Ongoing event cancellations and business closures in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic have thrust artists, music companies and behind-the-scenes entertainment workers into an unprecedented state of financial uncertainty.
Below are some resources where businesses and workers can apply for emergency financial assistance on the local and federal level, contribute to data-collection and advocacy efforts and establish an interim foundation for generating recurring revenue online. (Head here for a list of ways fans can help support artists and industry workers, too.)
Economic Injury Disaster Loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has made coronavirus-related Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs) available to small businesses in 36 states and Washington, D.C.
Small businesses in qualifying states have a while — until mid-December 2020 — to apply for up to $2 million in disaster-relief loans at a low interest rate of 3.75% (2.75% for private nonprofits). Applicants must show credit history and an ability to repay the loan, with the possibility to set up long-term repayments for up to 30 years; collateral is required for loans over $25,000.
As of now, businesses in the states of Alaska, Arkansas, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wisconsin are ineligible for coronavirus-related EIDLs.
Other national funding sources
MusiCares, a nonprofit organization operated by The Recording Academy, established a $2 million COVID-19 relief fund this week, which will initially give grants of up to $1,000 each to music-industry professionals who need basic living assistance in the wake of event cancellations and work losses.
Applicants must have at least five years of employment in the music industry and at least six commercially released recordings (singles are fine) or at least six commercial/promotional music videos in order to qualify. There are three different applications — one each for South Region, West Region and East Region (you can reference this map if you don't know which region you're in) — and the size of the grants may increase as more music companies and members of the public donate to the fund.
Sweet Relief, a nonprofit focused on providing financial aid to musicians with illness, disability or age-related problems, has opened up a dedicated COVID-19 fund for music-industry workers who are medically affected by the coronavirus. Applicants must make "at least 50% of all income ... from working within the music community," and must either perform regularly or have appeared on, written for or published "at least three widely released recordings (audio or audiovisual)."
For behind-the-scenes workers of color, the Arts Administrators of Color Network (AAC) has launched the Arts and Culture Leaders of Color Emergency Fund, which will give $200 grants to affected artists and artist administrators who self-identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color).
Music businesses should keep an eye out for what the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM) is planning as well, particularly in relation to the New York Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment.
State- and city-level funding resources
There are dozens of state- and city-level funding initiatives targeting music-industry workers across the U.S. Most of them give anywhere from a few to several hundred dollars in grant funding to accepted applicants on a first-come, first-serve basis, with turnaround time of anywhere from one day to one week.
Many of these funds are organized via crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe (e.g. for the cities of Tucson, Ariz.,Seattle, Wash., Chicago, New York, Austin, Texas, Durham, N.C., Pittsburgh, Pa. and Columbus, Ohio, and for the states of Michigan, New Mexico and Oregon). A growing number of cities, including Austin and New York, are maintaining running, open-submission lists of event-industry freelancers in need, including their direct payment info on Venmo, PayPal and similar apps.
Billboard is also maintaining a regularly-updated list of state-by-state resources for music-industry professionals.
Cash advances from music distributors, e-commerce platforms and independent financiers
A quicker option for certain music companies may be to leverage cash-advance offers from a music distributor, e-commerce platform or independent financier, if available.
Music financing firm Sound Royalties launched a dedicated, $20 million fund on Monday to offer qualifying artists no-fee advances on their future recorded-music royalties, without taking copyright ownership. Advances will be issued on a one-year payback term, and can reach up to $25,000 each; applications are open until April 16, 2020 or until the money is depleted, whichever comes first. (Note: The application page says the offer is "only valid for qualified applicants under our standard qualifying/underwriting guidelines," meaning that only individuals who earn at least $3,000 a year in recording royalties are eligible for the no-fee advances.)
Select independent music distributors like TuneCore (which partners with Sound Royalties), CD Baby, Symphonic Distribution, Stem and Amuse, as well as independent startups like The Music Fund, also have cash-advance offers that give qualifying artists and labels an upfront advance on future revenue for a flat, predetermined fee, based on the size of the advance and how long it's expected to take for the artist or label to pay it off.
Since they're structured as advances, none of these distributor-led programs require credit history or collateral, nor do they charge any penalty if artists can't pay off their advance in the allotted time. Still, make sure to read the fine print: The fees on these advances can be as low as 5% and as high as 25% — many times higher than the interest rates on SBA's disaster-relief loans and other, more generalist initiatives.
There may also be some workarounds where you don't have to go directly to your distributor for advances. For instance, if you use DistroKid for music distribution and collect regular royalty payments through PayPal, you may qualify for advances or loans through PayPal's Working Capital or Small Business Loan programs.
Other examples of services outside the music industry that offer cash advances, for a small fee, include Square Capital, Stripe Capital and Shopify Capital — all of which may be accessible for musicians or labels who have an active e-commerce business.
Free or paid livestreaming events
In the wake of ongoing tour and festival cancellations, hundreds of artists, event organizers and brands — from the likes of Charli XCX, Erykah Badu and Code Orange, to Rolling Stone, the Global Citizen Festival and even Chipotle — are bringing live musical performances online.
There are several tools that music companies can draw on to organize and monetize their own virtual events — from platforms like Twitch and Periscope that enable real-time donations from viewers, to newer apps like Moment House and Key that put livestreams behind a ticketed paywall, the same way brick-and-mortar shows traditionally work. (I've compiled a free Virtual Music Events Directory that includes a list of several dozen tools that artists and other industry professionals can use to host either free or paid livestreamed events online, using either video or audio.)
Raising awareness of virtual events may be a challenge, as the likes of YouTube, Facebook and Twitch haven't really nailed discoverability around livestreamed content yet. The best ways for event organizers to spread the word about their livestreams are either by reaching out to their already-existing audiences in newsletter and on social media, or by submitting to open virtual-event calendars such as those maintained by publications like NPR and independent initiatives like Stay At Home Fest.
E-commerce resources (and waived transaction fees)
Now may be a good time for music businesses to set up their own channels for e-commerce or recurring membership on sites like Shopify, Bandcamp and Patreon, if they haven't already.
Notably, a handful of these platforms are waiving their transaction fees in the wake of COVID-19. For example, Bandcamp is waiving its normal revenue share (15% for digital, 10% for merch) from midnight to midnight PST on Friday, March 20, passing on all revenue to artists and labels on the platform. Similarly, music licensing and rights-management platform Songtradr is waiving its revenue share on all licensing-related transactions until April 18, 2020, passing on all revenue to artists and rights owners.
In addition, many artists, songwriters, producers and other creative professionals may likely be busy working on music at home — making it a good time for these creators to start cultivating profiles on music-focused marketplace sites like BeatStars and SoundBetter, if they're not already.
Economic impact surveys
Last but not least, one underrated action that music businesses can take to improve their collective support system is to submit data to ongoing surveys about the economic impact of COVID-19 on the entertainment and arts industries. Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Americans for the Arts is running one such survey on a rolling basis, as is the U.K.-based Musicians' Union and I Lost My Gig, a resource center supported by a coalition of music organizations in Australia and New Zealand.
The results of these surveys will help clarify the scope of losses felt by the music business, and will likely be incorporated into governmental decision-making and advocacy efforts around further relief for the entertainment industries, at both the local and federal levels.