Amanda Palmer, Adam Doleac, Caroline Romano, Luka Kerecin, and Olivia Castriota share the trials and tribulations of life as a musician in the wake of mass quarantine and social-isolation due to the novel coronavirus
"I feel like a cross between a minister and a rock star..."
...reports punk singer and activist Amanda Palmer from isolation in New Zealand. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the music community has been in a frenzy of adaptation. Palmer, given her community-focused approach to music, has seen her usual skill-set suddenly become essential for thousands of performers. "So many artists are in need. I want to help them set up Patreon pages, and I want to make sure they feel safe asking for help. It's hard for artists to ask," explains the former Dresden Dolls lead singer and author of The Art of Asking, "I've been collecting people in emotional crisis on the internet since 2002. I'm right in my element. But, boy, does it feel strange."
Pivoting to crowdfunding may now be a saving grace for many acts. The overnight decimation of the live music economy, across all genres, has thrown a question mark over the income of countless performers. "Artists [don't make] money off digital streaming," clarifies Nashville-based country music singer Adam Doleac, "85% of [most artists'] income is live show pay and merchandise sales from those live shows. You're now taking 85% of an income, and it's gone for an undefined period of time."
Adam DoleacPhoto by Matthew Berinato
"A lot of people don't realize how far 'not playing shows' trickles down. I got all these guys in my band that are no longer getting paid. They rely on that money, they've got families," the Sony/ATV signee continues, "It's whole teams that have been shut down. That's been the hardest part, figuring out how to keep those guys comfortable as we work out how to get through this time."
While signed acts and their support systems are all feeling the squeeze in the wake of the COVID crisis, how do smaller up-and-coming acts fare? "I've canceled shows with Sofar Sounds, live recording sessions with LeestaVall, and planning my summer tour has been put on pause," lists Olivia Castriota, a New York-based R&B singer. "As an independent artist I also finance everything myself [through side jobs]. In a matter of days, all of my Airbnb guests for the next eight weeks canceled and all Bars and Restaurants in NYC went to take out only, so... welcome to unemployment."
"Without people working and having any significant income all around the world, art and music will suffer tremendously," adds Luka Kerecin, Croatian lead singer of prog-metal band Wings Denied and lecturer and marketing specialist at the United POP Academy. "I was supposed to be in the U.S. in March to play with Wings Denied at SXSW... but that did not happen due to corona." Whilst the recent broadening of unemployment benefits will hopefully help smaller acts in the US, the long term future is still uncertain, especially given the widely-reported difficulties many have had with signing up for unemployment benefits. Festival season, a crucial time for smaller acts, has been all but snuffed out entirely, with name-brand events across the globe canceling or rescheduling and younger festivals facing possible extinction.
However, social distancing has led to the now near-ubiquity of the Facebook/Instagram/Zoom live show. These formerly niche elements in the artist's promotional toolkit have now become a primary method of audience engagement. "I did a show on Instagram last night, [and] we played for more people than we would have played for at the actual show," enthuses Adam Doleac, "I think 45,000 people signed on to watch."
There are also issues related to the almost entirely digital marketplace we now find ourselves in, as pop-artist Caroline Romano points out. "I don't want people to lose the need for live shows," she cautions, "I'm afraid the number of Instagram and TikTok followers an artist has is going to become more important than ever because social media is the only way artists can get discovered right now." With online engagement already becoming a dominant factor in musician's lives (certain managers, bookers, publications, and labels will refuse to even consider talent without a certain baseline level of social media traction), live music was one of the last true equalizing factors.
Luka Kerecin of WIngs Denied
These sentiments are echoed by Kerecin. "For my band, Wings Denied, which exists in the more niche genre of prog rock and metal, live shows are the number one way to connect with fans," he details, "Other more commercially friendly genres have it a little easier as they can always pull through with sponsors, radio play, etc. but not being able to play and tour at this moment is a massive challenge for us."
Established artists are also not immune to the toll of the COVID fallout, as Doleac points out. "Bigger acts, Kenny Chesney and the like, they have their [support crew and bands] on salary. They have to continue to pay these guys, but without any money from shows," he explains matter-of-factly, "It's a lot of money going out, and nothing coming in."
Even artists still in high demand, like Amanda Palmer, have struggled with the sudden tectonic shift. "I've been asked to do a billion streams and casts, but I have just barely been able to keep my sh*t together... I feel so overwhelmed," she shares, "I was wrapping up the final week of a year-long global solo piano theater tour when the sh*t hit the fan." Though the singer only had to cancel one show, the timing of the crisis led to her and her family moving into an AirB&B in New Zealand on short notice, a stressful situation for all involved. "The house has a piano. There's internet," she says, reflecting on the positives of the situation, "I'm going to take a few days off for my mental health, and then I'm going to be a streaming machine." In the time since this interview, Palmer has become heavily involved in the Artist Relief Tree, creating the "Art is Alive" artist's resource guide and many more projects.
The digital age being what it is, artists still have it well within their purview to create and release content. "Coronavirus shuts down a lot of things, but new music is not one of them," confirms Doleac, "I've got my EP Famous coming out April 17th, which I'm really excited about."
"I have my biggest project to date scheduled to release early summer," adds Caroline Romano, "It features an artist who I've been a big fan of for such a long time, and it's actually surreal to see my name on the song with him."
Similarly, Wings Denied have an album coming up in the near future. "The final mixes are in the works. Everything was recorded last year," says Kerecin, "Grammy-nominated producer Joel Hamilton (Highly Suspect, Bonobo, Bomba Estereo) is, as you can imagine, an incredibly popular and busy guy, but thanks to the Corona situation, he has managed to find some time to polish the new record and we are incredibly grateful for that."
Olivia Castriota raises an interesting point about the new music cycle in this time. "It just feels like such an inappropriate thing to do [to be overly promotional] at the moment when it feels like America is crumbling. Everyone is losing their jobs and we barely have money to pay rent," she says somberly, "It feels like, why would anyone care about my new release at this moment in time when there are much bigger things at hand?" Though she does go on to add, "I'm hoping to put some makeup and a bra on in the next week and record some new selfie singing videos, but again finding the motivation is hard."
The emotional toll and its effect on productivity is certainly not to be taken lightly, with the pressure on indie artists to be an active online presence now stronger than ever. Romano corroborates: "Every pop artist in the world is trying to promote themselves through social media. But, in a time when the entire world is online more than ever, it's so much easier to get lost."
Palmer sees continued output, coupled with compassionate outreach, as the only way forward. "This has always been our job as artists. Connect, connect, connect. And when things get hard and dark, connect harder," she declares with candor, "I've got a whole list of projects in my head: leading meditations and sharing sessions, teaching some yoga, doing collaborative songwriting sessions, chatting to people who are sick…"
Congruously, Kerecin sees the moment as one to seize and reaffirm public appreciation for the arts. "What is everyone doing right now when quarantined? Watching shows, movies, listening to music, watching live-stream concerts," he points out, "I think we all should lobby and push this narrative aggressively in the public space. Otherwise, people will start taking these live stream shows for granted, and none of us want that. There are years of blood, sweat and tears and ton of money and equipment behind every one of those."
So what does the path forward look like? There is a general consensus that many artists will be using this time to write and build up a reserve of materials for the future. Philanthropy is also on the cards, with megastar acts such as Lady Gaga partnering with the WHO to raise funds for much-needed resources for frontline healthcare workers. Smaller groups looking to bring affirming music concerts to essential workers have also started to crop up online, but, as Doleac points out, the few net positives of the situation are not strictly COVID related.
"I was at home for one weekend the entirety of last year," he explains, "This situation allows artists, or even just like a traveling parent who's always working time, to spend time with loved ones and work on relationships. I've gotten to talk to my family, and see my girlfriend a lot more than I anticipated. It's been a good reset button in that world." Amanda Palmer's social media feed reflects this too, which currently heavily features time spent with her husband, Neil, and son, Ash. "It's a really surreal paradox of existence," she admits, reflecting on the transition from touring life to isolation.
Amanda Palmer and Son Ash in IsolationFrom Amanda Palmer's Instagram
Artist solidarity is also widespread at this point in time. "Most of [my friends] work in the music business, and I know a lot of [them] are struggling at the moment. I'm doing whatever I can to be there through all of this," Caroline Romano says compassionately. Olivia Castriota adds: "I hope this will bring us all closer as a collective. It is really beautiful to see people and companies come together supporting artists."
In typically optimistic fashion, Adam Doleac shares his prediction for the industry's long-term COVID outcome. "I bet we'll all be more busy than we would have been when this starts getting back up," he says, upbeat, "People will be excited to get out to concerts, see shows they've been wanting to see for three or four months. I think in the end it will be a victory for everybody."
When all else fails, come back to what you know, as Luka Kerecin imparts. "Music has been giving me hope," he says, "When the music stops giving you hope in difficult times, that's when you know the world has really gone to hell. I hope I never find myself in such a place."
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Olivia Castriota is an independent soul and R&B artist. Her most recent release "Can't Wait to See You" will appear on her EP "I Need a Minute" coming out later this year. Since interviewing for this article she has begun releasing video content via her social media.
Adam Doleac is a country music artist signed with Sony/ATV. His upcoming EP "Famous" will feature several well-known tracks, including his hit single "Famous", as well as new previously unheard material such as "I Choose Lonely." It is set for release April 17th.
Luka Kerecin is lead singer and founding member of prog-metal band Wings Denied. Their new album is due out later in the year. He is also a lecturer and marketing specialist at the United POP Academy.
Amanda Palmer is the former lead singer of the Dresden Dolls, long-time touring punk musician and activist, and author of the bestseller "The Art of Asking". She recently closed her "There Will Be No Intermission" tour, a four-hour-long piece discussing music, abortion, and radical compassion.
Caroline Romano is solo pop-singer. She has been played on Radio Disney, collaborated with Jacob Whitesides, and shared the stage with the likes of Kelsea Ballerini and Shawn Mendes. Her latest project is due for release in the Summer, and her most recent release "Stream of Consciousness" is available from all music outlets.
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Musical mold-breaker Willie Jones is taking country music to unbelievable new places with his single "Back Porch."
Simon Cowell likes him. Demi Lovato likes him. 200,000 Spotify listeners a day love him.
He is Willie Jones: one-time X-Factor contestant, now full-time country music innovator. For the last eight years he has been delighting crowds with his blended sound, mixing R&B and hip-hop influences with firm country roots to create an explosive musical cocktail. The Louisiana native has been gathering an absurd amount of momentum lately, with a barrage of singles set to come out this year and show the world of music what you can do when you color outside the lines. That all starts with the first in this series of releases, the mesmerizing "Back Porch."
With an opening that feels equal parts Childish Gambino and The Avalanches, you immediately need to reconsider what you think a country song sounds like. This gives way to a blend of guitar, beat, and synth that gets you ready to jump up and go crazy. Where other crossover artists would lose their country influences in the mix at this point, "Back Porch" puts them front and center. The vocals are unmistakably in genre, the guitar chords hold down the song, and the lyrics, taken on their own, would feel right at home on a Luke Combs cut. All of that firm grounding allows the more fanciful production elements to take things out of this world. This song feels like a lot of people were finally let off the chain to really play, and at the centre of it all is Willie Jones smiling and having a good damn time.
Photo by @goodwolfentertainment
"Back Porch" throws you. Often country crossed with other genres feels like the artist is playing with the simplest colors of both worlds. The results can still be fantastic, but what Jones is doing here feels like he's painting with every color of the rainbow, plus a few more that he invented just because he could. This track is a stone-cold jam, primed and ready for the enjoyment of swathes of fans that don't even know they're fans yet. Get ready, everyone; Willie Jones just might be your newest obsession.
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Peyton Gilliland has just released the perfect song for the times we are living in
Long distance sucks.
I mean, it's great to have someone in your life you miss that much, but it'd be better not to have to miss them at all. Peyton Gilliland has managed to capture that feeling and all the angst that goes with it in her latest single, "Ghost." We have the exclusive premiere today at Popdust.
Gilliland is one of those names you've probably heard buzzing around lately. She's only seventeen but is making waves fast. Her music is produced by Cage the Elephant founding member Lincoln Parish, and her upcoming EP was mastered by GRAMMY winner Ryan Hewitt, so the young alternative pop singer is certainly someone to write home about.
"Ghost" is a frank look at the loneliness of separation—an ache we're all feeling right now as we move into the second week of social isolation. Its minor key sets the mood, its rhythm guitar acts like a racing heartbeat, and Gilliland's lyrics tune in to the core of the feeling from the word go. The song is simply phrased, but it hits the bullet points of missing someone and then wraps it up in the metaphor of an absent lover being an ever-present ghost. It's simple, its hook is catchy, and the chorus' bass-line is as slick as they come.
Photos by: Chrissy Yoder
Gilliland has something strong here. The track boasts lyrical echoes of '80s gloom rock like The Cure, combined with the modern pop flair of artists like Adele. "Ghost" is crying out to be put on an angry jogging playlist, or to blast in the background as the credits roll on an HBO show. Its energy is palpable and contagious, and it's exactly the kind of anthem we all need right now. Unintentional as it may be, this song feels incredibly timely. A love song for the age of social distancing.
To learn more about Peyton Gilliland, visit peytongillilandmusic.com
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She's struck a chord in the past, but now she's showing off all her colors.
Carly Pearce is a modern country singer with throwback appeal.
She plays with bluegrass stylings and Shania-esque song composition, is no stranger to an old fashioned love duet, and can belt with the best of them. This has garnered her gold records, top fifty hits, a slew of high profile appearances across the States, and she's just dropped her self-titled opus.
Pearce opens on firm ground with the breezy "Closer to You," which echoes Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" but with added country flair. She follows up with "Call Me," whose funky guitar licks and playful lyrics are guaranteed to get people dirty dancing. Then "I Hope You're Happy Now" is a modern country duet featuring Lee Brice and filled with regret and hopeful hurt.
"Dashboard Jesus" strikes a bright yet contemplative note. The song plays with classic country music iconography: the road, a banjo, and a girl running from or toward dangers and joys unknown. It's best listened to on a desert highway.
Things slow down again with "Halfway Home." Pearce boils down the complicated emotion of mistrust in a relationship to simple words of longing and regret. Next, "Heart's Going Out of Its Mind," with its banjo riffs and backyard feel, gives more moxie than your usual "I just fell in love" song.
In "Finish Your Sentences" she flirts vivaciously on the mic with real life spouse, Michael Ray, but then "It Won't Always Be Like This" brings the album back to an introspective mood. Pearce sings about leaving home when she was young and wanting to go back, lamenting the intricacies of growing up with all its change and impermanence.
"Lightning in a Bottle" goes a little old school: back porch country feel and a love story of a fling told over a slide guitar. "Love Has No Heart" is yet another ballad, though it manages to play with deeper dimensions than its predecessors. Its fearful insight is more than a little chilling.
"Woman Down" picks the pace back up, as Pearce sings about rock bottom and fighting to leave it behind. Its rapidly metered chorus really bucks and kicks, giving a strong feminist power surge to the record's final act. On "You Kissed Me First," Pearce is sultry and powerful, playing coy with the object of her affection.
Finally, "Greener Grass" finishes off the album with a country ballad. It's an odd choice as a closer, a yielding, dreamlike memory piece with a dipped down tempo. Its repetitive chorus and reverb-heavy production make it feel like a song that might have been better suited earlier in the album, but it ends the album with a whisper rather than a bang.
"This record has been with me through so many emotions, and to finally have it out to the world feels amazing. I poured my heart into what you hear and I hope that fans will be able to find pieces of their own hearts in it," says Carly Pearce.
There are no bum tracks here, no clunkers, no wasted space. Pearce perhaps caters a little too strongly to ballad-lovers, but this won't deter anyone from enjoying the album. Whatever mode Carly Pearce plays with–soulful, frisky, sultry, contemplative–she hits all the right notes.
The singer from the great white north shares his latest offering, written by Dan + Shay.
Canadian country artist Eric Ethridge is at it again.
The former chiropractor-turned-country-music-star has been pleasing fans across North America since 2014. With his EP tearing up the Canadian iTunes country chart, a spot opening up for Florida Georgia Line, and his recent 24 weeks on SiriusXM's tastemaker program "On the Horizon," Ethridge is turning heads. To keep that momentum going, he just released a fresh single, written by Dan + Shay, and it deserves a listen right now.
A synth swell brings us into the song, quickly giving way to the more traditional country trappings of reverb-heavy plucked banjo and slide guitar. It builds rapidly to a full on pop chorus with distorted power chord punches. Ethridge sings in quick snatches about losing his "Dream Girl." Through clever wordplay, we hear this dream girl turn from personified perfection into a make-believe character that only exists in dreams. The track steadily expands with emotion, while the soundscape turns the echoes of the past into instrumental delay and volume swells. The song, like its subject, eventually fades away into memory.
Eric Ethridge has produced a solid piece here. While it doesn't break the mold or redefine the genre, it plays exceptionally well with the pop country toolkit, and a track like this is likely to be an easy crowd-pleaser. It's not difficult to picture this being played at a festival, with couples hugging and dancing to it as the sun sinks below the horizon. It's fun and flirty, with just the right amount of melancholy, enough pop for the mainstream crowd and enough twang for country fans. Listen up and sing along, because these lyrics are about to find a permanent home in your brain.
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The NYC RnB heroine has just dropped her latest single, the wonderfully conflicted "Can't Wait to See You"
Olivia Castriota is one of those names that just keeps cropping up in good places.
Whether she's turning up at another hip underground gig, leading a new Spotify playlist, or featuring in articles just like this one, she's got a knack for shining wherever you find her. New York's own R&B rising star charmed us with " Weekend Lover," knocked us flat with "Kills Me," and gave us pause with "What Do You Stand For." Today Popdust premieres her latest drop, "Can't Wait to See You", which shows us yet another side of a multifaceted artist.
The blunt notes of the rhythm run in stark contrast to Castriota's sharp vocal line, giving the song an oil-and-water feel. So whilst yielding in one measure, the track also gives you a sense of building unease throughout.
This is confirmed in the verses of the song, where Castriota muses about a strained relationship with a lover and their difficulty finding time to enjoy one another. Late stage electric guitar notes give the song a new texture as it progresses, exacerbating the turmoil at its core. Castriota sings words of care over the musical storm. These dissonant tones rubbing up against one another blend the track's chilled out lo-fi experience with the powder keg sitting underneath it.
Photographer: Elaine Aquino, Retouched by Dylan Perlot
Castriota has always had a fantastic grasp of song shape and form. Each offering feels like its own particular world. Listening to her tracks back to back, you never feel like you've been conned into listening to the same song twice, as you do with some other artists. She's always diving into something new, exploring her sound, and finding new ways for the listener to experience her. She never creates a dull moment.
"Can't Wait to See You" is another great piece of work and heralds great things for the singer's upcoming EP "I Need A Minute". Olivia Castriota is, as ever, a rising star to keep a close eye on.
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