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How COVID-19 changed live music in Newfoundland and Labrador

The Sean Panting Band performing live at The Ship Pub. Contributed photo by Ritche Perez
The Sean Panting Band performing live at The Ship Pub. Contributed photo by Ritche Perez

New report highlights decline of revenue for venues, musicians

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

As the summer of 2020 approached and the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the province began to decline, hope for the music industry in Newfoundland and Labrador re-emerged.

Venues began opening, and people with a thirst for live music that couldn’t be quenched with an online substitute were able to catch some of the province’s acts again.

But the restrictions positioned every possible movement under a microscope. And performances, as many once knew them, were redefined.

The dainty flute? All of a sudden it was one of the most dangerous instruments in town, its reliance on the breath of the player deemed too risky.


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Forget the tranquil sound of multiple vocal harmonies, unless the singers were part of the same bubble, of course.

And dancing? Out of the question.

As St. John’s-based, rock ’n’ roll jukebox-human hybrid, Mick Davis, as well as the ever-welcoming bartender and server at The Ship Pub, Lyndsey Hamen, both remarked at the time, it felt like living in the town from the 1984 film “Footloose.”

And here the people of the province are in January 2021, visions of potential provincial elections dancing in their heads. But where’s the music?


A new report details just how much the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Canadian independent musicians. Among the most...

Posted by Canadian Independent Music Association - CIMA/Canadian Blast on Thursday, December 10, 2020

Devastated but struggling along

A recent report commissioned by the Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA) calls the impact of COVID-19 on the music industry “devastating.”

The report was conducted by Nordicity, a consulting firm that focuses on economic analysis, business strategy, policy and regulation. From its data, the live music sector has been hit hard, with a 79 per cent drop in revenue since 2019.

“Live touches everything,” CIMA board chair Tim Potocic said. “We have venues that aren’t in operation, we have artists who aren’t on tour. All these things add up to less record sales, less streams, no merch sales. They’re all interrelated.”

Up until the COVID-19 pandemic, Don Maher was the owner of two locations of the bar and live music venue The Black Sheep — one on Water Street and one on George Street.

Now, with only the George Street location open, Maher says the live venue is adapting, but only making enough to pay staff and bills.


Don Maher and his partner, Valerie Hewitt. - Rosie Mullaley/The Telegram
Don Maher and his partner, Valerie Hewitt. - Rosie Mullaley/The Telegram


“We’re just struggling along, basically, like a lot of other businesses,” Maher said.

Since opening in 2014, the venue has become known for its early evening shows, a radical move in a town where it’s standard for bands not to get on stage until well after midnight.

“The target market for the early shows are people my age, 50 and up, and they’re the ones not coming out the most because they’re the people that are most at risk,” he said.

Still, from the feedback he’s received from posting videos online, he knows there is pent-up demand. And the people who attend are more than happy to abide by the restrictions.

“These are true music fans, and they want it to survive,” he said. “A lot of people are rooting for us.”

In the meantime, Maher says they’ve spruced up the bar and revamped the website. And they’ve started making T-shirts, toques and coffee mugs to sell.


“We’re just struggling along, basically, like a lot of other businesses." — Don Maher


One more blow

St. John’s-based musician and actor Sean Panting says the COVID-19 pandemic was one more blow to an already declining profit margin.

“It’s starting to affect The Rolling Stones, so it’s a big deal now, but … the fact that music is free has always affected the rest of us,” he said, referring to lost concert revenue, declining album sales and the penny fractions made from streaming services.

“There’s incredible music being made, and I feel like we’re going to need some ideas and some leadership about how people continue to do that without starving to death. … If you don’t invest in it, then you can’t rely on it being there in 15 years.”

Musicians are experiencing this on a global scale, Panting says, which he sees as a strength as artists search for solutions.

In August, Panting played his first show since the COVID-19 pandemic began.


"I feel like we’re going to need some ideas and some leadership about how people continue to do that without starving to death." — Sean Panting


“Seeing a room that was at capacity but half full, and playing for people, I don’t think the significance was lost on anyone,” he said. “We had taken all of this for granted. … I have a real sense from people that they need this.”

Despite it all, on Jan. 24 Panting will get to play a gig he’s been waiting a long time to play, when The Sean Panting Band walks onto the stage at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre.

“I’ve never played a full show of my own music on that stage,” he said. “I’ve been watching shows there since I was a toddler, watching my mom in fall and spring musicals. It’s a really big deal to me. For me, that’s my Wembley Stadium, that’s my Massey Hall.”

For more information or to "book with your bubble," call the box office at 1-709-729-3900.


Sunday the 24th! I'm beyond excited to play some rock n roll on the big stage.

Posted by Sean Panting on Thursday, January 14, 2021

Andrew Waterman reports on East Coast culture.

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