Artists overwhelmed with gigs as 'shortage of musicians' takes hold of Broadway

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Posted at 8:08 PM, Jun 17, 2021

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Nashville artists say they’ve been overwhelmed with gigs in what they’re calling a “shortage of musicians” on Broadway.

If it’s between playing over a screen or being in front of a crowd, there’s no question where Sasha McVeigh would rather be. There was a time where the singer/songwriter had to adapt to traveling back and forth between England and Nashville, as she chased her dream. It somehow pales in comparison to what she went through to continue her music career without a live audience.

“After the last year and having to sing in front of my phone to people on live streams, if I can get in front of a crowd, I’m going to do it every time,” McVeigh said.

In retrospect, one can’t help but think of the old phrase, “be careful what you wish for.” While McVeigh is back to playing live gigs, it’s far more than she ever expected. Before the pandemic, she may have played 4 shows a week. Now she averages around eight to ten.

“It’s madness. My schedule has just blown up since everything reopened,” McVeigh said.

Finding a gig isn’t the problem she says, it’s finding the musicians willing to come back to a career that already proved it was far from stable. McVeigh says some have changed jobs during COVID because they couldn’t play.

“They couldn’t make a living doing what they love and they just haven’t come back,” McVeigh said.

John Root is a drummer and plays in the background where the stress of more hours on stage doesn’t have as much of an impact as it does for a singer. It’s part of the reason why he says it’s not that there are fewer musicians, just fewer people in the Broadway “loop.”

It’s a list that continues to shrink as people choose stability over the dream. Some relied on unemployment benefits which were offered to gig workers for the first time through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance fund. In July, gig workers in Tennessee will no longer be eligible and as a result, some expect musicians to make a return to Broadway.

“I think one of the biggest problems is there are still a lot of musicians who are afraid to come off unemployment because they think they’re going to struggle to find gigs,” McVeigh said.

Root says it’s unlike anything he’s ever seen before in his more than 40 years in the music industry, but he’s still confident it’s only a matter of time before artists make their return.

“There are seasoned players who have played Broadway for years but not necessarily Lower Broadway. All they have to do is get that one phone call and then they’ll be doing a couple of gigs a week and it will build from there,” Root said.

One would think bars and restaurants would take whoever they could find to meet the growing demand, but Dave Pomeroy of the Nashville Musicians Association says it’s a word of mouth community. Some are more likely to get the call because they’ve built that trust.

“The way musicians are treated varies greatly from one door to the next on Broadway. What we were working on is extending our community and our reach to get better standards of pay. In a lot of ways, it’s a reset in a bad way, but it’s also an opportunity,” Pomeroy said.

Pomeroy says if the last couple of months have shown us one thing, it’s how much people rely on live music to be there. He says this is an opportunity for musicians to be paid what they deserve for bringing such a vital resource back to Nashville.

“I think there’s an uncertainty there that we would love to address and have people know that if you go down there and you’re going to work a four-hour shift, you’re going to make at least this much. A living wage. We’re not talking about gold-digging here, it’s usually the other way around,” Pomeroy said.

Some have suggested a revenue share with clubs depending on if a musician can draw more fans to the doors. Most musicians on Broadway are paid a small base amount per hour, with the rest made up of tips. Pomeroy says the goal is to offer more stability himself, so the musicians can play and still get paid for doing what they love.