Michaela Anne is an Americana singer-songwriter based in Nashville. Prior to releasing her debut album in 2014, she moved to New York to study at a jazz conservatory. Her third and latest album, 2019’s Desert Dove, took her to the Arizona desert and the California coast to write and record with an all-star band.
I’ve been sheltering in place in my home in Nashville since I got home from a three-week U.S. tour on March 16..I’ve been an indie musician since 2014, self-releasing records, touring, and slowly building a following. It’s not an easy task and depends on working consistently, but 2020 was shaping up to be a promising year.
In 2019, I caught a few breaks. I signed with a well-respected label, Yep Roc Records, which released my album Desert Dove. I signed with a new booking agent who works with many of my heroes, something I hadn’t even let myself dream could happen. The U.S. tour I was returning home from in March was one of the best headlining tours I’ve had thus far. I sold more tickets than I ever have. People were showing up every night, singing the lyrics to my songs. It felt like my career was finally in drive.
Right about now, I should be getting ready to head out on tour supporting singer/songwriter JD McPherson. A support tour like this is an opportunity to perform each night to a room full of potential new fans. Support tours help immensely in growing my audience, as well as making money. When I take my band out for a headlining tour, I have a lot of expenses — I pay the musicians in my band, regardless of what I make. Gas, hotels, and food all add up, while my pay from shows is often determined by how many tickets I sell and is not guaranteed. It’s an investment and a gamble. So opening for another well-established artist or band helps me offset the investment I make when I headline my own tours. The hope is also that those new fans will then come to my show the next time I come through town.
After touring with McPherson, I was scheduled to play NON-COMMvention which, like everything else, has now been cancelled. NON-COMM is hosted by the Philadelphia-based public radio station WXPN. I was looking forward to this event and the opportunity it was going to provide to get in front of a lot of new people who have the platforms and ability to share my music with a wider audience. I’ve seen directly how public radio support helps grow an audience. Then, I had another possible support tour in the works for an artist I would consider a hero, and a big festival that has been rescheduled for the fall. All these dates are losses of income, but also losses of opportunity.
I worry that it sounds like I’m complaining. Early on, I was texting with a friend whose band has a much bigger following than mine. We were sharing what we had to cancel and some of our fears around all of this. She empathetically lamented that I must be so bummed to feel like the momentum was finally kicking in, and now the rug has been pulled out from under me. I hadn’t really thought of it until she framed it that way. It is personally so disappointing. But my mind quickly goes to all the worse suffering out there. Thinking of the loss of my own career momentum feels selfish but at the same time, I understand that it’s valid.
I am really lucky that I have a way to try and make ends meet in this time of uncertainty. I teach private music lessons when I’m home in between tours, so now I am giving those lessons via FaceTime and Skype. I’ve been so grateful for the fans who have continued to purchase my albums, T-shirts, and handwritten lyrics all from my website. Their support is incredibly encouraging and financially helpful. I’ve started doing live-stream online concerts every Thursday on Facebook to benefit various charities and have been encouraged to see the number of people who log on, connect through the screen, and throw some tips my way when they can. It helps me remember we are all still here.
Not all of my fans have been so lucky. Ron Louie, a fan with whom I had become close, was in the process of launching a foundation with his wife, Janine, to enrich the lives of young adults with autism, which their son has. A few weeks ago, Ron’s wife Janine texted to let me know Ron was in the hospital with COVID-19. Three days later, she texted to share the devastating news that he had died. Trying to put words to the shock and sadness I feel is challenging. The loss of Ron feels incredibly unfair — too soon, just wrong. It reverberates with the larger collective feelings of loss we are all enduring right now. We all have a lot to grieve.
But we are learning how to adapt. None of us know how long this will last. As musicians, none of us know what the consequences will be or what our work and touring life will look like in the post-pandemic landscape. We’ve endured industry changes many times. We are constantly learning how to hustle harder, be creative, and find new ways to make ends meet. I have no doubt that when this is over, people will be back at shows and festivals, craving that person-to-person exchange of music and love we all miss so much.
I’ve been reflecting on what I can learn and pass on from knowing Ron, what positivity I can garner from this challenging experience. Joy is the word that keeps appearing in my mind. Through the grief, sorrow, loss, and challenges, I want to keep finding, sharing, and spreading joy. Whether that is through my computer or phone screen, or hopefully one day soon, back on-stage, in a room full of people, I will keep remembering the joy I witnessed and I will share it with others.