Image by Harut Movsisyan from Pixabay

How Musicians Are Surviving the Pandemic — and the Music Industry

Nine US-based musicians discuss surviving and adapting to the changing music industry in our extraordinarily challenging time of pandemic shutdown.

Real-time Evolution in the Digital Age

Due to the pandemic, live performance has finally gotten caught in the digital web. The year 2020’s newest income source is online performance, changing what has always been an immediate event into a remote one. And even though it is performance-based, it’s of no interest to most of the musicians represented here, with only Louise and Venson expressing enthusiasm for it.

At first glance, Louise seems like an odd choice to embrace a new digital age of performance. She lives in the mountains outside of Asheville, North Carolina. She often talks about her Earth practice–life and how she lives it as one organic part of an all-encompassing macroecological system.

In listening to her music, one not only hears strains of the Child ballad and its evolution into the old-time mountain music of her Appalachian region, but actual birdsong and instrumental interpretations of it and other natural sounds. She also loves the tones she can get out of modern instruments and how they can create a unified whole in tandem with traditional stringed instruments.

Her forthcoming album, Earth Bow, finds her playing guitars, percussion, a linear wave sampler, and synthesizers. In other words, she’s not married to the concept of a traditional ecological system so much as she is embracing technology and how it plays into and becomes part of that greater whole. Birdsong and wave samplers exist in the same plane and thus have a relationship that can be blended and explored. Geographical features might suggest a wave pattern, and she can use a Roland SP-404 to create that pattern in sound.

“I love digital shows a surprising amount,” Louise says. “It’s a new medium, and that excites me. As more advanced tech makes pro-grade equipment accessible to anyone, the high-quality content generated is becoming a bigger piece of the entertainment industry pie. I only see that accelerating.”

Jackie Venson has a conspicuous online presence too, which is increasing as she takes time to master her understanding of digital technology and formats.

“Right now, I am in the process of developing followings on Twitch, TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, my email newsletter, and Reddit,” Venson says. “I have been developing myself differently on each platform because each one has a different format. I believe this is the smartest use of my forced pandemic time off because when touring and live shows start again, I will have grown and maintained a following to tour for.”

She makes a post, usually involving a performance, every day, sometimes playing with filters and lighting, choosing interesting settings, and often promoting her latest merchandising endeavor.

img-140Jackie Venson (2020) (Photo: Ismael Quintanilla III)

However, some musicians are reluctant to perform to a camera instead of an audience because they miss the interaction and how it informs the performance.

“It’s challenging to put a bunch of new music into the world and not have the connective tissue between myself and my audience that a show or a tour usually provides,” Anderson says. “A concert or a show is a place where people are together with each other experiencing and/or performing music. Everything else is television. The joy I get from performing is not replaceable by an online experience. For the most part, I’d rather just practice and play and record until actual shows come back.”

On 23 November, Bandcamp added a twist to the live streaming scenario by launching Bandcamp Live. When bands schedule performance on the live streaming service, Bandcamp automatically notifies fans and announces the show. Musicians can display merchandise and music alongside the stream. Purchases appear in a streamside chat, which can then drive sales upward. Bands get to set their own price for performing and keep 100% of the money until 31 March 2021, after which Bandcamp will take its customary 10%.

It remains to be seen if Bandcamp’s involvement will win over any naysayers, but it certainly introduces an artist-friendly format to test the waters.