, guitar and synth-driven texture certain to intoxicate all listeners. Adam is the band’s lead guitar player and also holds a fair share of song writing responsibility. His musical journey began as early as primary school where he started writing music with fellow band member and life-long friend, Andrew Phelan. Having formed the band in 2017, they’ve since enjoyed four years which have seen the release of their first EP and two albums, the latest of which, No Friends or Mirrors, was released just a number of weeks ago.

In the early stages of the pandemic, they acknowledged that they were in a better position than most as they essentially had an album recorded already, it was just matter of finishing the production and tying up loose ends. The band’s focus remained getting the album finished but Adam reveals just how difficult a task that turned out to be. “We couldn’t get in the room together to finish the production on the album. Producing an album isn’t easy at the best of times, doing it over zoom is next to impossible”.

In a world where the pandemic never arrived Crome Yellow were looking forward to a very exciting 2020. Fresh off the back of a successful 2019 which saw them take to the stage around Ireland through headline shows in the likes of Whelan’s, Workman’s, Pharmacia and The Roundy, they had their hearts set on getting straight back into the swing of things. This time the plan was to make it back to the likes of Cork and Dublin again but for more gigs than previous. Combined with a couple of festivals appearances they could pick up along the way, Crome Yellow were really in position to step things up a gear. Adam tells me there had even been talks of making it over to UK for one or two gigs. Along comes covid-19 however, and all these plans for 2020 were gone almost overnight along with a year’s worth of gig revenue. The year ahead they had envisioned for so long, fading away to nothing.

As grim as the inability to play live was, it wasn’t enough to stop them from finding some way of promoting their album, especially given the monumental effort that went into it. This is their art and they wanted to share it with those who had supported them so far. “We ended up doing a listen along session online” a solution their fans were more than happy to receive. In reality, Adam reveals that for him nothing can ever replace the experience of the playing live. “You miss that connection. A gig is about energy bouncing between you and the crowd”. Adam, along with artists all around the country were left feeling anxious and uncertain about their future. “I was saying to myself, I’m twenty-three now, is the next time I’m going to play a gig when I’m twenty-five, twenty-six?”

Crome Yellow on stage in their hometown of Waterford (Image Credit: Hayley K. Stuart – https://hayleykstuartphotography.format.com/ )

What really puts the loss of live gigs into perspective is when you realise how much of a losing battle musicians were already fighting. Last year analysts at Soundcharts.com calculated the average pay-out rate per stream  on music streaming sites such as Spotify and apple music. The information published in June last year claims that on average in 2019 artists on Spotify received €0.0026 per stream. This means that for every 1000 streams on Spotify, Irish artists will earn about €2.62. When you look at the blood, sweat and tears that goes into their work, this simply does not compute, especially when you consider that Spotify’s financial reports for 2020 show that the company has earned over $5.6 billion so far this year.

Even those at the top of the industry won’t escape the impact of covid-19. Adam gives the example of Dermot Kennedy, who was in prime position to headline every festival in Ireland this year. “He’s not going to be in a position to strike while the iron is hot”. A musician who has grinded, composed and performed his way to the top won’t be able to capitalise on any of it. Given the reality of situation, it’s great for artists to have someone in their corner such as bandcamp. Bandcamp believe that music is an indispensable part of culture, and for that culture to thrive, artists must be compensated fairly for their work. When you buy something on bandcamp, 80-85% of your money goes to the artist. Sites like bandcamp can really make a difference to artists but unfortunately it’s no alternative to a year’s worth of gig revenue.

I asked Adam about the band’s online activity during lockdown, particularly the online listen along session of their new album and their cover of “She’s Electric” for Hotpress Magazine. Having outlined my thoughts on social media’s impact on music in an earlier blog post, I was curious to know how he felt about music possibly moving down a new road. His response was short and sweet. “That’d be a disaster”. While he understands the benefits of social media in terms of marketing and growing a fanbase he hopes this isn’t where the future of the art itself is headed. He references a statistic from my first blog post regarding the decrease in our attention spans. “Realistically it wouldn’t work, people will click into your video for a few seconds, then that’s it they’ll look at something else”. His love for the art in its purest form is too strong, as far as he’s concerned there’s only one way that music is best experienced, a band on stage giving their performance everything with a crowd sending the same energy back to them.

Back in October the government outlined the budget for 2021. They announced there would be an allocation of €50 million for live entertainment. Unfortunately, Adam is sceptical as to whether or not Crome Yellow will see it. He recalls previous years where government funding has bypassed events and venues that would allow young, aspiring artists the golden opportunity to promote themselves. “If the government have 50 million to give, where’s it going?”

As a group Crome Yellow usually know exactly what they want to achieve next, and are ready and willing to go out and chase it. Now however, with 2021 just around the corner the group’s next move isn’t quite as clear “I honestly haven’t a clue, it remains to be seen what effect this is going to have completely”.

The streaming and social media era has allowed people to discover more artists and creative individuals than ever before but we need to be conscious of exploitation. If the current trend continues then we’ll all be the ones to lose out when the music stops. Support local musicians where possible, go to their shows, buy their music and merchandise. As Adam said, no one is certain when musicians will be able to get back on stage. When that time comes be sure to get out and see these guys live, I’m sure they’ll welcome you with open arms. All of Crome Yellow’s music and merchandise is available for digital purchase on cromeyellowmusic.bandcamp.com.

No Friends or Mirrors is out now! (Image Credit: Hayley K. Stuart – https://hayleykstuartphotography.format.com/ )

Published by Rory Corbett

My take on the world and everything in it

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