Interview with Amanda St John

Singer-songwriter Amanda St. John talks to Folk and Tumble about coping strategies and ways of continuing in the music business during these strange times.

With the COVID-19 pandemic taking hold across the globe, Folk and Tumble took time out to speak to the musicians and artists who through no fault of their own have found themselves out of work and facing uncertain futures. Next up, songwriter and vocalist Amanda St John.

FT: You were preparing for the physical release of ‘The Muscle Shoals Sessions’. Have you now been forced to put that on hold due to the COVID19 situation?

ASJ: I’m going to push ahead with the digital release but due to insufficient funds, I am going to have to delay the vinyl production of the album. I thought about delaying the digital release too but I’ve had so many delays with this project due to things like my father’s sickness and passing, vocal damage, and also financial restraints after losing a lot of money when Pledge Music went bankrupt last year, that I feel I should just keep going at this point and not delay it any further. I also think that digital is the way forward this year and people will want to hear new music to keep them entertained and uplifted through this isolation period.

FT: Did you have to cancel tour dates?

ASJ: Yes I had to cancel a high profile US tour in March and all my UK and Irish dates for the year. It’s heartbreaking as music is my main source of income and I’ve been planning it all for nearly a year now. I’ve invested so much in the album and tours help reach new audiences, market the release, and sell merchandise to try and get a return on your investment.

FT: Like many musicians at the minute, you are sitting at home having had your main source of income taken away from you through no fault of your own. How does that sudden loss affect you financially and mentally?

ASJ: Financially, it’s immense for us. Like other touring artists, all my work and income is gone for the foreseeable future. I had no reserves either as I’ve spent the last 2 years investing to get my album finished so I’ve nothing to fall back on, unfortunately. I teach part-time as well as leading workshops to community and charity groups so I’ve always had a few different income streams. As a single parent, I thought this was being responsible instead of relying solely on my music but all of these are freelance and are gone now overnight too.

The initial shock was very difficult to comprehend and, I have to admit, it has challenged my anxiety levels. I’m a big believer in having a positive mental attitude though and am praying that digital sales and donations from online gigs will help see me through this period. It’s a very surreal thing to happen and there are so so many impacted that it kind of helps you let go a bit though and focus on what’s important, i.e. everyone’s health and well-being. It helps to have perspective too. I feel grateful to be able to have this time at home with my daughter when so many health care workers are risking their lives for us.

To help keep my mental health right I’ve been focusing on what I can do to contribute. At the moment, I am finding the live concerts an amazing way of connecting with people and providing interaction and light entertainment to help others through their isolation. I’ve also been reaching out to neighbours and friends to ensure everyone I know is supported. A couple of elderly fans even got in touch through my social media after I shared my version of the Bill Withers song ‘Lean on Me’ to say that they didn’t have support and were feeling very alone and scared. I have been able to reach out to friends in their areas and introduce them to provide them with a support network. It’s times like this that you get a reminder of the bigger picture of life and see the goodness in people so I’m happy to do what little I can to help.

FT: As a self-employed musician are you able to avail of any of the recently announced government support measures?

ASJ: We’re all still waiting to see what these will be as the self-employed bracket isn’t clear what support will be available. I am hopeful though that some assistance will be available to me.

FT: What can people do to support musicians like yourself through this difficult time?

ASJ: The simplest thing is to buy music or merchandise directly from their favourite artists’ websites or donate to any online gigs that they enjoy. A lot of artists are also setting up Paypal donation links or Patreon accounts where people can contribute what they can afford. It reminds me of the Renaissance days where the public were ‘Patrons of the Arts’.

As a way of adapting, I’ve also started offering digital singing lessons, music business mentoring and there’s even an option to sponsor a song on my next album. This is really popular for people who want to feel that they’ve helped make your record happen and they get their name in the credits as a sponsor of the song.

Some people aren’t in the position to do that though as so many people’s incomes have been affected, but even a couple of pounds helps. I love the new app that I’ve just seen called ‘Buy Me A Coffee’. If everyone who watched a live show donated the price of a coffee then it would certainly add up. A way of supporting for free is to share posts, like and comment on posts, and to stream an artist’s music. There isn’t a great return on streaming but helps to build numbers which is important too.

My new single ‘Made Myself A Name’ (the Arvo Party Mix) is out on 27th March 2020. You can enjoy it across all digital platforms now. My new album ‘The Muscle Shoals Sessions’ can be ordered on CD or you can pre-order the digital version online from the Amanda St. John website.