Building Back Live: Carsie Blanton’s Artist Activism To Save Music Workers

Carsie Blanton
Courtesy of Shore Fire Media

Carsie Blanton throws a monthly livestreamed rent party to keep the lights on for her bandmates. She thinks artists need to step up to aid those who make shows happen but have received little stimulus aid.

Like most touring artists, Philly-based singer-songwriter Carsie Blanton and her bandmates watched her entire 2020 tour calendar evaporate as the industry shut down in March.

And like many emerging artists, as well as less well-known veterans, she doesn’t have the deep pockets of superstar acts to continue paying her two sidemen, Joe Plowman and Patrick Firth,  who depend on touring to keep the roofs over their heads. So the trio holed up together, filed unemployment claims and threw an online rent party to take care of April. It was so successful, they’ve continued monthly and now have 10 months of paid rent.
Blanton also recorded a pandemic album, for lack of a better term, called Love & Rage, that is to drop in April and reflects her thoughts on the situation she and her bandmates find themselves in. Something of a musical provocateur, she has opinions and isn’t afraid to express them – including about what still needs to be done for workers in the music business not sufficiently covered by either government or industry-based relief initiatives.
“My two bandmates have both worked with me for a long time and, like a lot of people, we had a ton of tour dates booked and then they all got canceled in March. So our first rent party was in March and we’ve now had 10, “Blanton says. “The first time. I was like, these guys literally don’t know how they’re going to pay their rent. There wasn’t any stimulus yet, so we just went for it. “I’m a smaller, independent artist. So those guys are my whole team.”
She’s a supporter of any initiative that supports the live business, but notes that unemployment benefits have been cut in half for some and others have gone four or five months without any financial support at all, which has forced some to seek other employment. Many of those who find new jobs will not return to music work. And she is not convinced lawmakers understand the breadth of the business in order to fully address the crisis.
“I think a lot of people imagine that everybody in the music industry is sort of living the dream and flitting around like Tinkerbell and don’t actually have physical needs,” Blanton says. “But we all have health insurance. A lot of us have student debt. Music school costs just as much as every other kind of school. And a lot of people have families.
“I think there needs to be a reckoning about the fact that people who work in the entertainment industry, just like in any other industry, have training and they have built a life around being able to do a job. And that job is going to be the last one to come back.”
Blanton also points out that many of them are now trying to find employment in service industries, like bars and restaurants, and finding those doors closed to them, too. 
 “At the end of it, we’re going to look up and realize that we just removed a lot of jobs from the economy and we still have the same number of people,” she says. “What would be sustainable is to really increase the federal stimulus for entertainment workers and for all unemployed workers.”
Blanton has put her convictions into action, and believes more artists who are able to assist their bands and crews need to step up and do so. 
To that end, she’s worked with Unemployed Action, an organizing campaign sponsored by the Center For Popular Democracy. A movement by and for unemployed workers and their families, Unemployed Action has been lobbying Congress for an extension of the $600 weekly unemployment stipend  and other aid. She also works with a music union called the Music Workers Alliance. She encourages musicians, while they’re out of work, to continue lobbying Congress for more stimulus aid. 
“One thing that I’ve realized in the pandemic is that I have a small platform, I’m not Beyonce or something, but I do have a fan base,” Blanton explains. “And because I’m a band leader and I’m the person whose name is on the albums, I can do stuff like crowd funding directly to my fans. But the guys in my band don’t have that because they’ve trained to be sidemen and not the person in the spotlight who can make a direct appeal, and I think that’s true for crew members as well. So I would just encourage other artists who are blessed to have an audience to remember that that’s a huge privilege and that if you have access to any kind of funding, you have to share it with your team.”
Blanton will continue to assist her band with the digital rent parties on Facebook and YouTube as a way to not only help them pay the bills but as a way to stay connected with her fans. The streams are free but viewers are encouraged to tip via Venmo and CashApp, with the donation information available on the screen. Being able to livestream, she realizes, is a privilege she has as an artist but others in the concert ecosystem aren’t able to monetize that as easily.
“The other really weird outcome of the pandemic is that I’ve paid my band more this year than any other year, and it’s because I’m just getting donations directly from fans that are going directly to the band,” Blanton says. “But it’s also because there’s no hotels or rental cars or meals. And of course, the downside of that is the venues are getting really squeezed. And everybody who used to be making money off the 
industry, it’s like there’s just artists now. The artists are the only people that can still work because we can work online.”