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‘When the Going Gets Weird, the Weird Turn Pro’

In his Editor's Note for the April issue, Mix Editor Tom Kenny looks around the coronavirus landscape and wonders who is going to help the hourly worker.

Things are pretty strange out there in the world right now, and all indications are that they will get even stranger before returning to some sense of normalcy, or some sense of a New Normal. Before we have to reboot the Earth. And as I have done many times before during crises, both personal and out there in the world at large, I turn to advice from the Good Doctor, the late Hunter S. Thompson.

Mix Editor Tom Kenny. Photo by Chris Pelonis.

The rapid worldwide spread of coronavirus COVID-19 has proven to be the ultimate disruptor, and not in that happy-go-lucky, Silicon Valley meaning of the word. Beyond the obvious threats to health and safety for virtually everyone on the planet, the ripple effects of enforced social distancing and the immediate shutdowns of entire industries now threaten the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of everyday workers just trying to get by, a great majority of them living paycheck to paycheck.

It’s disingenuous to say that “nobody saw this coming,” as experts have warned of such a scenario since the Great Flu Epidemic of 1917-18. And the recent Ebola scares, while largely contained to regions of Africa, hinted at what could happen if the virus were to spread. But I think it is fair to say that few predicted the devastating ripple effects across all markets, all jobs, all demographics and all social classes. As I sat down to write this, the San Francisco Bay Area was ordered to shelter in place—no restaurants, bars, nightclubs or gathering of more than 50 people; no leaving the house unless necessary—and Marriott announced the furlough of roughly half its workforce. I have a lot of friends in the restaurant, hospitality and production industries. They are all sweating.

Read Mix Blog Live: Coronavirus Fallout.

And the touring and event industries? My lord! Coachella, SXSW, Live Nation tours, AEG tours, NAB, regional tours by young bands, the entire city of Las Vegas! The ripple effect is enormous. If you’ve ever been backstage at a concert, festival or even an NBA basketball game, you’ve seen how many people it takes to put on a show for 20,000 or more. Every one of those hourly workers is worried about their livelihood. Elsa, the cousin of my neighbor Stella, is an usher at the Chase Center for Warriors games and all those concerts. She’s in a tough spot right now. Now multiply that by 100, then by 100 again, then by 100 again and you get an idea of the effect.

It’s only been in the past week, as the clamp came down on social interaction in the U.S., that media attention turned to the hourly worker. To his credit, the love-him-or-hate-him owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban, was early to adopt a plan to help out the vendors and ushers and audio and video personnel that help his team run. So did the San Antonio Spurs. So have a few major artists. Just today the Recording Academy and its philanthropy arm MusiCares announced a fund that is now at $2 million to help artists and their support teams. But these efforts have been the exception. We need more.

I’m not worried so much for the Taylor Swifts, Rolling Stones or J-Los of our music world; they will get by, and they seem to be of the type who will provide support for their crews. But I am worried about everyone else, every regional band, every roadie, production assistant, intercom operator, monitor mixer or assistant systems tech. Every boutique pro audio hardware company that can’t get parts and has to lay off half its team. Every cruise ship audio tech whose world has been turned upside down. And that’s just our industry. Extend that to every industry. Extend it to the world.

I’m also not worried too much about the big banks or the airlines or even the financial industry, despite the recent stock market meltdowns. They will all get bailed out. But who’s going to help the rest of us? Who is going to help the Marriott AV assistant in Orlando who just graduated from Full Sail and was just starting his career? Or the veteran FOH engineer who mixes local shows at Slim’s and babysits the console when touring acts come through? Who’s going to help them?

And that’s why I turned to the Good Doctor for advice. To me, the quote means that in times of uncertainty, our true natures come out. In the absence of normalcy, and in the absence of leadership and support, those that have personal vision and character—the weird—will provide an example and will help solve the crisis. Musicians, artists, producers, engineers, label heads—heck, the whole music and recording industry is run by the weird. And the weird will find a way to help out.

And so, in the coming months, when you see fear and suffering in your family, in those you are close to and those you work with, take a moment to reach out and offer a simple gesture of kindness and support. Money helps, of course, but every gesture matters. We all need the support. Even the weird.