An electric blue guitar stands idly next to a thrifted collection of old school r&b records. Following the trail of cracks in the wall, there’s faded pictures printed offline of famed, sweaty singers next to a polaroid of a beaming woman — a bittersweet mural for an artist confined to his apartment.
“My mom was the one who made me take music lessons,” Ayodeji Oduwole, an electronic musician turned guitar teacher, explained proudly as he circled his laptop camera around his studio.
To the untrained eye, Oduwole’s studio is the disoriented cove of a millennial artist clinging to a past he’ll never know. In reality, it details the vivid reality of the ruins independent artists have been shuffling through since the pandemic shut down live music, sparking a new wave of virtual performing.
Atlanta has been the hub of musical genius since the beginning of the reconstruction era. Music wasn’t just entertainment; it was a pivotal stamp of culture that united people. Ironically, music underwent the biggest assimilation into a new normal when the city shut down. Despite plenty of music based start-ups designed to ease covid anxieties, independent musicians were still heavily impacted by the sudden fall of revenue that stemmed from live gigs.
Gradually, budding artists were pushed to the world of freelance that was already taking on a new form — virtual. The glee of live performances, smoky air, and off-key sing-a-alongs migrated to laptops, while the necessity of surviving took the spotlight.
To the more seasoned musicians though, this uncertainty was routine. Lachelle Williams, a singing coach, found herself in plenty of hiccups over the course of her 20-year career. The industry had never been kind to artists and had undergone a fair share of change from records to digital.
With her devout students being under 25, Williams identified the biggest flaw: entitlement.
“That’s where it’s changed for these young artists. They’re not used to things not being convenient,” Williams shared without a lick of mercy.
Yet, Williams had to rethink her stance when it came to the mention of music’s virtual turn.
“The younger crowd has shown me the good side of social media aside from it being addictive. I realized I have less clients because now YouTube is the next big thing.”
Williams wasn’t enthused, but when social media became the new stage during Covid, blossoming artists had an alternative way of promoting outside of gigs. The worlds of tiktok and YouTube, overwhelmed by bored audiences stuck inside, became a hub for artists looking to showcase their talents.
Nailah Ayann, a newbie to the scene, managed to score a growing audience with more eyes glued to social media.
“People listen to music more now that things have slowed down,” the 26-year-old r&b singer pointed out. She turned to YouTube in hopes of expanding her 1000 Instagram followers, but discovered the downside of virtual expectations.
“It’s all about the followers these days,” Ayann admits woefully. As a result, Ayann survives off of a second job while attempting the same trade as Lachelle Williams: singing lessons.
“There’s two little girls I coach here and there. I just hope they learn the business early so they won’t struggle like I am.”
With the lack of opportunity, it’s no surprise that musicians set down their beloved instruments in hopes of making a better living. Between Oduwole’s guitar lesson hustle and Ayann’s scramble to create a name for herself, there’s a similar air of confusion and pessimism. It seems nearly impossible to combat covid money loss and industry expectations.
Lachelle Williams offered a cushion of wisdom.
“The universe is an agenda and it’s up to us to keep the tradition and pass it on, no matter how complicated this technology stuff gets,” Williams said with a bright grin on her face that was just as shiny as the pictures of her next to famous singers, sitting on her shelf. It was an odd juxtaposition to Oduwole’s makeshift printed pictures on his studio apartment walls.
Atlanta will never lose its rich musical roots or passionate generation of artists. It’s still important to ask: is passion enough to sustain the already shaky futures of young musicians?