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2020 In Review: How The Music Community Rose Up Amid A Pandemic
2020 has been like no other. Musicians, organizations and all parts of the music industry are facing a whole new, unprecedented reality that is changing the way the industry works. It’s been a tough year, to say the least. But despite the ongoing trials, the music community has found ways to remain resilient through it all.
GRAMMY.com looks back at how the industry's unity, perseverance and creativity helped the music community rise up and face the challenges head-on.
Unprecedented times call for an unprecedented response, Harvey Mason jr., Chair & Interim President/CEO of the Recording Academy, said in mid-March when the Recording Academy responded to the crisis by launching the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.
The Recording Academy and its affiliated charitable foundation MusiCares have established the COVID-19 Relief Fund to help people in the music industry affected by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak and subsequent cancellation of multiple music events. From hotel and bar gigs to major music festivals, COVID-19 is deeply impacting live music events, and the creative community behind it all.
Administered through MusiCares, the COVID-19 Fund will be used to directly support those in the music community with the greatest need. To establish the fund, both the Recording Academy and MusiCares have contributed an initial donation of $1 million each, totaling $2 million.
Schools were left with a lot of unknowns this year. At one school in Colorado, teachers wondered what the new normal would mean for their band season, but most importantly, for their students. Emilee Lindner took GRAMMY.com readers into a high school to show how one community of teachers and students worked through it all.
Since you can't really conduct band from a laptop, teachers are getting creative. We're talking practice journals, music theory worksheets, listening assignments and music history readings. [James Shuman, band director at Rocky Hill High School in Connecticut,] even created a bracket for students to battle out which song from Star Wars is the best. Anything to keep the kids stimulated. But it's a struggle. Band has lost the essence of collaboration; instead, it’s mutated into individual study.
Recording Academy Board Members Cover John Prine's "Angel From Montgomery" To Benefit MusiCares' COVID-19 Relief Fund
Many lives succumbed to COVID-19 this year, including GRAMMY-winning legend John Prine. To honor him and his legacy, the Recording Academy Board Members came together to cover his song, “Angel From Montgomery.” Revenues from the song went to MusiCares’ COVID-19 Relief Fund.
"We started this project as a way to raise money for MusiCares. With John’s passing, we also wanted to raise awareness that this can strike anybody. It doesn't matter if you’re famous or not, a seasoned veteran, or perhaps just building your career. If we can help in some way, if we can help make sure that those in need have food, or rent, or something else to help keep [getting] them through," Recording Academy trustee Michael Romanowski said.
COVID-19 has caused lockdowns all over the country. Members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO), New York Philharmonic (NY Phil), and Los Angeles Phil spoke to GRAMMY.com about what it meant for them.
When the lockdown began, Stephen Williamson, principal clarinet player for CSO, was on his way to a concert when he learned the news. "I was [driving] to CSO for a performance of 'Rhapsody in Blue' when I got a call that the concert was canceled," he shares. CSO's Associate Concertmaster Stephanie Jeong, the youngest member of the orchestra ever to hold this prestigious title, was in Kansas City visiting her boyfriend when she learned of the Shelter in Place order going into effect in Chicago. "I ended up staying in Kansas City, and I’m still here."
What was hoped to be a temporary shutdown soon turned into a stay-at-home order with no end in sight, and the shattered economy that accompanied it was something many musicians didn’t anticipate in the United States. "In my almost-30-year tenure with the orchestra, nothing like this has ever happened," CSO bass player Robert Kassinger explains. "Maybe once every 10 years a concert had to be canceled because of weather conditions, sure, but nothing like this."
As the beginning of the pandemic caused the cancellation of several live shows and festivals and paused album releases, the publicists for artists like Jessie Reyez, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Lido Pimienta, Palehound and more talked about how they worked through the hard times for their clients.
Independent publicists and smaller PR agencies now face their own unique challenges. Many run on project-based work focused on touring and album campaigns. With artists now canceling tours and rethinking album releases, the music publicity sector now faces a potential, and significant, loss in income—if not now, then in the future. On top of that, there is no option of severance for many publicists if they lose their jobs or clients.
Some artists continued to release their projects, although it meant they couldn’t go through a traditional release cycle.
A variety of rising artists sit down to discuss the unusual and inopportune circumstances of releasing a debut record during COVID, and what it takes to make the best of an impossible situation.
To keep the show going, artists went full-on digital with intimate and all-out production performances, giving way to new forms of musical entertainment. Cue in VERZUZ, a full-on lyrical and production battle that pitted some of the greatest rappers and R&B artists head-to-head.
What originally started as a live song-for-song set at Hot 97's Summer Jam concert in 2018 between musical powerhouses Timbaland and Swizz Beatz has now found its way into countless quarantined homes. The recommence of Verzuz began and continues to serve as a celebration of Black musical pioneers: the DJs, songwriters, singers, rappers, producers, performers—and everybody in between.
The battles are selected by how sonically and entertaining both artists can be together. Kicking off in March, the growing phenom has showcased battles between Teddy Riley vs. Babyface, Boi-1da vs. Hit-Boy, The-Dream vs. Sean Garrett, Erykah Badu vs. Jill Scott, Johntá Austin vs. Ne-Yo, Nelly vs. Ludacris, T-Pain vs. Lil Jon, Scott Storch vs. Mannie Fresh, DJ Premier vs. RZA, Ryan Tedder vs. Benny Blanco, 112 vs. Jagged Edge and Beenie Man vs. Bounty Killer.
Helping The Musical Community Through Music
Whether it was raising money for venues across the country at the Save Our Stages virtual event or labels like Mexican Summer releasing projects benefitting artists or charities of their choice, artists and musical entities found ways to support their community. Streaming service Bandcamp, also among those leaders, waived fees for artists on their platform, showing support for independent creators.
With clubs closed until at least next year, photographer Farah Sosa documented L.A.'s shuttered venues—many of which may not reopen without federal support
"It sounds simple, but we’ve always believed that the best way to support artists is to buy their music and merch directly," Bandcamp COO Josh Kim told GRAMMY.com.
In the waning days of the 116th Congress, a bipartisan package includes new COVID relief and more.
After months of shifting negotiations and perpetuating stalemates, Congress reached a deal to provide the American public with additional COVID-19 relief. Congressional leadership, composed of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), announced an agreement on Sunday, December 20, to attach the relief to an end-of-year government spending bill to be voted on Monday, December 21, and signed into law by the president.