From the arts front lines: Andrew McKeag: ‘I think you’ll see a lot of career changes’

"There's a huge amount of people who relied on the live music industry to make their living," says Andrew McKeag.
(Photo by Bryan Kasnyik)

With live gigs at a standstill, the veteran guitarist and tour manager is weighing other options


As far as live music goes, I don’t think there will be anything for a while on a larger scale, or at least on a scale people need to make a living doing it. I think the demand for music will still be there, but the demand for live music will be different. For me, it’s frustrating on so many levels, because I was diversified within the music industry, playing in bands, doing production work, being a tour manager and booking events.

I was going to be on the road in April and May as the stage manager for an Australian band called The Chats, but the tour was canceled. Then I was going to run production for Bay Fest here in San Diego, but that was canceled. I also had other production jobs that fell through, plus all the live production stuff I run at casinos, mostly Sycuan and in other states, where I would fly out for one night and fly back here the next. And Live Nation had asked me to block out a lot of time for this summer, because they had so many San Diego shows booked, but those have all been canceled.

Bands have their road crews, their managers and their booking agents. On the venue side, even at a small club, you’ve got a talent buyer, the doorman the front-of-house sound person, the onstage monitor mixer, a lighting person, the bartenders, the servers. It’s like a pyramid. There’s a huge amount of people who relied on the live music industry to make their living.

We have two kids, 20 and 17, and my wife works from home in the living room for most of the day. I work on music, as I can, in a spare room. When she’s on conference calls, I go to the garage and work on my motorcycle. I walk the dogs and spend too much time flipping through social media, like most people.

I finally got on unemployment, which was challenging, but I’m grateful. I’ve talked to lots of my friends, who are also struggling. You start looking around at what your personal options are. I think you’ll see a lot of career changes. Since we’re all reliant on this constantly moving thing that is live music, we just have to look elsewhere.

I was never interested in doing recording, outside of professional studios. But now I’ve challenged myself to learn GarageBand better — because it’s right there on my laptop and it’s free — and also to advance beyond that. So I got Logic recently, which is like an advanced version of GarageBand. It would be rad to create stuff you can sell to people without leaving the house, like maybe film or TV soundtrack work. I’ve got all the creativity in the world, but I don’t have the technical skills yet.

I might have been better off, years ago, going to motorcycle (mechanic) school and getting a certificate. That way, I could have another job and keep music in my life, but not as my source of income. Who knows if live music will come back around, one way or the other?

In the meanwhile, I have been talking to local venues about coming up with ways to create content channels, with branding from the venues and the people involved, sort of taste-maker stuff. This wouldn’t just be livestreamed music, it might be interviews and weird specialty shows; the sky is the limit, I’ve also been throwing around the idea of doing my own podcast, although I haven’t exactly formulated how that would shape up.

I participated in a buddy of mine’s podcast recently, which got me thinking that might be an avenue I’ll go down. We’re all trying different things, because you can’t just shrivel up into a ball. Well, you can, but — as creative artists — the impulse to do cool stuff is still what we’re all about. It just may have to take on a different form.

McKeag is the guitarist in Lady Dottie & The Diamonds, Dirty Sweet, High Tide Society and the Andrew McKeag Band. He is also a veteran tour manager, live events producer and talent buyer.