How to support music artists during the pandemic

A partial transcript of Episode 16 of THE ART MOVEMENT. To listen to the full radio show, CLICK HERE.

Music artists have been hit pretty badly by the pandemic. As the online editor of JAZZIZ Magazine, I get emails about news of concert, tour and festival cancelations on a daily basis. And that’s really the bread and butter for most of these bands. Because I know that people have misconceptions of what the life of a musician is like — a lot of boozing, partying, sex, drugs and rock and roll.

But actually, the life of a touring musician is one of the hardest lives you can have. It’s not for everyone, it’s really tiring, physically daunting and the financial returns from it tend to be pretty miserable.

Aside from that, record sales have been obsolete for decades now but have become the bread and butter for musicians during these difficult times. So, what I have been doing is, I have been suggesting to people — if they can — to buy albums of the artists from their local scene or artists who don’t have the type of following that mainstream, sponsored bands have.

And another thing that I have been suggesting is that if they do buy records, that they don’t buy them off Amazon, unless it really is the only way to get said album because that too is a possibility. Amazon tends to exploit the artists by keeping so much of the money off sales for themselves and the reason why artists can’t snub them is because they are too big to snub — that’s the truth. It’s out of desperation.

But generally speaking, the best way to buy records — well, there are two ways. One, is to buy them directly off the artist’s website. And the second is to go on Bandcamp and see if the album is available there.

Bandcamp has been really awesome during this pandemic. For those unfamiliar, they are a radically decentralized online record store and they take a much lower cut off record revenues. In addition, throughout this entire pandemic, they have waived fees on several days — particularly on Friday. They have done it so many times that I have actually been unable to keep track of it!

Or, if you don’t want to buy the album, buy merch. Get yourself a t-shirt of your favorite band that nobody knows about, of a coffee mug or a key chain or whatever. Many of these independent artists actually make more money from selling merchandise than by selling records. It’s just an easy way to continue to support the arts in this time of need and to just thank your favorite band for being there when you needed them during a difficult time in YOUR life.

My first live gig since the pandemic

A partial transcript of Episode 16 of THE ART MOVEMENT. To listen to the full radio show, CLICK HERE.

Speaking of music, earlier I talked about responsibility in terms of social distancing and I understand how difficult it is for some people. And I respect that. I really do. So, by all that, I don’t mean that people should stop hanging out but I think that if they do, they should be cautious.

For example, this past week, I went to my first live gig since the pandemic. A friend of mine, Lukos Hey, who is a painter and who I interviewed for my podcast and also documented in his studio for my Matt’s Long Take series on my YouTube channel, also plays the drums and he was playing a gig with this Brazilian singer/songwriter named AnniMa Moods.

Together, they played a light jazz slash Brazilian music tradition type of duo gig. And quite honestly, there would have been nothing particularly exciting about it had it not been for the fact that my ears needed it. My ears really craved to hear live instrumentation after so long, so much so that, as I was listening to the twang of the strings and the sound of each component of Lukos’ drum kit, my ears were going like “thank you! Thank you so much!”

They were thanking me for hauling ass. And here is what the scene looked like. The gig took place in this very upper middle class, histerish place called La Champagneria. I showed up a little late — which rarely happens because I’m the guy who put the punk in punctual! In any case, by the time they got there, the gig had moved from inside to outside because it was a lovely day but also because there were too many people inside.

And so, just outside of this Champagne joint, we all sat at tables, fairly spread out and there wasn’t too much mingling going on but we were all somehow aware of each other’s presence and we appreciated being strangers in relation to each other but united in just listening to the music and enjoying the generally good vibes.

We didn’t wear a mask and we were talking with each other but we were still careful, respectful and each individual group was never too large. It’s a little hard to explain but essentially, you feel that people are being mindful and that you and everybody else is pretty safe.

I should say that Prague was not as hard hit by the coronavirus as many other cities in Europe and around the world; strict measures taken early on prevented the outbreak from being very serious.

But also, I really felt that people were respectful of each other, like I said, enjoying the vibes, respecting the boundaries, drinking some cheap champagne in their nice clothes — except for me, I drank a coffee and a lemonade because my mind of alcohol right now is someone else’s nightmare. So, it is possible to hang out, have a good time and be responsible.

Why the Coronavirus Videos of Singing Italians Annoy Me

I have been hit hard by the quarantine period. Stuck in the Czech Republic, where I had traveled to just a few days prior to the announcement of the state of emergency to cover an international documentary film festival, I am forced like many others to stay put and watch the world from afar.

It hasn’t taken long for the internet to come up with a fair share of memes, which act as a defense mechanism during these difficult times. I have never much cared for memes myself, as I find them pandering and obnoxious, like most things that appear to be popular these days – including K-Pop.

Yet, one thing that has particularly annoyed me is a trend that is almost impossible to escape: videos of Italians singing or playing music from their balconies.

This trend annoys me on a number of levels. I have very little time for the kind of virtual storytelling that has arisen with the advent of Instagram, where everything from the filters themselves seem to make abuse of nostalgia as a communicative mechanism.

On a practical and personal level, these videos annoy me because the last thing I would want to hear is somebody else singing or playing music in the flat next door while I am trying to get comfortable in my own flat. In fact, the first thing I check of any flat I rent is that the walls are thick enough for me not to hear sonic intrusions of my next-door neighbour.

I am sure I am not the only one who feels this way and as I accidentally scroll down my social media home page and one of these videos autoplays, I instantly picture men and women in the flats next door rolling their eyes or being legitimately annoyed for much the same reason.

Finally, however, this is just another example of how art comes to the rescue of people or institutions of any kind for reasons that could be considered propagandistic. After the European outbreak of COVID-19, people looked at Italy like the country to avoid at all costs and its image was temporarily damaged (as if the nation hadn’t damaged its own reputation enough by treating the madness of Salvini with a level of legitimation).

Of course, romatic images of singers, whether professional or not, and musicians, whether professional or not, are being used to project an image of Italy abroad of nostalgic romanticism. At home, they serve a similar purpose, countering the harshness of news hysteria, as info about medical staff having to choose whom to cure and whom to let die have started making the rounds.

While I have no doubt that some people are legitimately encouraged by these impromptu performances (though I hardly believe that anything filmed can truly be disinterested in the age of social media gratification), I cannot help be annoyed by something else.

These performances show, once again, that in times of trouble, it is art that comes to the rescue. It is art that people turn to, in order to forget their struggle and be reassured. In these days of social distance, art becomes a very real bridge between people.

Then, why is art so regularly mistreated? Why are artists not given the right attention they desevre? Why do we instead let our artists be replaced by modern monstrous figures like influencers or reality TV stars? Why do so many artists starve, struggle to pay rent or live normal lives?

The thing is that, as I watch these videos, I am reminded of just how jaded I am. When people first began to talk about the Coronavirus, and I heard about its origins, I immediately thought of it as a defense mechanism unleashed by the planet itself.

A few weeks later, it is blatantly clear that the air is clearing up and the world is all the better for it. Sure, people are dying of Coronavirus, but less people are dying for air pollution. Yet another proof of the fact that humanity truly is the problem.

The false sense of community created by these videos are countered by images of empty supermarket aisles and shocking footage of people fighting over toilet rolls. Young people failing to stay put and America still widely seeing the Coronavirus as a European problem.

I may be jaded but I think that quietness and meditation is the only thing that will allow us to establish a legitimate sense of community. It is too early to point out the ways in which we try to stay together even while apart, and support each other even as we can’t even shake hands. It hasn’t been long enough for us to understand how important we are to one another and the future of the planet.

I believe in the intimate power of a surprise phone call or message. I even believe in prayer and meditation. I believe in the intimate rediscovery of a book, an album or a movie. I do not believe in these kinds of eccentric showcases.

I am not totally insensitive to these moments. There is a scene in Casablanca depicting the dueling anthems between French refugees and their German occupants singing “Die Wacht am Rhein.”

It is one of my favorite moments in the film. When this scene was shared prominently in 2016 after the terrorist attack on Paris. I thought it was great because it expressed an outrage that people couldn’t quite express with words and also showed us how violent events constantly repeated and it seems humanity is incapable of changing its course.

In contrast, I could use the example of Italy in the immediate aftermath of the announcement of Coronavirus infections within its borders, when politicians and people seemed to endorse online campaigns preaching to people that they should carry on living as if nothing was happening.

Click here to buy my book of thoughts on film, Eye of the Beholder, on Amazon!

Vinyl Stores: “The Good Stuff” Is Not Always the Good Stuff

I was buying vinyl records before buying vinyl records was cool again. Sounds like a smug statement but that’s true.

The reason I got into it was a friend of mine, who was also the guitarist in my band at the time, had one. We would drink and listen to rockabilly and lots of other great stuff from the ’50s and the ’60s.

The first vinyl record I ever bought was an Eddie Cochran compilation. From then on, I was a bit hooked. I even raided my parents’ collection and made some of their records my own. Though I couldn’t find much I felt was cool enough to make the cut.

For years, however, I have had to cut down on my record shopping because I have been living like a drifter. There is nowhere for me to store my vinyls and I also never get to listen to them.

Yet, I often accost one of the reasons why I long to settle down somewhere with my desire to start collecting vinyls again – pick up where I left off.

Something else has happened over these past few years: I have embraced digital streaming platforms. I am constantly on Spotify and I love it. It has helped me discover some great new music.

It is not only because of this that my attitude towards buying vinyl records has changed.

When I first started out, I thought buying well-known records was the way to go. This, I suspect, is what many people do, especially when they first start buying vinyls. I used to even spend a lot of hard-earned cash on brand new reissues, remastered sets and so on.

While I totally see the appeal in doing that, I understand that the truest potential of buying records lies in the bargain bins of second-hard stores across the globe. That’s where you will find forgotten gems, things you will not be familiar with.

Some of them won’t even be available via digital streaming platforms, or the internet at large. That to me is where it gets truly interesting — that’s where it feels like you’re unearthing something — that’s where it feels like you’re making discoveries, much like an archaeologist would.

I was thinking about this yesterday because I went to my favorite record store in Galway. I couldn’t really find anything I wanted and in any case, as I mentioned, I am not currently looking to buy anything.

The shopkeeper, possibly seeing that I hadn’t yet picked out anything, looked at me and kindly said, “This is where the good stuff is,” pointing at one of the boxes.

I thanked him and when I got to the box, I could see that he was right. Lots of Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, The Jam, two copies of Getz/Gilberto, anniversary editions of The Velvet Underground & Nico… That’s definitely good stuff to me.

But if I would have walked out of the store, I wouldn’t have walked out with one of those acclaimed titles. In fact, the one record that interested me the most was one by a band called Distorsions, which I didn’t know at all but had a cover artwork that seemed to me very ’70s garage – though I couldn’t be sure it was indeed a product of that era.

Whenever someone asks me what my favorite of the records I own is, I tell them it’s one by The Waikiki Beach Boys, called “Breeze of Hawaii.” Not necessarily because of the music — a chilled out Hawaiian type of affair that is mostly background stuff for relaxation — but because to me, it encapsulates the potential of discovery that vinyl record shopping has.

Video: Matt’s Long Take #3: Lucien Zell

Whenever I’m in Prague, one of my favorite cities in the world, my friend Lucien Zell is one of the first people I get in touch with. Lucien is a poet, author, photographer, singer and man full committed to what I refer to as the “art life.” The last time I was in Prague, I met him and documented our meeting with my camcorder. I noticed early on that something was off in the speed settings, but in the spirit of my Long Take series, I kept filming. I was happy to note that the error gives the video an unanticipated, dreamlike effect that is appropriate to this late-night conversation about art, culture and spirituality.

Matt’s Long Take is a new web series by art reporter Matt Micucci documenting a series of encounters with artists and art institutions around the world. The use of the long take is inspired by André Bazin, who believed it to be an important tool in cinema’s ability to capture “reality.”

Click here to buy my book of thoughts on film, Eye of the Beholder, on Amazon!