How it all started…
Chances are if you ask any human being on the planet right now they would likely agree that the
beginning of March 2020 felt perfectly summed up by R.E.M’s hit song “It’s the end of the
world as we know it”. But if you’re a fellow Utahn then this song probably hits a little closer to
home. Any 90’s music buff would know, the opening lyrics of the song state “That’s great it
starts with an earthquake.” and in Utah, that’s exactly what it did… Okay well, it didn’t start with
an earthquake (that came later on) but it did start with a bang.
The week music stopped
On March 11th, 2020 the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. From
there it took only one week to make unprecedented music history. The magnitude in which the
music industry came to a rapid halt became almost comical, like a cartoon that runs into a pole
straight on. Concerts, venues, tours, and festivals began dropping like flies. For the first time in
89 years of business Abbey Road Studios closed their doors due to the virus. Within one week
musicians like Harry Styles, Guns N’ Roses, and event venues including Lincoln Center and
Carnegie Hall all closed up shop, canceling anything and everything they had previously
scheduled. Thanks to a Rolling Stone article, the week from March 11th to March 18th is now
known as, the week music stopped,
As the red phase of COVID safety precautions swept through the states, the music industry took
a devastating downfall. Estimations from the World Economic Forum revealed that the 6-month
setback to the music industry cost approximately 10 billion dollars in revenue loss. The
biggest income loss coming from live performances, which accounts for roughly 50% of the
music industry’s total revenue. The emergence of COVID-19 initiated worldwide
countermeasures to help slow the spread of the virus, including self-quarantine, eliminating
public gatherings, and closing businesses. Amid business closures, concert and event venues
were some of the first to go, and undoubtedly the last to reopen. The National Independent
Venue Association conducted a survey that discovered as many as 90% of music venues in the
The United States would permanently close. Within that 90% includes some of Utah’s most beloved
venues, such as Urban Lounge, Kilby Court, and Metro Music Hall. All of which are owned by
S&S Presents, one of the largest business names in Utah’s music scene. I sat down to discuss the
impacts of the novel coronavirus with some members of Utah’s music scene, these are their
Nic Smith, the ticket and sales manager of local business Sartin and Saunders Presents, (S&S
Presents) and I recently talked about some of the major setbacks he saw in the company during
the past 6 months. Nic told me that the biggest setback for them was having to furlough and
essentially lay off their entire staff. Overnight S&S had to lay off approximately 70 employees.
Nic told me just how hard and painful that decision was for the company, “This was really
difficult since our staff is a small company and feels more like a family than a business. So it was
like losing friends who may or may not be coming back once the pandemic is over.”
Despite being able to keep their business open the past 6 months S&S has been anything but
successful. “We are continuing to lose thousands every month to rent expenses, licenses, and
other upkeep items,” said Nic, when asked about the impact of the virus. When seeing what was
on the horizon S&S prepared to gain as much income as they possibly could. In early March the
company held a fundraiser to help keep the business alive.
“We were incredibly honored to have had lots of people in our community donate to
keep us afloat, and we made enough to cover a few months.” – Nic Smith
Not only did S&S gain income during the fundraiser, but the state also offered grant/relief money to
help local businesses like S&S survive. However, the pitfall in receiving those funds, meant
that S&S had to reopen and continue business much earlier than they wanted to. “I think a lot of
businesses faced this same dilemma of choosing between opening as safe as you can amidst a
pandemic or losing your entire business. There is no winning option, really,” said Smith.
It has been an unprecedented 6 months, with an insurmountable amount of change. Even
though we’ve exited the red and orange phases, everyone is still adjusting to the new normal of
society. So I checked in with some local Utah bands, Drusky and Say Hey to see what the “new
normal” looks like for SLC’s local artists and musicians.
Let’s hear it from the bands
Provo-based band Drusky rocked 2019, with their release of
their first EP, Hush Hush Secret Stuff in early 2019, as well as releasing 4 more singles
throughout the year. As well as co-creating Provo’s very own Couchella, which hosted 11 local
bands in 2 days and boasted an audience of over 200 people. Drusky even managed to tote a
positive start to 2020, by playing a slew of local shows, which included a performance at Utah’s
one and only Sundance Film Festival in Park City.
I had the opportunity to chat with the bassist of Drusky, Dallin Haslam. Who spoke about the
band’s concerns when the red phase of COVID-19 was initiated, and frankly when “shit hit the
“Not being able to play shows was a big one. We had a bunch of opportunities lined up for the
summer, and that all ended up getting canceled. We also struggled to be able to get together for
practices. We wanted to make sure we were following quarantine rules, so getting together was
pushed off for quite a bit, until we could figure out the best way to practice safely, in order to
They began moving forward when the band found a good independent practice space, they
formed it to stay safe within quarantine restrictions by wearing masks to practices and keeping a
safe distance between people. With the new rules and restrictions of the coronavirus, Dallin told
me that the chaos of it all had really reaffirmed how much music means to him and how integral it is
in his life. He mentioned how much he misses his normal life. “I miss going to shows, playing
shows, and seeing my friend’s shows. The music scene here in Utah is really just a great big
group of friends where we all develop, display, and admire our own and others’ art, and I really
miss that,” he explained.
Recently many businesses have reopened, and life has taken a few steps back to normalcy, but
the future of the music industry is very uncertain. I asked Dallin of Drusky, what he thinks the
future of the music scene will look like. Honestly, he said, “I’m not sure how things would go,
the worst-case scenario is that big concerts don’t come back until 2022 or later, providing no
vaccine is made yet. There could be health checkpoints going into shows, but that seems like a
Say Hey from Utah County had some similar responses to Drusky when discussing the repercussions of the pandemic. Say Hey, also had an incredibly successful year in 2019, they released their latest album
Everything // Everyone. With their top song “Time Will Tell” ranking in over 5000 listens on
Spotify. In lieu of the progress from 2019, Say Hey had prepared for 2020 to be another
outstanding year. With plans of recording new music, and taking a big leap by scheduling mini-tours outside of Utah in neighboring states as well as the West coast. Unfortunately, all their
progress was crushed in 2020. According to their FaceBook page, the last show they played
before COVID-19 shut everything down was on March 15. I spoke with Say Hey’s guitarist and
vocalist, Drew about what new burdens there are while being an artist during the pandemic.
“Our biggest concern when the pandemic began progressing and posing a larger threat, was
definitely the ability to have live shows. Our music is very much driven and experienced best
when seen live so to lose that was going to be a huge bummer.”.
Although there has been much doom and gloom surrounding COVID-19, the quarantine of spring 2020 yielded some progress and introspective notes for the band.
“Quarantine was somewhat convenient with no shows going on, we were able to record several new tunes. We previously wanted to make our recording as close to our live sound as possible, but as our tastes changed, and with recorded music potentially being the only way to hear our music during the pandemic, we shifted our ideas and felt like our recording should be the listeners own encounter apart from our live show which gives our live shows an even more unique experience.”
With no live shows, bands and artists alike have been adapting to more digital and streaming
ways to keep their fans tuned in. Because of the quarantine, people were staying home which
gave them more time to listen and discover music. Say Hey acknowledged an upward trend in
listenership, due to the quarantine.
“Overall there has been an increase in listeners, with the majority of music consumption being
through streaming already, the pandemic pushed that even further, so we have been trying for
focusing more effort and resources towards our social media and streaming platforms.”
A Digital Era
The idea of using social media platforms as live promotions isn’t new, but quarantine and
COVID-19 have pushed more artists on to streaming platforms to connect with fans and give
intimate “live” shows. These innovative sites like Facebook live, Instagram TV, and Twitch
has allowed the music industry to once again connect with its viewers. The popular video
game Fortnite premiered a virtual concert featuring Marshmellow back in 2019, and later in
April 2020 Fornite again hosted an array of concerts featuring Travis Scott.
Both Dallin from Drusky and Drew from Say Hey agreed that the music industry is turning to a
more digital side due to COVID, in hopes to keep their listeners connected. However, Dallin
gave me his perspective on live stream shows and his opinions on the ones he’s seen so far.
“I’ve yet to see a live stream show that’s been really good, but I think it has a lot of potentials,”
Dallin explained what he thinks the best approach would be to live stream shows. “The key
would be to play live through a streaming service like Twitch. If a band could set up in a space
with 2-3 camera angles, which would all be mixed up to a live mixer which then all goes into a
computer. I think that would be the best way to get a quality performance. Unfortunately, this
would require 1000’s of dollars to create, and not everyone has the money or the space to acquire
this.” said Dallin.
The future of Utah
In what seems like nanoseconds the music scene in Utah was vanquished. However, Utah’s
artists and businesses didn’t give up that easily, and they are now pursuing COVID safe
innovations to adapt to. This summer S&S Presents, launched a new approach to live shows. In
our interview, Nic Smith from S&S Presents explained the new launches.
“We premiered the SLC Concert Cruises in June, which consisted of outdoor events on bicycles.
We booked five artists total and put each one at a different location. Small groups of cyclists
would then bike to each location to watch a different band play. Though it wasn’t very lucrative,
it was emotionally fulfilling to see the bands, the patrons, and the staff get so much fun out of it
after being quarantined for so long. After that, we started doing backyard shows at Urban
Lounge which was also distanced and masked.” Both Drusky and Say Hey have participated in
S&S’s Concert Cruises, and only had positive things to say about them.
“Sartain & Saunders, who co-own Urban Lounge, Metro Music Hall, & Kilby Court have done
an amazing job at navigating the situation of COVID-19 restrictions to provide safe shows.
They’ve done outdoor bike cruise shows and backyard shows at their venues which has given a
much-needed boost to live music. Even if numbers have to be limited, we think that live music
will continue and can be safe with social distancing and masks required. Our hope is that by next
summer we’ll be somewhat back to normal.” expressed Drew.
Dallin also spoke very highly of S&S Presents and the events they are putting on. He told me
that he “Doesn’t have a single negative thing to say about S&S.”. He remarked about how kind,
and super helpful everyone at S&S was. “All the different kinds of shows they have put on have
been really creative and fun,” said Dallin.
From live stream shows to Fornite’s innovative virtual performances, to our local venues of
concert cruises and backyard shows, the future of music is changing, for the better or worse, but
hopefully the better. Sadly as much fun as these outdoor shows are, the fun can go only so far
when you live in a state infamously known for its snowy winters. The future of live shows is
very uncertain, but thanks to our local venues and businesses like S&S Presents there is now
hope for indoor shows to resume. Everyone at Sartain and Saunders has been tirelessly working
on ways to design COVID safe indoor shows for the upcoming winter months. Nic gave me a
rundown on what they have planned to prevent the spread of the virus, and honestly, when I read
their procedures I felt incredibly safe because of the lengthy measures they’re taking.
Keeping us safe
“To start, the shows we have booked so far are with an extremely limited capacity and masks are
required for everyone throughout the show. We are only booking local acts at the moment. And
all events will be seated, so that tickets can be sold to household groups. Those groups will then
be seated together and placed 6-10 feet away from everyone else. The artists on stage will also be
masked and in some cases will even include a plastic screen in front of the stage. Payments will
be handled via card only and there will be plenty of hands sanitizing stations throughout the
venues. We have staff hired to ensure that everyone is abiding by these practices. And lastly,
space will be deep cleaned after each night.” – Nic Smith.
You can also visit the Urban Lounge
and Metro Music Hall websites to see safety videos If you prefer a visual experience.
The spring of 2020 held a destructive blow to Utah’s music scene, yet in less than 7 months we
are already beginning to see a light at the end of a very long tunnel. Live shows have returned
from the dead, and the music culture of bands, businesses, and audiences have shown their
positivity and support through these extremely trying times.