Most industries have struggled under the weight of Covid-19 shutdowns and restrictions. Few have been hit harder than the music business. And the economic impact is tremendous. In the U.S. alone, nearly two million jobs are said to hinge on the music industry. Today, we take you to the place nicknamed Music City to ask what’s the long-term impact after the government says the music can't play?
Sasha McVeigh is considered lucky to be performing in downtown Nashville, even if it is to a mostly empty bar.
Sharyl: Can you describe what's happened to your income and the number of gigs that you get?
Sasha McVeigh: Sometimes I only play once a week, sometimes I don't play at all. Because sometimes I'll be getting ready for a gig and I'll get the call from the venue saying “We've had three customers all day, we can't have you come in and play.” Which sucks, but I can understand where they're coming from, just the same as I can understand why I want to play and make money. So, my income has essentially been cut, sometimes it has been cut in half and sometimes there is no income whatsoever.
The name of the venue is Redneck Riviera owned by country music star John Rich.
John Rich: This is the heartbeat of country music right here. This is Broadway, lower Broadway.
He’s showing us the view from the roof of the bar.
Sharyl: When everything was shut down, did you come up to the roof and look out one day and just go, "Wow. I never thought I'd see..."
Rich: It looked like a scene from an Apocalypse movie or something. It was really something.
Rich: So, when you talk about something like COVID, our whole industry revolves around what? Crowds. Crowds, and you can't have crowds when you've got COVID going on.
It’s estimated that before the Covid-19 shutdowns, the music industry added $8.6 billion a year to the Nashville economy. As much as 70% of that— upwards of $6 billion— vanished in 2020. 130,000 local jobs—many related to music— were lost.
Rich— who sang a song about the shutdown with his partner Big Kenny— says established stars can afford to take the hit. The up-and-comers cannot.
(Stay Home music video)
Home school’s now in session, and I’m pullin’ out my hair, it’s halfway through the morning I’m still in my underwear Stay home.
Sharyl: I think people can understand how businesspeople have been hurt, and the bottom line of an artist who's struggling may be hurt, but what do you see as perhaps the impact artistically of the talent pool and what will be coming out of Nashville because of this lull I guess you would call it that we've been going through?
Rich: That's a great question because you've got to think every big country artist you've ever heard of started on this street. So all these people that you don't know, their name that are currently playing on the street and the ones that have had to go back home, those are your next Garth Brookses and your next Big & Riches and your next Tim McGraws, your next Faith Hills. That's who they are. Those people, some of them are going to wind up being the next crop of really, really great artists, and they're not here, so I don't know what the effect of that will be.
Add to that the fact that some of the places that helped turn artists into stars are out of business.
Sharyl (on-camera): For more than 3 decades Douglas Corner cafe was a legend in live music performances here in the 8th Avenue south neighborhood of Nashville. Thanks to the coronavirus shutdowns and restrictions, it’s permanently closed.
Sharyl: So this was what?
Mervin Louque: We had live music, we had bands, singer songwriters.
Recording engineer Mervin Louque bought Douglas Corner Cafe in 1987.
Louque: Songwriters would sit around the beer tub, tell stories, drink beer and just play. Garth Brooks used to play here as a songwriter, did his first fan club party here, which was packed. Trisha Yearwood used to sing here as backup for another group, and then did showcases here, Alan Jackson showcased here.
Sharyl: How important are venues like this, in terms of making the next star, and just keeping the industry going?
Louque: A town like Nashville, and clubs like this is where you get seen. Once you're a star, the machine gets behind you. But until that, you can't just go knock on doors and say, ‘Let me come in and play for you.’ That isn't really what you do anyway, it's what you do in front of an audience, or what you do on stage. Small stages, with no fluff. It's not the big lights in the pyrotechnics, and all, go on with it. Just raw, just out there.
Douglas Corner Cafe ended its storied history on March 15th last year.
Louque: I was watching the news on a Sunday evening, when the mayor came on and said that he was closing businesses, all the bars and restaurants in Davidson County, because of COVID. I would say it was about the middle of June, when I saw that they weren't opening up to phase three and moving on to open up businesses, I decided, ‘I don't know how long this is going to last, and I can't keep paying everyone and hanging on for nothing.’ I just made the decision to close. That's agonizing. That's not just happening to me, it's happening all over the country.
Beyond Nashville, the global music industry is said to be worth up to $50 billion. In one survey, three-quarters (74%) of music creators said they’re making less music since COVID-19.
Back in “Music City” they’re still grappling with what will be the impact on a generation of would-be stars. Some of them have gone home and may never return.
McVeigh: When everything started to reopen again, I reached back out to the bands and the people that I played with, people that have been in this town for decades, and I was getting answers like, "Oh sorry, I've moved back to North Carolina," or "I've gone back to live with my parents," or "I've had to relocate and do this," or "I've changed career paths." And it was just mindboggling to realize that something that’s literally a part of who you are has been taken away from you through no fault of your own.
Rich: You know the old phrase, “must be present to win,” that's true, and especially in Nashville. You can be the greatest singer in the world, but if you're living out in Tucson or Seattle or somewhere else, you're not in Nashville, you're not going to get noticed. You've got to make the commitment to come here, and thousands of people do, but because of COVID and killing and crushing these bars like it has, a lot of them have gone back home. I hope they come back.
Sharyl (on-camera): There was bipartisan support for the COVID relief bill passed by Congress in December that had provisions for grants to help live venues, entertainers and artists.