On Friday afternoon, I was on the phone with the legendary musician and songwriter David Crosby. He had graciously agreed to talk to me about another artist I was profiling. But Crosby was also, he said, sitting there anxiously, thinking about his own future.
As more and more tours are being canceled in response to the spread of COVID-19, musicians are finding themselves pushing back albums and figuring out how to survive—even musicians as established and successful as David Crosby. He was worried about his livelihood, he told me. He was worried about how to make a living when the primary way most musicians now make a living—touring—was swiftly becoming impossible. Crosby is mischievous and gleeful and kind, even in adverse moments like this one. But he also sounded sad, even a little scared.
At the end of our conversation, I asked him if he’d mind if I shared this part of it—I told him I thought people might be interested in what an artist like him was going through at this particular moment. He said that would be fine.
GQ: How are you doing?
David Crosby: Not too good. I'm sitting here waiting for them to cancel all my tours this summer and put me in deep financial trouble.
That sounds incredibly stressful.
Yeah, it is. Because, you know they don't pay us for records anymore, right? So touring is all we got. That's really the only thing that we can do to make any money. And to lose it is just awful. I may—honest to God—I may lose my home. I don't know what to do about it, except just try to roll with the punches and keep going. Truthfully, if I lose the tours, I probably will lose my home.
Is it for sure that those tours won't happen? Or it just seems like it's inevitable, now?
Nothing's for sure. We don't really know. Right now, they're canceling Live Nation shows, who is, you know, the big gorilla in the room. They're canceling up to April. They haven't talked about May yet, which is when I'm slated to go. But once I start in May, I'm working almost constantly until about six days before Christmas. And if I lose it all, I'm going to be in deep shit.
Okay, so we need to pray for the back half of the year.
[Laughs] Yeah, that would be really good. I don't have much faith in prayer. But I think it's certainly a nice thought. I don't know what's going to happen. It's strange. I mean, streaming doesn't pay. It's like you did your gig for a month and they gave you a nickel. That's how it is. The streaming doesn't pay us any money. So live is all we got. That's it; that's the only thing I get. And if I lose live, then I lose it all. I will lose my home, because I don't have any savings. And that's it. That's what I'm dealing with.
Is there any way people can support you in the meantime, if there are no tours to buy tickets to?
Buying a ticket helps. Buying merch helps, if you buy it from us. But truthfully, man, I don't think there's any way to fix the situation. The people who—I don't know if you understand what happened, but this is what happened. The guys who developed the technology—now we're really off the subject here. But the guys who developed the technology went to the three main record companies and they said, "Hey, imagine a world where there's no physical object. Therefore, no shipping, therefore, no returns, no covers, no printing, no pictures." And the record company said, "Holy shit, how do we get that?" And they said, "It's really simple. You got to restructure your pay scale so that you're paying us a whole shitload of money instead of paying the artists. You got a chance to build a new structure here. They don't know anything about this. So you can build a structure where you pay them a whole shitload less and you pay us a whole lot." And I resent that because we make the music, we create the music, and they're making the money. It's really bad for me, and it's much worse for the talented young people who are trying to make a living as a musician.
The idealist in me thinks the coronavirus is currently revealing all sorts of structural flaws in our country right now; maybe we'll have a better chance of fixing them now. Do you expect anything to change in music around the situation you just described?
No. They're not going to give up that money. They love it. They think they're being very clever. And they are. They are making tons of money. They're making billions, with a B, of dollars and they are depriving us of a living and they don't give a fuck.
Well, I guess the message then is... buy merch?
Yeah, it helps. It's not going to replace what—I've lost half my income, man. Half. Anyways, I gotta make another call. I love you. Take care of yourself.
It's what you do with the fear that matters.
Originally Appeared on GQ