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Pandemic still taking a toll on music industry

Gordon Cormier live streamed free concerts during the pandemic lock down. – Submitted

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

SOUTHWEST COAST — The COVID-19 pandemic changed the regional landscape for local businesses and organizations that were forced to close or abide by stringent mask and sanitization protocols. Though many were able to shift focus and move services to a hands-off approach, not all industries were able to do that sustainably.

The music industry also took a hit, as concerts and live venue performances were cancelled. That took a heavy toll on tour and merchandise revenue. Gordon Cormier is an award winning career musician and said that he was blown away by just how quickly everything changed.

“I had just started doing some shows with a good buddy of mine, Dave Pike, originally from Dave and Aubrey,” explained Cormier in early December. “I’ve had this love affair with the music industry for 50 years, so Dave and I teaming up was a lot of fun and we were planning some touring across the country. And when COVID hit, we had already had 24 shows booked across the country and, of course, everything came to a screeching halt.”

Once the pandemic restrictions prevented social gatherings across the country, the cancellations poured in.

“The phone calls started coming in one after another after another and we finally got to a point where we might as well not even wait for the calls. We just picked up the phone and started calling ourselves, cancelling our tour,” said Cormier. “We were at the beginning of an idea to get out of the bar scene and starting to do more into concerts and stuff, and it just got snuffed out as quickly as the idea came up.”

Cormier said the entire industry was affected, not just the musicians.

“The bars, clubs, and theaters, they all got hit the same way,” said Cormier. “I like to think of the music industry as the musicians, and entertainers are brothers and sisters in this industry, and no matter what level you are at, you’re all brothers and sisters. Then you’ve got the bars, clubs, festivals, art centres, radio stations, television, and DJs. They are all like our cousins and we lean on each other to keep the industry wheels moving. The fans, of course, are the grease and the gas and the fuel that drives us all to be more, to give more, to be the best we can be, but when something like COVID comes around, all of a sudden the gas and the fuel is gone. So there’s your fans, your audience, and then all your venues that you play at and depend on, now they’re closing up.”

The radio stations did as much as they could and social media also provided a major outlet.

“I know a lot of friends of mine, including myself, got online and we did free shows on Facebook where you may have a virtual tip jar where people can feel free to throw a bit of money if they want, e-transfer, whatever they want to do. It was a band-aid time of need for entertainers. It was never going to be a fix, of course, because long-term we need these venues back. We need people in the seats.”

Now that COVID lockdowns seem to be a thing of the past, Cormier said things are looking up.

“We’ve learned to adapt with COVID a lot over the past three years, and people are braving it a lot more. I think especially in Newfoundland and Labrador, compared to most provinces in Canada, we seem to be a little more easy about going out amongst our own people, taking in shows and things, because the numbers have popped back pretty good. They’ve come back quite nice.”

Personally, Cormier was able to adapt well and may not have been hit as hard as other musicians.

“I had a little bit of money to fall back on, but it doesn’t take long to use up any savings that you have, and then what happens when that runs out? I was able to pick up other types of employment, thankfully.”

Musicians suffered emotionally as well.

“All of a sudden, an industry that we could predict, an industry we were in love with, all of a sudden it was completely pulled from under you. You are talking to your fellow musicians and fellow entertainers saying, ‘What the hell is going on here? We’ve never experienced anything like this in our life,’ so emotionally, it was a rollercoaster ride. You start thinking, ‘Well, okay, I can weather the storm here for a year or two. I think I can,’ but then you start thinking about it not just being a financial strain. There’s so many other levels, because the entertainment business is a different business from anything else out there. It’s a very social business.”

Even with no end in sight, Cormier realized that he needed to prepare for when it did.

“I had to start working on writing songs, working on learning new instruments and getting better at the instruments I already play,” said Cormier. “I really spent a lot of time in my studio, working on my craft, trying to make it better, trying to make sure that when the pandemic comes around, when things get back to a new-normal, then I have something new and fresh to offer.”

That was Cormier’s silver lining.

“From every bad there’s always some good, and that’s the part, I guess the good side, that came from it. I know a lot of friends of mine took this time to work on their music, work on themselves with their music, whether it be songwriting, new instruments, or improving what they already know. I spent a lot of time working on that end of it.”

He’s also noticed a change in the fans who come to see him play.

“The big thing is that the fans of live music have also learned, probably more so than they ever had before, the true value of live entertainment, because they weren’t able to go out and see entertainment at the drop of a hat anymore. It made them appreciate the music a little more and I see that reflected in the audiences.”

Musician Barry Musseau said bookings are still not what they used to be prior to COVID-19.

“I remember, in the band, we could go anywhere from Rose Blanche to South Branch, but now there’s nothing on the go, other than Come Home Year events or the Codroy Valley folk festival, those type of events. That’s it. So the next four or five years are going to be quieter again until we have another Come Home Year.”

Five or six years ago, Musseau would see around 20 bookings in a December for various venues and this year he only has two.

“Other than that it’s pretty dead. Our band (Days Gone By) hasn’t had a booking since the summer. There’s just nowhere to play. I don’t see it coming back right now to what it once was.”

Musseau said people got used to the restrictions, leading to numbers that haven’t gotten back to where they once were for live venues.

“We had done it so much, and now it has been so long, I feel like I’m out of the groove,” said Musseau. “It’s changed people’s perspectives, their ways of thinking about going out and having a good time. I know the Legion aren’t having their dances because the people aren’t there.”

The changes aren’t just with the fans, but with Musseau as well. After being out of it for so long, his love of performing has been impacted.

“It’s sort of a grieving. You grieve over it. I took a lot of time to learn to play classical guitar, which is a bit challenging for anybody to learn. It’s not just strumming the chords. There’s a bit of work to it,” said Musseau. “I spent money on the classical guitar. I bought the high-end gear, and it seemed like everything was going good, but now it seems like it’s all gone. It’s lonely.”

Even so, Musseau has been keeping busy.

“I’ve been home playing and I’m still learning new songs all the time. I take on challenges. Every month I’ll pick a new song and play it on the classical guitar until I gradually get it. There was such good feedback from people – the classical guitar – I found it was my most relaxing time I would play.”

Despite the decrease in bookings, Musseau has no plans to stop.

“Bookings or not, I’m still practicing daily, keeping my fingers sharp and my mind sharp also,” said Musseau. “I don’t give up hope because I always think there is more to come.”

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