looking back on 2020
One year ago, I was six months pregnant. My husband and I had recently found out that I had what is called velamentous cord insertion –– aka, my umbilical cord was not connected to my placenta; it merely hovered over it. Super legit. Not worrisome at all. Somehow enough nutrients were getting to the baby for him to grow, but there was definite cause for concern, or as the doctor always put it, “cautious optimism.” Ugh. Not the kind of news you want to get around the holidays, or ever.
But thankfully, as the new year got started, with twice-weekly monitoring throughout January and February, things started to look better. Miraculously, the baby was growing despite the complication, and we got busy preparing for this new life to arrive soon.
At the same time, I was busy preparing No Earbuds for the first real time off I’ve taken from working in my entire career. I decided it was important to give myself time to bring this baby into the world peacefully, without the stress or daily distraction of social expectations, email, and social media. So I hired Lauren Rearick to work for No Earbuds in the interim, covering all of the spring tours that were coming up. Literally every No Earbuds band had a tour that spring -- AJJ, Ratboys, Dogleg, Bartees. She was supposed to have her hands full.
In classic “me” fashion, I booked myself well into the month of my due date, which was March 26. Both Dogleg’s Melee and Bartees Strange’s Say Goodbye To Pretty Boy were coming out at the top of the month. Plus, The Wonder Years were playing at the Regent with Free Throw, Spanish Love Songs and Pool Kids one night and a No Earbuds-presented gig at the Bootleg Theatre with talker, I’m Glad It’s You, and Cuffed Up the next. Of course I was gonna do it all. Wouldn’t you?!
It was funny trying to get around the venues being that pregnant. In hindsight, what the hell was I thinking?! I should have been asleep! That entire month I should have just been sitting down. Holy crap, do I miss sitting down.
Anyway… just a few days after the talker gig, I went to my weekly appointment with my OB. COVID-19 was still being called “the rona” and joked about on late night shows. Sure, be worried about it, but not more worried than the flu. Ok. Got it. But SXSW was cancelled? And along with it, our incredible SXDIY Fest with The Alternative. Most bands were still holding tight to their spring tours, waiting patiently for news on what they should do next. It was a confusing couple of weeks, to say the least.
After taking a look at my ultrasound, the doctor suggested we induce labor just one week later. She expressed growing concern about the baby and that it’d be better to get them out asap vs. waiting for natural labor to occur. I was a little bummed, kind of terrified, but the control freak in me did appreciate knowing what was going to happen next (plot twist: I had no idea, lol). Yet, despite the news about SXSW and some rumblings of tour cancellations, we were still just washing our hands a bit more often but not really prepared for what was to come. I don’t know if anyone really was.
Six days later, when we entered the hospital for our induction, it was late – like 11pm or something. No temperature checks at the door, no masks, nothing. We walked in, checked in, and I climbed into a bed I’d lay in for the next three days. No mask. Because of my VCI, I had to be connected to monitors for my entire 48-hour labor. For the entire first day or so, there wasn’t much to do other than wait for the show to start, so I reluctantly checked my email. While I sat there tossing and turning in discomfort and impatience, I saw each and every one of my clients be forced to change plans for their spring tours.
I went into the hospital with a booming business––a full roster of bands on the road and work to be done spreading the word about them. By the time we walked out, we had a beautiful, miraculous baby in our arms and no clue if I’d even have a job anymore.
My story isn’t all that bad, obviously, but it’s a small example of the vast multitude of ways this pandemic has affected the independent music community. Bands have had to work 10x harder to promote themselves and their music, for practically a fraction of what they used to make on the road. With everyone at home and online all the time, there’s a level of competition and clutter that I’ve never seen before. It’s harder than ever to stand out. But I am still seeing people do it, and it’s inspiring as hell. But it’s not easy. So I wanted to take a little time to write about some of the year's bright spots for me personally, and for No Earbuds as a whole. I won't blame you if you skim the rest –– this is very long and I'm sorry.
I would be remiss if I didn’t immediately bring up a highlight of a lot of our years, and that’s Bartees Strange. Between his debut EP Say Goodbye To Pretty Boy and the critically-praised LP Live Forever, working alongside Bartees and the whole family we’ve built around his talent has been an incredible positive in a really challenging year. I could never say enough about how creative and driven Bartees is, and how that has just become the glue that bonded all of us. I’ve never been a part of such an exciting and genuine group of people before, and it's all because of this one very talented human being. It’s a fucking honor.
When I first heard Ratboys latest album Printer’s Devil, I knew it was gonna leave a mark on people--especially those who had previously written the band off before. You couldn’t ignore a track or a video like the one they made for “Alien With A Sleep Mask On.” I was so excited that their first headline gig in LA was going to be the first show I’d attend after giving birth, but the universe clearly had other plans. I lost my chance to see them perform songs from this record right after it dropped, and so did everyone else––their entire headlining tour + support dates alongside Wilco were all cancelled, postponed, or some mix of the two.
Granted, I was definitely distracted during the months of April and May due to the tiny human I had just birthed needing my attention and physical body at all hours of the night… but I’m pretty sure Ratboys never missed a beat. To be fair, they’ve been known as one of the hardest working bands in the country for a while now. But this was different. After taking the time they needed to regroup on their plans, they pretty quickly started using all the tools available to them online to keep growing their audience and maintain momentum on their critically-acclaimed new album.
Whether it was their own Twitch virtual tour, a livestream gig at Lincoln Hall (the same venue they sold out on their would-be first headliner), or the massive 25-hour charity telethon they hosted on Halloween that raised over $13,000 for The Equal Justice Initiative and Girls Rock Chicago, Ratboys figured out a way to make the challenges work for them. And sometimes, that’s all you need to do. Roll with the punches. Innovate. Take risks. Fail. Try Again. The ability to adapt to whatever the situation calls for is exactly what it takes to weather a storm like the one we’re in right now. So if achieving that doesn’t earn Ratboys a little applause at the tail end of the year, I really don’t know what does.
Dogleg faced a huge challenge with the pandemic, too –– nearly our entire marketing campaign around their new album Melee was centered on their live show being balls to the fucking wall dope. We kicked the whole thing off with a live video for “Fox,” for christ’s sake. Then we did their first ever show in LA via No Earbuds at The Echo; it was also glass beach's record release show and we sold that damn thing out. Just a few weeks later, after their west coast run with glass beach wrapped, we announced the album, dropped “Kawasaki Backflip,” and blasted into release day. A tour with Microwave + appearances at Pitchfork Festival and Mo Pop were announced, rave reviews were trickling in, and then all of a sudden, it was all gone.
I’m honestly super impressed with how well Dogleg bounced back from all of it, though. Just like Ratboys, they really didn’t miss a beat. Between their weekly Twitch streams, studio videos and sessions, Twitter beefs and cover EPs, they’ve managed to maintain attention throughout the year without all the things they were planning on just nine months ago. Sure, it helps when the record you’re promoting is fucking Melee, but you get the point. They stayed true to themselves so that the process of going into hyper-extended promo mode wouldn't be so daunting, and it worked.
Hearing Quinton Brock's music for the first time was such a great surprise. I gotta shout out Bartees for that one. Q's one of the most insanely talented people I've come across, and his enthusiasm has been super inspiring for me since the moment we met earlier this year. All I'm gonna say is you've all barely seen a fraction of what this dude is capable of. If "To The Moon" already caught the attention of SiriusXM/Alt Nation, MTV, the FADER, Pigeons + Planes, The Needle Drop, and more....... wait til you hear what's next.
Zoe and I have been on a wild journey together over the last few years. I've been championing her from the moment I first heard her music, and now to see how far she's come on this latest single is just so awesome. First off, the song is epic. I get lost in it. Zoe's always known how to capture mood but this is something else entirely. And yo, THE VIDEO?? Are you fucking joking, Josh Coll? What an incredible concept. I could watch that video on a loop for days. It's aesthetically stunning and has a really warm, feel good vibe to it all. 10/10.
literally every single band and artist that we worked with this year at No Earbuds––I could write essays about each and every one of you. our conversations about life & your music are forever one of my favorite parts of the gig. thank you!
There’s no way around it –– great music is gonna go unheard as a result of all of this. Extraordinary talent could fall victim to an overcrowded internet and lack of support/funds/connections to opportunities. I don’t have an answer or a magic solution to this, but it’s all the more motivation for me to keep No Earbuds going into our second year. I know I can’t listen to everything but I can definitely find some great music from smaller communities all over the world. It's sort of my thing.
In the first two months of 2021 alone, we’ll have SO much music for you –– some from names and bands you’re familiar with, and some that will be new to you entirely.
I’ve also been working on a new project with my best friend Adam, and more details on that will be coming out soon. The idea sparked after he was furloughed this past summer, and we spent full days just chugging iced coffee and analyzing all the many ways the music industry could do better in the aftermath of the pandemic. Fans of music biz analysis will be stoked.
Oh! And to celebrate the two-year anniversary of No Earbuds this weekend, I’ll be announcing a very cool charity compilation that literally like 50 bands are already a part of. It’s gonna be incredible and I’ll tell you more about it later. Promise.
Three years ago, not only did I lose my dream job but so did my friends, and so many artists I believed in were left without any guidance or support. Then, two years ago, I took my power back and launched No Earbuds.
None of that could've prepared me for what I would both lose and gain in 2020, though.
One year ago, I could sit in the doctor’s office waiting room without a mask and press elevator buttons with my fingers instead of a key. I could go to a show and sit through the whole thing without feeling bad because the growing baby in my belly caused me so much back pain. I could go out for coffee or a walk with a friend and catch up about life. I could go to the mall with my husband for one of our treasured mall walks / window shopping trips.
I had no clue how badly I’d want to rub my grubby paws all over the elevator buttons, or how much I wished I jumped up and danced around at those last couple shows. I would literally faint to sit at a coffee shop and just talk with someone for 5 minutes, nevermind get lost in a brainstorm for a few hours and then write it all off as a work expense. Don’t even get me started on how badly I miss my mall walks with Juan.
I don’t have a magic, wonderful way to close this out. We’re still living in this shit. As I write this, the hospitals in Southern California are so full that doctors are having to prioritize which patients get the life-saving treatments that they need. That’s terrifying.
And when it comes to the music industry, well, we’re talking about Fall 2021 but realistically, I don’t expect to be able to be in a venue again until 2022. I hope I’m wrong, but as I tell my bands, sometimes you just have to prepare for the worst and then at least if things change, you’ve still got a solid plan in place. So that’s what I’ll leave you with –– I’m excited about the plans I’ve built for No Earbuds’ second year in business, and really appreciate everyone for sticking with me.
Fuck all that “we’re in this together” propaganda, but yo. If you’re an artist, band, or just someone struggling to find their footing, right now or anytime, you’re an earbuddy.