The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted virtually every industry, and the music business is no exception. Extended lockdowns have prevented artists from going on tour, performing at live gigs and meeting fans. For some, it's meant stopping work or looking to other fields for temporary employment.
However, these unprecedented circumstances have also presented opportunities for many musicians. With at-home studios, Zoom appearances and involuntary (though much-needed) retreats from work, artists have been forced to adapt to the tumultuous climate, but the change has not necessarily been a bad thing.
Many musicians hope that when further COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed, they'll be able to pick up where they left off with a renewed energy and fresh outlook born out of these difficult times.
Refinery29 Australia spoke to 14 female artists about how lockdowns have affected them and their careers, and what they hope 2022 brings.
ARIA award-winning singer Amy Shark's plans over the past 18 months were definitely impacted by the pandemic. Singles were pushed back, and her album campaign changed. But perhaps one of the biggest challenges was trying to remain focused.
"Apart from the obvious [of] not being able to play shows, it's also quite hard to stay motivated," she told Refinery29 Australia over email from Los Angeles, where she is currently based.
"I had to retrain my brain and be OK with the fact that things are going to be different, and most importantly I had to really concentrate while songwriting as I didn't want any new songs to be about COVID."
Shark, whose album Cry Forever is out now, said she was lucky that there was a "small window" during this time when she was able to do some in-store signings and connect with fans. She also empathised with emerging artists in particular who have turned to other sources of income during these times.
"I feel for a lot of up and coming artists that have not been able to capitalise on their music because of COVID," she said.
The Everybody Rise hitmaker also weighed in on the debate around sporting events going ahead in packed stadiums while large concerts have not been given the green light. She said it's a "huge double standard that makes absolutely zero sense."
"There's no confidence anymore in booking shows and everyone's mental health is deteriorating," she added, saying the best thing people can do to support the music industry right now is to get vaccinated.
But there's still hope, and she doesn't want emerging artists to be deterred from pursuing a music career in the future. "Stay focused, keep going, this won't last forever," she said.
As for her plans for 2022, well it'll be about "more music and A LOT of shows."
Melbourne-based Ashwarya launched her music career in the middle of the pandemic last year, and said she's unfamiliar with "what it's like to have that sense of normality as an artist" where live performances and face-to-face meetings are possible.
The 22-year-old, whose music is often inspired by her Indian heritage, said editorial shoots in her bedroom, making music over Zoom and performing virtually became the "new normal" for her, and her financial stability also took a hit.
"I've managed to save up some money over my time working retail before the pandemic but it's never really been enough," she said. "And with lost shows and opportunities, it's definitely had an impact on my ability to earn a steady income."
Kickstarting a career in a competitive industry can already be challenging, but throwing COVID-19 into the mix poses obstacles she hadn't initially accounted for, which in turn impacted her wellbeing.
"To be honest, I was so caught up in the past year focusing on my music and growing my platform, that I had forgotten about looking after my mental and physical health," she said.
"With the added pressures of lockdowns and doing things on your own, it's created this newly formed type of anxiety that I never had. Lately, I've been trying to focus on myself a bit more so that when things open up again, I feel prepared and ready to take on opportunities without feeling burnt out."
With more self-care and her new single, FLARE, under her belt, Ashwarya now has her "fingers crossed" that 2022 will be a year of fresh opportunities.
"My career plans are to do as much live [music] as possible, collaborate with other creatives locally and internationally across different creative mediums like music, fashion and design," she said.
Cairn-born artist iyah may, previously known as Mayah, decided to take a huge leap of faith while studying medicine to launch her music career in the US. However, the pandemic threw a true spanner in the works and she's back home working as a doctor after shows were cancelled.
"Fortunately, I have another field of work," the musician explained. "I returned to healthcare to help out as a relief doctor in regional QLD and NSW during the heat of the pandemic.
"I feel for my friends and peers in the music industry, and all industries really, that are struggling without an income and have been forced to change jobs."
Agreeing with the frustration harboured by many other musicians, she said it's "disappointing" that live entertainment has been restricted for so long while other areas like sport haven't.
"People in the arts industries are often the first to step up during times where others need support," she said. "For example, during the bushfires in 2019, so much support was provided for fire relief services by entertainers and music workers.
"It’s disheartening to not see this kind of support being returned by the government and corporations when the creative industries are suffering so much."
It's also been a time for self-reflection and identifying what her priorities are. "To be honest working as a doctor again during COVID has reminded me how much I enjoy being a musician and how grateful I am that I can do both with my life," she admitted.
And on that note, the next year will surely be an exciting one for iyah. "I am so pumped to be able to play shows again, tour, release more songs and hit up every music event I possibly can!" she said.
"I have unreleased music in the bank and I hope to get it out soon and play some cheeky festivals."
In the meantime, she's looking forward to performing her latest single, MF ILY live for the first time at The Grass is Greener festival at the Cairns Showgrounds on Saturday, October 23.
Graace, born Grace Pitts, shot to fame after appearing on Hayden James’ 2017 hit Numb and her career has gone from strength to strength ever since.
The pandemic meant she wasn't able to reunite with James at Coachella which was "the biggest kick in the gut initially back in 2020."
She also acknowledged that without artists creating fresh work, the joy listeners get from new songs naturally subsides.
"I think I put a lot of my happiness into seeing people who listen to my music and feed off their energy, so I had to shift my priorities during this period," she said.
"I was forced to really think about what I was writing and putting out into the world creatively and visually, and I believe it was a blessing for many artists to have that time to focus on that side of their art," she added, proud her new single Sentimental is now out.
With more time to also focus on her personal life and hobbies, she's pursued cooking as another "creative outlet".
"I think the most impressive skill I have now possessed is being able to shuck oysters," she revealed. "I can't wait for this Sydney lockdown to be over so I can invite my vaxxed team and friends over for some fresh oysters."
Graace said she's been fortunate to not have had to look for other employment to keep afloat financially, but the extra time on her hands has tempted her at times.
"I have been so bored recently, though, that I considered getting a cafe job to pass the time," she admitted. "But I'm such a coffee snob, I know I wouldn't be able to uphold the good Aussie standard for a cappuccino."
While on the topic of income, she did highlight that some musicians have been expected to perform with little or no pay over the last year and a half.
"As a small artist myself, there was a strange period where companies/brands were asking us to play live streams for exposure without compensation, which I found bizarre," she said. "It felt like I was back in my early days playing free pub gigs."
Like Shark, she's baffled by a "double standard" in terms of rules for live entertainment events versus sporting events. "I think the government in Australia also values sports over arts. It's been disheartening seeing sporting events go ahead and navigate restrictions while the arts has come to a complete standstill."
Looking ahead to a time when the industry won't be at a standstill, Graace envisions her album will be "out at the end of the next year."
"My other main career goal is to get my butt on a plane," she cheekily admitted, "and go overseas as soon as possible to play shows!"
After the July release of her single King Brown, an ode to knowing your worth, Barkaa (real name Chloe Quayle)'s collaboration with American rapper Rico Nasty on the track Magic dropped at the beginning of this month.
The career highs for the Barkindji woman contrast with the anxiety and concern she's harboured for her extended family living in Wilcannia. The town in far west New South Wales with a predominantly Aboriginal population continues to battle the COVID-19 Delta strain outbreak with limited resources.
"It's been devastating," she said." I think because all my family's from there... and hearing that little babies have got it. You know, our health is already impacted," she continued, referencing pre-existing conditions such as kidney failure and asthma "that runs in our families."
"It's scary to think of the impact it's going to make on mob."
Back at her home in southwest Sydney, Barkaa's felt the toll of not being able to work due to the forced lockdown.
"It's tough because music is my bread and butter. So it's really hard to go from where you're living comfortably, where you're finally putting rent and food on the table and having nice things for the kid to struggling again to live from fortnight to fortnight, and have to be extremely tight with money."
However, she's also embraced the break from the studio to cherish time spent with her three young children.
"If I was out on the road working or touring around, I wouldn't get to have this important time to spend with my kids," she said. "It's really beautiful to be able to stay home with them."
After releasing her debut EP, Nesting last year, R&B artist Liyah Knight is preparing to drop her next one, Travellers Guide in November.
Working alone and away from a team can be a daunting prospect for some musicians, but she's found joy in producing more music on her own during the pandemic.
"There are certainly cons to spending every day with myself," she said, "but I’m grateful for this unique opportunity to learn new ways of doing things."
Being in the relatively early stages of her music career, the Sydney-based singer is yet another artist who has turned to alternative employment in recent months.
"A few months ago I was working at the Motorboat Club in my hometown, pouring cold beers for locals and making cocktails for mum clubs on weekends," she revealed.
"I resigned earlier this year in hopes of finding a job closer to the inner-west, where I had most of my sessions. The only thing was I quit two days before the lockdown was announced and the new job fell through due to COVID – luck of the draw!
"At the moment, I’m working for my mum at her party shop. Days can get a little monotonous, but it’s nice to be close to her during this time."
The next few weeks will be busier for Knight when her second EP drops, and she hopes 2022 allows her to hit the road.
"I just want to play music live and connect with people," she said. "I want to meet new people at gigs and travel. I really just want to eat with my team and build a career around doing what I love."
Yorke has been a force to be reckoned with since her debut EP Liberosis in 2020, attracting over 6.1 million streams. The pandemic hit just as her budding career was on the rise. She had just supported Lewis Capaldi on stage, "the biggest moment" of her career, as she describes, and she had a sold-out tour that was rescheduled twice before being officially cancelled.
"I think initially it didn’t feel real, so adapting to it was quite easy," she said of when COVID-19 started.
"I was at my parents’ house in Byron Bay so I could still go to the beach and I dived headfirst into zoom sessions – I think at one stage I was doing five a week, just so I didn’t feel unproductive."
But she quickly burnt out and it was then she joined TikTok, providing a space for her to write songs alone at her piano. The move was a success, with the musician now having over 10,000 followers she can connect with at all hours of the day.
"I got a job in a marketing company," she also revealed, "which has actually been really beneficial for me both on a ‘paying the bills’ front, but also in learning new skills that I can then transfer back into my own career.
"I don’t know what I would’ve done if didn’t have this extra source of income."
The lockdown has affected many of her "friends and colleagues" in the industry. She's seen them "unable to pay their rent and leaving the music industry completely, [with] barely any government support."
"We’ve had to turn to new ways of thinking, and some artists have aced this and others have fallen behind."
One thing she's certain of is that industry will be fighting fit when the nation opens up.
"No one will be holding back after hibernating for so long, I’m so excited to see everyone win," she said.
"I could not be more excited for 2022. I have the best songs I’ve ever written ready to go and a billion ideas to accompany that. I’ve got some other very exciting things on the horizon and mentally, I feel the most prepared I’ve ever felt."
Melbourne-based artist KYE was touring overseas when the pandemic hit. After four years in the business, the impact of COVID-19 on her career has been "devastating", and she's even wondered whether a music career is feasible in the future.
"This is unfortunately a twice-daily thought," she admitted. "It’s been hard to imagine a future in music when it seems so uncertain."
Some very talented musicians have put their instruments down," she said. "The pandemic has brought the music industry to a crashing halt."
The positives of this forced break have been learning new ways to work, including Zoom sessions and collaborations that may not have come about if it weren't for this time.
"It gave me time to write, to rethink my goals and more importantly to dream again," she said. "It also forced me to learn new ways to continue to work and to reach my audience."
She's said "the biggest thing" though has been the opportunity to spend more time with her family.
"My mum is my best friend and pre-pandemic we both had crazy work schedules. I think I saw her for a total of less than a month in 2019," she said. "So hanging out with mum has been something I’ve really loved and has kept me sane."
With 2022 not far away, KYE wants to tour her EP in the coming year, support "artists I really love and look up to" on stage, and of course, release more music.
Melbourne-based band Moaning Lisa is made up of singer-guitarist Charlie Versegi, singer-bassist Hayley Manwaring, lead guitarist Ellen Chan and drummer Hayden Fritzlaff.
Versegi, Manwaring and Chan spoke to Refinery29 Australia, and said the impacts of the pandemic go "beyond the cancelled tours and postponed releases."
"It has made an already uncertain and unstable career path even more difficult to navigate," they said, explaining Manwaring is also teaching music via Zoom, Chan is working as a bookkeeper and Versefi is working in hospitality.
"We’re lucky enough to have these options outside of just playing music, but they were never intended to overtake the band," they added. "That’s been difficult to grapple with."
But they're grateful to have also kept music in their sights and have their debut album, Something Like This But Not This releasing on October 8. With the opportunity to promote their new work, future travel and reunions are on the horizon for the band in the coming year.
Felivand, whose real name is Felicity Vanderveen, has got into the rhythm of online songwriting sessions over the past 18 months, and it's where some of her "favourite songs" have actually been born.
The "silver lining" of performances being postponed has been "having more time to improve things", but she's also spent time working in hospitality to keep the cash flow consistent.
"I work as a barista at a cafe a couple of days a week and that has definitely been a huge safety net and something I could rely on during lockdowns and the uncertainty of the pandemic," she said.
Candid about the mixture of emotions and thoughts that have crept up, she said being forced to slow down on the music front has been confronting and a bit daunting, especially given the cut-throat nature of the industry.
"I also noticed a bit of an ageist voice creeping in the back door of my mind," she explained. "[It's] so silly, but it kind of made me feel like my dream was slowly slipping away from me the more time went on. But whatever, fuck that way of thinking, it's so not helpful. Art doesn’t age!"
It doesn't, and so "lots of exciting plans for 2022" are in the making.
"[I'll be] sharing the music I’ve been working on for the past year." she said. "And hopefully touring Australia and going overseas to the US/UK to do some writing, travelling and shows for the first time!"
Having launched her career during COVID at age 19, Mia Rodriguez been already been named Best New Artist at the Rolling Stone Australia Awards and has 2 million TikTok followers under her belt.
Her latest single, Billion Dollar Bitch was released in August, and Rodriguez admits luck was on her side as she filmed the music video in Melbourne just before the recent lockdown.
But like most new artists, she wants to put on a live show and not being able to has been difficult. "I had a couple of festivals put on hold which really sucked as they would have been my first festival performances," she said.
On the other hand, Rodriguez has been able to develop her stage confidence without the pressure of big, large audiences.
"It’s given me the chance to perform in front of cameras first before large crowds, which I feel has helped give me a lot more confidence and practice for when I do start performing live in front of an audience," she explained.
With hopes to make her first-ever trip to the US next year to finally meet her team at Atlantic Records in LA, Rodriguez said the agenda for 2022 is jam-packed "to release more music and do more touring."
Sisters Briony and Savannah from NSW make up indie DJ duo, Kinder. The talented siblings were supposed to be on now-cancelled national tours at the end of this year, and have had shoots, club shows and writing sessions postponed.
"A huge part of being a DJ is playing your tracks in the club of course, so as you can imagine, it feels very ironic to be putting out music in a time where dancing in public (in our state) is illegal," said Briony.
"In saying this, after many discussions with our team and support network, we feel it's time to just push on. One day eventually we will be able to play it live."
Savanna has been studying a short course in psychology during the pandemic. "It's something I'm super interested and passionate about and I'm hoping to study at uni part-time next year," she explained.
What else is in the plan for 2022? "Let's pray!" she remarked. "We are really hoping it's a year of shows and festivals and maybe some writing overseas."
Making her music debut mid last year, Daine is yet to experience the thrills of touring and live meet and greets. She was forced to postpone her first-ever show four times and was working at a call centre for a few months at the start of this year.
"I don’t really know anything else so I haven’t had to adapt to it," said the Filipino Australian artist.
"My career is very much a child of the pandemic. I kicked things off properly in July 2020. I’m more nervous to adapting to the industry post-pandemic."
As nerve-wracking as it may be, hitting the road is high on Daine's to-do list.
"I would really like to know what touring feels like. Simple as that," she explained. "There is a lot I’m yet to experience."