Earning

The pandemic has cost a drummer in Nashville $20,000 so far: Here's how he's coping

Cam Brousseau.
Photo by Molly Peach

As of May 2020, Nashville-based drummer Cam Brousseau, 35, has more money in his bank accounts than he's had his entire adult life, "which is $8,000,"  he says. That money, which came from organizations like the Academy of Country Music (ACM), is helping him get by, since he can't earn a living by playing live shows.

"The thing that just really scares me," he says, "is I don't know when my job will come back."

Indeed, in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, it remains unclear when concerts will start up again. Some 2020 festivals like Pitchfork, and major tours for artists like the Black Keys, have already been canceled. Concerts "are going to take a long time to come back," economists like Evercore's Ernie Tedeschi predict. 

Brousseau has worked as a full-time freelance drummer since 2013, touring the U.S. and the world with country music favorites like Hunter Hayes and pop artists like SYML. The work doesn't pay much, between $25,000 and $30,000 per year, he says. And now, on top of regular financial stressors like paying the bills on an inconsistent income, he's worried about his long-term work prospects.

Here's how Brousseau has secured a little bit of funding during this time and how he's making his dollars stretch as far as possible. And with extra time on his hands, he's also using this period to consider a career change. 

The earning strategy: Music grants and the CARES Act

This year, some of Brousseau's most lucrative gigs, like a tour opening for Brad Paisley, got cut short. In total, he's lost $15,000-$20,000 in revenue. He has found it a challenge to save over the years, so he didn't have a savings cushion going into the pandemic. 

Luckily, Brousseau was proactive about finding money outside of playing gigs.

Cam Brousseau playing drums.
Photo by Chance Edwards

Various organizations are providing performing artists with funding in this time of need, as they simply can't do their jobs. Having applied online for a grant from the Recording Academy's MusiCares organization, he received $1,000 in April. He also received a $2,000 grant from ACM in May.

In addition to grant money, he received a stimulus check for $1,200, which he put in savings, and is collecting about $620 per week from unemployment thanks to the CARES Act.

The savings strategy: Making his own cocktails

Brousseau's monthly expenses typically add up to between $2,500 and $3,000, including a $1,400 mortgage, around $400 in bills like utilities and health insurance, and Spotify and Netflix subscriptions. Prior to the outbreak, he and his girlfriend enjoyed dining out at least three or four times a week at about $30 per meal and went out for drinks at various cocktail bars in the city, dropping about $16 per drink.

"I love a cocktail," he says. 

Now, Brousseau's mortgage payments have been deferred for three months. Because stay-at-home orders have curtailed activities, Brousseau says his he's saving hundreds of dollars per month. Instead of dining out, he's ordering in a few times a week, buying groceries, and mixing his own cocktails. 

The possible career change: Something 'other than music'

Well before the pandemic, Brousseau had been frustrated with his prospects for growth in the music industry and wondering if it's worth staying in it for the long term. 

Freelance musicians in Nashville typically don't qualify for benefits through work, and payment comes on "a gig by gig basis," he says. The average pay rate for a freelance musician in the city is $250 per day, and "there isn't really a ladder that's just like, 'OK, well, now you've unlocked the benefits,'" he says.

The thing that just really scares me is I don't know when my job will come back.
Cam Brousseau
Professional drummer

With so much uncertainty surrounding the music industry and the future of live performance, and with frustration building up for a long time about what it means to be a professional drummer, Brousseau's taking this opportunity to pivot to something other than music altogether.

Will his next career be in event planning? Will he pivot to work in the film industry, a world he's also always loved? These are the questions he's asking himself, while getting help from his therapist to narrow down his options and align his interests with opportunities.

"I feel a little bit aimless because I haven't thought about doing anything other than playing music for a long time," he says.

Still, he's staying positive. If there's one silver lining in this very strenuous moment, he says, it's that, at the very least, all the downtime is giving him time to think.

This story has been updated to reflect the name of the professional organization from which Brousseau received a performing arts grant.

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