THE LONG HAUL: A Very 2021 Holiday Gift Guide for Musicians
’Tis the season to be merry! While many of us try to drown the woes of cold weather and COVID spikes with apple cider and cozy sweaters, others turn to capitalism and consumerism for comfort, especially on Black Friday and the frenzied weeks that follow. I love deals and shopping just as much as the next person, and retail therapy is no joke; buying something gives you a nice hit of dopamine, and a sense of control that feels so out of reach right now. Plus, it’s fun to choose gifts for friends and loved ones and anticipate the joy they might feel upon receiving them.
But this holiday season, I’m having trouble feeling positive about anything. On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving my husband tested positive for COVID-19. He had a very mild case thanks to vaccines and recovered quickly, but we had to call my parents and cancel their plans to visit for the holiday. I was supposed to be leaving for an international tour a week later, so the exposure sent me into somewhat of a panic. I retreated to our camper and the two of us spent the holiday eating lonely turkey burgers and attempting to converse by shouting through a closed glass door from about 15 feet apart. On Black Friday, I binge watched Selling Sunset until I had a pounding migraine and tried to ignore the news stories about the Omicron variant by dousing myself in the sheer obscenity of the one percent. After successfully avoiding COVID for over a week, my entire UK/Europe tour was canceled anyway because of COVID-related lockdowns and concerns. No holiday, no work, no income, no adventure this season! All of this got me thinking about what gifts the musician class could really use this year, though I think most of these are universally applicable. So I came up with a short, and, in my opinion, very reasonable list. If only I knew where to buy these things!
1. Job security: While being a freelance musician has always been a career full of fluctuations, never before has it felt so tenuous. With entire tours being canceled on the spot when one band or crew member tests positive for COVID, and having no idea when and if tours will go ahead, “financial planning” feels like a thing of the past. My new strategy is to overbook, knowing that only half of the events will happen. But that occasionally backfires when everything goes ahead and you end up with a month of work with no days off. Additionally, there’s the whole other issue of needing to work (no more government benefits, you lazy artists!) but having to constantly decide if you’re doing something morally wrong by taking part in unsafe events that could contribute to the spread of COVID. If I could ask Santa for one thing this season, it would be a big ol’ shiny red box of knowing what the rules are, not being responsible for public safety, and being able to work and expect income as planned.
2. A Public Health Care Option: Last month, my husband broke his collarbone while out on a run during the second day of a two-week tour. Despite being in intense pain he called a bandmate to pick him up instead of an ambulance because he was afraid of the expense. He was then taken to the nearest urgent care, where he was given an X-ray, prescribed Oxy, and told not to move his arm for 4-6 weeks. While we haven’t seen the medical bills yet, we did receive a courtesy call from our health insurance company (we have insurance through the healthcare.gov marketplace) to let us know that he had visited an out-of-network emergency room (in Connecticut; we live in Nashville) so the visit wouldn’t be covered. Hanukkah Harry, could you bring us the miracle of a functional health care system this season?
3. Fair Pay from Streaming Services: Spotify and other streaming services have successfully rendered physical distribution or digital purchasing of music obsolete, forcing musicians to grovel for playlist adds in order to make any money off of the art that they spend thousands of dollars to create. The UMAW (Union of Musicians and Allied Workers) is asking Spotify to raise their artist payout from $.0038 per stream to $.01 per stream. That’s ONE PENNY per play, meaning someone has to play your music a total of one thousand times for you to make $10 (which is the least you would make for an album sale pre-streaming services). Let me reiterate that this is the raise that’s being requested. Just for some perspective, Spotify CEO Daniel Eck is currently worth $3.7 billion, according to Forbes. Now, many of the items on this holiday list are complicated, requiring a lot of collaboration from lawmakers or entire industries, but this particular request requires only ONE company to get on board. C’mon, Spotify, make our dreams come true this Christmas!
Over these past years of political polarization, I’ve come to realize that even as we yell and scream at each other about (real and important) issues of vaccine mandates, white supremacy, and constitutional rights to kill one another with assault rifles, the vast majority of us are just little ants slaving away for the capitalist machine. As musicians, or any working class residents of the US for that matter, we all know what would really help, but we also know that it’s not going to happen anytime soon! So, if getting a good deal on a new TV for Black Friday is the balm that soothes that deeply painful knowledge, I completely understand.