Jess Jocoy, and independent artist in Nashville, wrote up what it all actually entails to be quarantined and what she is facing in the wake of tour cancellations.
Hello, and welcome to 2020: is she roaring loud enough for you yet? Making her golden mark on the long-weathered stage of history? It seems all headlines and heartaches these days. Who would’ve thought we’d reach a time where physical human interaction was discouraged? How modern… I’ve caught myself wondering about these tumultuous times. Is this something else? Something bigger? The pale horse, if you will. But that’s a conversation for another essay, I suppose.
I’m really here to talk about the pestilence that is COVID-19, and its objectionable effect on touring musicians, or more specifically, independent touring musicians. My name is Jess Jocoy. I’m a twenty-something-year-old singer/songwriter living in Nashville, TN. I am one of many, possibly just like you, shaking my head going, “These are strange days.” (I even wrote a song about it.). On top of that, throw in the fact that Nashville is still trying to recover from the massively destructive tornado that hit a couple weeks ago, these times just keep getting stranger.
Your favorite band who was set to play a packed spring tour is now having to break the news (and your heart) that said tour is postponed or canceled. By now, you’re kind of numb to it, right? It’s expected. “It’s with great disappointment … adhering to CDC guidelines … we’re working to reschedule … stay safe out there and wash your hands! …” We’re working to reschedule, that’s the kicker. For the more established artist, “we’re working to reschedule” really translates to “the booking agents are working with each of the venues we’d initially planned to play, to re-route and re-book in accordance with the venue’s availability in conjunction to our own availability – you know, assuming that COVID-19 doesn’t last past July. They’ll let us know when everything’s sorted and we’ll tell our fans where we’re going to be and when.” Now, before we get too far in it, I’m not trying to climb up on some high horse and say these artists aren’t facing hard times or that they don’t do the grunt work. Everyone starts at the bottom, so they know. Even if it’s been awhile, they remember.
They remember what it was like for lower-elevation artists; artists still building. It’s very likely you’ve never heard of me or my music before, so I’m one of those artists. Independent. Solo. A one-woman band. For artists like myself, you’re bare-bones by way of representation (preface: I finally enlisted the help of a publicist and she’s brilliant). You’re a small-business owner, likely with little to no investment (save for the unwavering support from your family, if you’re so #blessed), working your ass off to build credibility in your name and subsequently, the credibility of the product you’re offering to the public. You are the publicist. You are the record label. You are the booking agent. You are. When I released my EP – my first proper body of work – in 2018, I was truly solo, working off the broad knowledge of the music industry I’d accumulated in college and raw passion. No marketing, no touring. And you know what? It went nowhere. Obviously.
This time, I was going to learn from my mistakes. I’m releasing my first full-length record on April 10th called Such A Long Way. Apart from my publicist’s help in spreading the word about this little bird I’m about to kick out of the nest, I am still an independent artist, and I’d be damned if I was going to do another one-off show in a town nine hours away, if only because the drive was hell on my back and I spent more in gas than what I made in my split. So, I sat down last August and started planning.
How many hours have I been buried in my computer, switching between search tabs, planning a proper tour? At least hundreds. At least. One tab for the calendar, to keep track of venues pitched (marked in blue), venues that responded favorably (orange), venues that passed or were unavailable (red). A single calendar day could have up to twenty venues pitched. One tab for researching what venues are in each town that might best suit my style of music (Americana, listening room stuff). One tab to calculate the distance between Nashville and [Town Name], and distance from [Town Name] to [Next Town Name]. I could go on, but really what I’m getting at is that it’s a lot of work to research, route, and finally book a tour when you’re still starting out. Say a venue is interested in having you, but their availability is one day after you’d hoped to be there. Is a free day in between worth it? Do you have a friend in this town you can crash with or will you be sleeping in your car? Can you find another place to play in a nearby town to fill that gap? Start the process all over again.
So what does COVID-19 mean for independent musicians? In my experience, it means those hundreds of hours of staring at the computer screen till two in the morning, hours of email threads titled “[Booking Request],” hours of conversations and planning are all tossed out the window. I actually had a small panic attack when the first couple gigs started to cancel. It was all set to work out so well. My album would release, I’d take the music to the people, and all my hard work would come to fruition. The beginning is so crucial, even more so than financials, the building of a fanbase – letting people know you’re even here. That’s what I was looking forward to most. Now, I start the process all over again. The saving grace? The conversations are already established, and I’m in it for the long haul.
I suppose at the end of the day, this piece is just to offer some well-rounded insight. Tours can and will be rescheduled. The show(s) will go on. Please, just keep supporting live music. When all of this craziness starts to wind down – which I believe it will – we really have to support one another. When you’re finally able to emerge from self-iso-quarantine, having live streamed all of your “quarantunes,” go see a show at your favorite local venue. Get there early enough to catch the opener. Buy their merch if you dig their sound. Because remember: we’re all in this together.
Jess has a new album coming out on April 10. If you like her words and her sound, pre-save the album.