Finding ways to share one’s music is no less complicated than it was before the digital revolution. But the precarious life of an up-and-coming musician has become ever more precarious in the age of COVID-19.
Aaron Smith says: “Compared to last year, our momentum has decreased quite a lot.” Smith plays bass for Southern California hardcore band, The Hated, Inc. And he points out some of the ways the Coronavirus pandemic has cut his music off from its audience.
“The nights we would have been playing shows this year we spend at home now,” Smith says. But Smith’s bandmate and brother Patrick, who plays guitar and sings, sees opportunity hidden behind the obstacles. “If anything, this has given us plenty to write about.”
The music of the Hated, Inc. describes a world fractured by its leaders, whose poor decision-making skills have reunited the modern world with the plague-afflicted Middle Ages. And their recent album, They Don’t Care About You reads like a musical preface to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, two states away, Luke Martin plays guitar for Fretland, a small but ambitious musical group in Seattle. Fretland’s organic and folk-inflected form of rock and roll expresses and pursues the frontiers of hope. But uncertainty is a word Martin uses to describe the current climate. Still, Fretland is optimistic that things will return to normal, and he applauds the independent Seattle venues that have tried to fill the gaps.
Martin mentions Seattle hotspots, like Neumos, the High Dive, and the Tractor, places he says that are using every resource at their disposal. “They work with local bands to live-stream benefit shows.” And Martin is amazed by the enthusiasm these venues have shown, accommodating their artists while attempting to replicate the live music experience. He only hopes these venues can weather the storm and someday open their doors again.
Nowadays, Patrick Smith spends most of his time working. He drives a truck for a living. “I read a lot, watch a little TV. But life is limited right now.” Music does not provide an income to the Hated, Inc., or Fretland. Martin says that working as a barista pays his bills. Patrick Smith is frank. “We aren’t making great money doing this,” he says. But making money is less important to either band than being able to express themselves through their music.
Fretland were in the early days of generating a following. But, Martin says, the pandemic forced them to cancel some sixty concerts scheduled across the U.S. and Europe. “And the only ‘shows’ that we’ve done since,” he says, “are live-streams from our living room.”
Aaron Smith finds the forced isolation debilitating: “In addition to cutting off our avenues for expression, it’s kind of sapped our energy. The best part of being in a band is being able to play shows, and now we can’t.” Aaron says that the Hated Inc. have done their best to stay productive during this downtime, recording new music and making preparation for another album. Patrick Smith says, “our new songs are definitely more cynical.”