The world is roughly ten weeks into an experience that’s been within the realm of possibility for years, but something nearly all of us never expected to happen. COVID-19 has claimed lives and impacted healthcare infrastructure on nearly every country on the planet, but, as an extension, the social and economic casualties are beginning to surface, as well. With unemployment at the highest rate since the Great Depression, people are struggling to find and keep work in a world that has had its conventions upended.
Perhaps one of the most deeply impacted industries is one from which we all draw consistently: entertainment.
With venues closed for the foreseeable future, bars and clubs shutting down, and live music hot spots unable open, artists are now doing the same thing their fans are: self-isolating and trying to make the best of their idle time. And no one knows them better than Amy Sciarretto, an industry veteran and President of Atom Splitter PR who continues to represent some of the most powerhouse bands on the planet. From Alice Cooper to Underoath to Of Mice and Men to Korn, Killswitch Engage, Insane Clown Posse – she’s the PR backbone that runs through nearly all of the rock/metal world. A straight shooter with a good sense of humor, she’s hard not to like. Her exposure to music and knowledge of the industry – and her uncanny ability to still love it after all these years – makes her perfect for the emergency job of rerouting the public-facing approach of some of the biggest names in music and the people the make it. As she rolls with the punches during one of the busiest times of her career, Sciarretto talks to us from her own home in New Jersey about how the pandemic is affecting her artists, their process of undergoing transition, and how it’s going to change music – maybe in great and unexpected ways.
HM: What does life look like for you right now? I know that there are still tons of people in New York that are self-quarantining and staying home, even though all of these restrictions are lifted. Have you been out and about or are you kind of having to hang at home?
Amy Sciarretto: Well, the restrictions here have not really lifted much, just a little bit. They opened up parks and golf courses and stuff. You can still go places; I go to the post office, I have to go to the bank and food shopping. My Dad passed away two months ago.
Oh, I’m sorry…
He died right before the pandemic. He was already sick for a year. We got to have the funeral two days before they shut down the ability to have funerals. He got in right under the wire. We said he was like, “Oh, I’m out of here, you guys can deal with the pandemic.” But his house he left me, so I can still go there to get away. That helps with me being able to change scenery on the weekends, but, other than that, I’m stuck at home. It’s been for the greater good, but it’s kind of boring.
How do you manage what’s really become an industry crisis in addition to the humanitarian crisis that it is? In terms of the industry, it’s been such a hard hit. How have you helped the people you support to get through it?
It’s honestly busier than ever. A lot of media outlets are getting really creative with how we’re covering our bands. My schedule has not changed, and I’m thankful and so blessed for that. I think we work with some of the best bands out there. A lot of our bands are home and can’t tour and media outlets want to support and help them. There’s been a lot of media opening up coverage; they’ve been opening up stuff to give bands more platforms, they’ve been giving them eyeballs. So it’s been really great for us to be able to put some of our developing artists in front of some of these eyeballs and for our staff to be busy and still doing things.
I do not think that live music is going to go away. People need it. They need that connection.
I’ve been really impressed with the level of creativity people have come up with. It’s been nice to see that (bands) are still creating and finding ways to reach their audiences. There’ve been a lot of living room concerts because people are itching for live music and that’s the only way we can get it right now. What do you think is the next phase while things are still locked down for a little bit? What do you think is going to come about for the industry as far as providing live music?
I one hundred thousand billion percent do not believe that we’re not going to get to experience it like we did in the past. We might have to go through some growing pains and changes. I kind of liken it to – I know this is comparing apples and oranges – a little bit like 9/11. You could fly with anything before 9/11. You could fly with a huge bottle of shampoo in your carry-on. After 9/11 happened, the world changed and you don’t even realize it now. People don’t realize that things will change, but they will get used to them.
In this situation, because it involves people’s health, I believe for a while… there may be less people around at a venue or less people packed on the floor (if it’s in a general admission scenario) because they might put some seats in to give people a little more space – even if it was a standing room only venue. I think people are going to get creative. I do not think that live music is going to go away. People need it. They need that connection. People need to feel the vibrations of the instruments or even the person’s vocal cords in the same room and connect with it on that personal level.
It’s like my Dad would always say to me: If you’re dealing with something and you know that it’s temporary, you know that it’s only going to be a couple months or a couple weeks or maybe a year, you can get through it because there’s a light at the end of that tunnel. If it’s temporary, you know you can deal with it. Human beings and the human race is meant to be social. I do think that maybe there’s going to be some online concerts and maybe a couple empty venues.
I even saw something online the other day about a drive-in concert, kind of like the old school drive-in theaters.
I see no negatives to that. I think that’s really fun. You get to be in the comfort of your own car, you can adjust the climate if you want, you can get comfortable and lay down. I think it’s awesome! It’s a nice, little old fashioned thing after all these years of having stadium seating where you can lean your seats back. I used to fall asleep because the seats are so comfortable!
You’ve been involved in the industry in so many different areas. You’ve written a book about it, been a journalist, you’re a publicist… You’ve done (almost) everything behind the scenes. From that perspective, do you think that having COVID-19 kick a leg out from under the industry forced a resilience for artists that is going to stay long term? Or do you think it’s a temporary necessity to survive right now?
It depends. I think some people will be reinvigorated by it and maybe they’ll try new things. Maybe other people will be so happy about it when live shows come back that they’ll be performing with a renewed fire in their belly. I think that’s possible. In the 2000s, I used to go to 200 shows a year; this year, if I hit 20 I’ll be surprised. Live music is something that’s such a part of my nightlife, my social life, and my career professionally and personally so I know I can’t wait to start going back to shows, supporting some bands, and buying some merch. The Killswitch Engage and August Burns Red tour got postponed the day before I was supposed to go see it and I just really needed that show. I was right on the cusp of seeing a show I just needed to take the focus off my family and my personal life and it got taken away. So I know the next opportunity to see a show, I’m going to feel that same way. Like, I need it.
What is important for people supporting the artists you represent to understand about what the industry is going through right now?
Fans, you mean?
I think they need to understand that the bands are just like they are. We’re all going through this together. We are together alone, as the tagline everyone is using on Twitter and TV says. I’m hoping that this time we’re faced with stress and uncertainty, it might be inspiring people to make some really great music.
Tim from Rise Against – I interviewed him many years ago – I remember him talking about how sometimes you need shit to happen; it makes music really good. Why was the music from the ’50s and ’70s so great, songs like “Fortunate Son”? People were worried about getting drafted, they were worried about the Vietnam War. That’s why that music has such an urgency and such a passion and a fire in it. When things are going good, sometimes music starts to suck. So one of the things that might be a byproduct of this adversity? We’ll all get through it and some really great music will get made – and that’s a good thing. We can probably look forward to some really great music that was created and some really great creativity that was born of boredom or frustration or the fact that there were no distractions.
Of all of the bands that you are currently working with, have any of them through quarantine been like, all of a sudden I have new music! I have a new album I wasn’t working on before, but I have music now!
Yeah, some are like, I’m working on this and it’s going to be awesome! And then some of them are just trying to figure out what’s next. I had this one artist say today, “We’re dropping a single this week, and we should be on tour right now playing this song. I’m finally releasing it to the world, and I can’t play it for anybody live.” They’ve been working on this music and they just want to share it with everybody and see the crowd’s face and the fans’ reactions when they play it, and they can’t. If anything, it’s just going to make them hunger for that more.
Art makes life easier. Art is a lens through which we can kind of gain perspective about life and how we can see ourselves in the world. Art is necessary because the world can be a tough place.
Those first shows are going to be the greatest shows any of us have ever probably experienced.
Yeah, I think it’s going to unite people, as cheesy as that sounds.
I don’t want to put a negative bent on this, but the other side of the coin to all of this is that the entertainment industry is dependent on people utilizing it, which can’t happen right now. Do you expect to see some of these historic venues disappear, or is there a likelihood that they’ll be able to hold on?
Well that depends on a lot of factors. A lot of fans are doing fundraisers. We just did our Fearless at Home Fest that benefitted crew members. Halestorm is doing the Roadie Strong campaign to get people to donate for the crew. Those are the people that put the shows on, that make sure your favorite artist gets on that stage. They make sure that the amps are plugged in, all the electricity is working, the guest list is turned in, the band is paid, the merch is at stands; those are the people making sure that’s happening.
I do think that these venues need some federal assistance and I think that they probably will get it. Killswitch Engage is creating facemasks that they’re donating all the profits towards this organization that’s helping to keep these independent venues’ doors open.
Art makes life easier. Art is a lens through which we can kind of gain perspective about life and how we can see ourselves in the world. Art is necessary because the world can be a tough place, it can suck. Art is a filter and a lens for you and that can’t go away. It’s not like it’s just the music industry and these venues. It’s everything right now. It’s like everything has to pause for a sec, so everyone’s pausing together. Everything is going to reset itself. It has to.
One last question I have for you. What can fans do to most directly impact the artists they love?
They can buy their merch. Support them by streaming the fuck out of their music. Listen to songs you haven’t listened to. Listen to recommendations from these artists. Listen to their playlists. Keep listening, keep streaming, buy a piece of merch even if it’s a facemask, t-shirt, tote bag, whatever. Share their music, post things on Facebook like, “Hey, check this out, this band’s doing this…” Keep talking about it. Keep the conversation going, and make sure the volume is turned up.
Amy Sciarretto was posted on May 22, 2020 for HM Magazine and authored by Danielle McCallister.