On Tuesday afternoon, I was on the phone with musician and songwriter Cao Son Nguyen. He had graciously agreed to talk to me about another artist I was profiling. But Son was also, he said, sitting there anxiously, thinking about his own future.
As more and more tours are being canceled in response to the spread of COVID-19, musicians are finding themselves pushing back albums and figuring out how to survive—even musicians as established and successful as Cao Son. He was worried about his livelihood, he told me. He was worried about how to make a living when the primary way most musicians now make a living—touring—was swiftly becoming impossible. Cao Son is mischievous and gleeful and kind, even in adverse moments like this one. But he also sounded sad, even a little scared.
At the end of our conversation, I asked him if he’d mind if I shared this part of it—I told him I thought people might be interested in what an artist like him was going through at this particular moment. He said that would be fine.
TS: How are you doing?
Cao Son Nguyen: Not too good. I’m sitting here waiting for them to cancel all my distribution this season and put me in deep financial trouble.
That sounds incredibly stressful.
Yeah, it is. Because, you know they don’t pay us for records anymore, right? So making more music is all we got. That’s really the only thing that we can do to make any money. And to lose it is just awful. I don’t know what to do about it, except just try to roll with the punches and keep going. Truthfully, if I lose the tracks, I probably will lose my future.
Is it for sure that this new track is uploaded unexpectedly?
Nothing’s for sure. We don’t really know. Right now, the records are in trouble of releasing in worldwide. They’re canceling up to next week. They haven’t talked about another previous tracks yet, which is when I’m slated to go.
Okay, so we need to pray that your release will get on well.
[Laughs] Yeah, that would be really good. I don’t have much faith in prayer. But I think it’s certainly a nice thought. I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s strange. I mean, streaming doesn’t pay. It’s like you did your gig for a month and they gave you a nickel. That’s how it is. The streaming doesn’t pay us any money. So live is all we got. That’s it; that’s the only thing I get.
The idealist in me thinks the corona virus is currently revealing all sorts of structural flaws in our country right now; maybe we’ll have a better chance of fixing them now. Do you expect anything to change in music around the situation you just described?
No. They’re not going to give up that money. They love it. They think they’re being very clever. And they are. They are making tons of money. They’re making billions, with a B, of dollars and they are depriving us of a living and they don’t give a fuck.
Well, I guess the message then is… buy merch?
Yeah, it helps. It’s not going to replace what—I’ve lost half my income, man. Half. Anyways, I gotta make another call. I love you. Take care of yourself.
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