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KSMU is dedicated to broadcasting critically important information as our community experiences the COVID-19 pandemic. Below, you'll find our ongoing coverage.

SoundCheck: Songwriter Justin Larkin Looks At Life As A Musician In The Time Of Coronavirus

Courtesy of Justin Larkin

This month for KSMU’s series SoundCheck, Jess Balisle interviews full-time musician Justin Larkin on how he is dealing with cancelled gigs, waning income and how to stay positive during the coronavirus pandemic. There will not be an April Studio Live, but we will reschedule Larkin for early next year.  




JESS BALISLE: Let's set the scene on this a little bit as far as you are a musician in the time of coronavirus. You're a full time musician, right?  




BALISLE: So this is it for your wages?  


LARKIN: Yeah, everything's kind of been pulled out from under me.  


BALISLE: Let's look at a like a typical week or month before all this happened. What was your schedule like? 

LARKIN: I would probably have like two or three nights off a week. But, I was playing gigs, probably I would say, four to five nights a week.  


BALISLE: And this would be a mix of solo and band? 


LARKIN: So, at this point, I'm almost completely solo.  


BALISLE: That's nice to bring in the money. You get to keep it all.  


LARKIN: Yeah, that's honestly a big factor in how I've been able to do it. Like, because I'm supporting my family and stuff doing this, too.  


BALISLE: What were your feelings when this all first started happening? Like, as far as the possibility of venue closures and things like that, what was going through your head? 
LARKIN: It was pretty immediate that I kind of knew what was coming. Like, as soon as the news broke and as soon as it started spreading the way that it did, I knew that last weekend was probably my last gig weekend payday for an indefinite period of time. As soon as I started seeing the news and figuring stuff out, I reached out on social media and started offering to write songs for people like as like a personalized thing. And I've actually, so far I've garnered four commissions, completely different.  


BALISLE: That's great.  


LARKIN: That's something I can do and, you know, perhaps a new method in which I can garner a little income. I think the power of music will endure through these times. I think people almost now more than ever have a need and a desire for it. So I think that it's a time for innovation to kind of re-imagine the way in which we play music and share it with people. 


BALISLE: Do you see this being kind of a boom, like a renaissance of Springfield music, Ozarks music and even just music in general in the world as people are isolated? And, you know, I know you said you're writing songs by commission, but even, you know, writing your own work for yourself, do you see this increase in content? 
LARKIN: Absolutely. I think that this period is going to be a catalyst for positive change in a lot of ways. I mean, obviously, it's tragic and people are dying and lot of people like myself are losing out on, you know, our livelihoods. But it's a time for innovation and creativity. And people like me that depend on creativity for income anyway, I think this is, although it changes the terrain, it doesn't change the approach, so to speak. You know, you just have to keep creating. 


BALISLE: Yeah. What are some of the challenges you are finding personally in your day-to-day life now with this income dropping off, as an artist?  


LARKIN: Well, it's changed, I mean, obviously, how much I go out, I haven't spent any money at all for a while. I'm not really sure how I'm going to pay for certain things. 


BALISLE: Because you can't file for unemployment.  (EDIT: After the passage of the new Coronavirus Stimulus Bill, those who are self-employeed can file for unemployment.) 


LARKIN: No, I'm just kind of, you know, up the creek without a paddle. For me personally, like I've been in shadier situations whenever I was in my early 20s. I'm paraphrasing a friend of mine that said about this earlier on social media. But, you know, like, I'm not too nervous about it. I mean, I should be I. And I know that things are going to be difficult, but I know that it's all kind of temporary. And even if it's going to consume most of this year and this season, I think that it's going to come back swinging once it does. I think it's bringing people together, too, in a lot of ways. You know, a lot of people have been like reaching out to me, because a lot of people know that I'm a full time musician. People are checking in to see if I'm okay. And I mean, I appreciate that. I'm honestly, like, you know, I was enjoying having all the gigs?and stuff, but I haven't actually had time to work on my own music in a long time, so I'm almost grateful for that, in the sense, that it's like I mean, I'm literally like I'm not allowed to leave the house, so I have no excuses not to work on my art. So, I mean, like in that sense, like, I'm grateful. I'm trying to look at the silver lining here because, you know, I think with any major change brings opportunity for positivity down the line. I think, if anything, people that have yet considered that all this is happening, all these people in the service industry and in the entertainment industry are getting the rugs pulled out from under them. You know, you're tuning in and you hadn't considered that, you know, this demographic of people is affected by these cancellations of these events, I would say, reach out to all the people that play music and depend on their art in some form or fashion for their income and ask them how you can help support them in this time of need. 

Jessica Gray Balisle, a Springfield native, grew up listening to KSMU. When she's not wrangling operations and compliance issues, she co-hosts live music show Studio Live and produces arts and culture stories. Jessica plays bass in local band the Hook Knives. She and her husband Todd live with their two cats, Ellie and Jean-Ralphio, and way too many house plants.
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