The COVID-19 pandemic has caused one of the biggest crises the music industry has seen in decades. As the pandemic expands, artists are delaying their album releases, streaming is down, and the live sector has shut down, putting tens of thousands of mostly freelance workers in potential dire straits.
The Recording Academy and its charitable wing MusiCares announced the launch of the COVID-19 Relief Fund last week with an initial $2 million fund. On Tuesday, streaming services SiriusXM, Pandora, Amazon Music, YouTube Music, Tidal and Spotify announced a joint contribution to the fund.
Mason Jr. declined to give many specifics, such as how much the organizations donated to the fund, what the fund’s overall value is, and how many people have been given aid so far. But the Recording Academy has been one of the more vocal music organizations toward the federal government, taking part in multiple letters addressed to congressional leaders. Industry leaders are pleading to include the music industry in a potential stimulus package and are concerned that their many gig workers that aren’t full-time employees would be neglected.
Rolling Stone spoke with Mason Jr. over the phone Tuesday to discuss his concerns on COVID-19’s impact on the music industry, the resilience of music and the need for relief from the federal government.
What do you see as the biggest challenge the industry is facing in light of COVID-19?
I’m just concerned for our people in our music community. I’m concerned for everybody in the world, but specifically as acting president of the Academy, I’m concerned for all people that create music and work around the music industry. I’m concerned for fans of music, because there’s not the ability for our creators to be able to continue to put out the volume of music that they normally do.
I’m concerned that not only will our creators and [the] music community [not] be able to make a living, [they won’t] be able to create the content that goes out around the world and brings people together. Music is an integral part of our society in our lives. It’s a great thing to have for people to come together, and I think you’re seeing it happen a little bit on the virtual side where people are streaming concerts, which has been incredible. It’s going to be hard for a lot of people to create new music. You can’t go to the studio to record, you can’t hire musicians to back you up, you can’t have co-writers to collaborate with.
Since the relief fund’s launch, who’s been requesting aid the most? Is it coming mainly from smaller recording artists or behind-the-scenes workers?
It’s really widely spread out amongst all the groups you spoke of. We’re seeing artists, we’re seeing musicians, crew members. Everything from that bass player in New Jersey that was supposed to be playing that tour to that rock drummer from Atlanta going to Europe on an eight-week tour. We’re seeing quite a few hundreds of calls per day; we’ve gotten 3,000 calls from people who need help. You’ll see that number continue to grow and I think it will be across all the different sectors of music industry.
The cap for those asking for help from the fund was $1,000. Has that expanded with the new funds coming in?
We’re trying to work on that now. We want to give as much as possible to the people who ask. The amount we give and how many people we service will really be dependent on how much we raise and how many people who raise their hand with need. We’re paying everything from rent, medical bills, groceries; people who are needing medical care. There’s so many different things that this money has to cover and we can’t raise it fast enough. We need to be able to help more people in the industry. I know this is a widespread issue, even airlines are talking about how they [can’t] survive for more than a few months without help. If you take that down to our level, a lot of musicians and people around the music community, we can survive for a few days without help at this point, so we’re trying to raise as much money as we can.
Do you have any idea how much it would take to adequately fund a relief effort for it to be more substantial?
I don’t think we’re going to be able to take care of everybody in all their needs, period. It’s going to be very hard to do. So it would be impossible for us to set a number and say we want to raise $500 million to pay back all the musicians who lost their money.
The Recording Academy has been one of the more vocal groups reaching out for federal assistance as part of a very vocal music industry on the whole. Have you heard anything that makes you feel confident your pleas will be answered?
We’ve been very active in D.C., we’ve been working with our team and lobbyists there to make sure we are included in some of those stimuluses packages; we want something appropriated for our community. We’re trying to make sure our voices heard. I think we’ve sent almost 20,000 letters and pieces of communication from members to our representatives in D.C., which has been really helpful.
Do you think you’ve been heard?
I know that we have been heard, whether or not they decide to include us or not is really out of our control. They’re in a tough spot. We’re just one of many groups that are struggling. So we don’t pretend to think we’re any more or less important than other groups. And I know we have a lot of people that worry about a lot of different industries. So I can only hope that they will consider us as well.
A month ago, the Academy itself was the subject of industry controversy over its fight with ousted CEO Deborah Dugan. How do you make sure these conversations aren’t muffled after the coronavirus fades?
My whole focus has been trying to do the right things with the academy and the music community. We’re always going to be looking at what we do to make sure we do it right, and that hasn’t changed. Right now, my focus is coronavirus. We’re also continuing to make great changes with the academy and do great work that we do.