Jason Isbell on the Music Industry After Coronavirus: ‘It’s Gonna Be Bad’
By his own admission, Jason Isbell is "healthy and relatively sane" while quarantined at home with his family during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. He knows he's one of the lucky ones, though.
"I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve got a bit of a safety net," the singer-songwriter tells Trevor Noah in a recent interview for The Daily Show. "That's not gonna hold up forever, but had it been 10 years ago, when I was still riding around in a van playing for a couple hundred people a night, I would have to start re-thinking career choices and making some hard decisions."
With musicians unable to tour, they're relying on music and merch sales to make money during this time. However, many people are being furloughed or laid off from their jobs due to the pandemic -- in April, the United States unemployment rate rose to 14.7 percent, the highest it's been since the Great Depression -- meaning disposable income has, for some, shrunk or is non-existent.
"Nobody knows what's gonna happen, and we all, I think, have come to a consensus that it's gonna be bad ... As far as making a living making music, it's gonna be a lot harder for people who were, you know, living show to show or paycheck to paycheck," Isbell admits. He adds later, "It's tough, because [music] is dispensable. You can't eat a rock 'n' roll record."
That doesn't mean Isbell and other artists have stopped creating, however: "As long as I have my life, I can still find a way to make music," he points out. "The thing that I try to focus on is, I can still make music, and the original reason I started making music was not to make a living."
Isbell says he's been spending hours each day playing guitar and improving his musicianship. He's also taking notes for new songs, though he says it will likely be a while before he can process the current situation and turn it into music.
"I have made a career out of writing lonely folk songs, basically, and so now, it's perfect -- I'll just keep doing what i'm doing," he says, chuckling. "I already was writing about sitting alone in my room and not being able to touch anyone ..."
Isbell, his wife Amanda Shires and their daughter Mercy live near Nashville, which will allow restaurants and retail store to begin opening at half capacity on Monday (May 11). The musician says he and his family won't be among the people rushing back out.
"I'm not going out, man," he tells Noah, noting that the death of good friend and fellow artist John Prine has left his family content to stay home. "I would rather be thoughtful to the people that I care about ... For me, it's not worth it."
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