Every day, if you are even remotely near social media, you’re invited to tune into numerous live performances streamed on the internet, the only concert venue that’s open during the Covid crisis. But what if you’re the artist? How does every day sound to you? While most musicians are spacing out their appearances out of concern for over-taxing the audience, some have decided the daily stream has more upside than down. Songwriter and guitarist Josh Daniel of Charlotte, NC will go live today for his 60th day in a row.
“It's taken a life of its own,” Daniel says of his Quarantine Sessions Couch Tour, which takes place for almost two hours at 5 pm Eastern every day, on the front porch of his home if it’s nice and inside if not. He says his audience is deeply engaged and growing, with well over 10,000 viewers over recent sets. “I don't even know how this is possible, but I'm busier now than I was before the virus. I've sold more merch in the past month than I've sold in several years. It's insane. I am trying to get a grip on that and trying to keep cranking out new songs.”
Daniel’s success story may not be the norm for artists waiting out this unprecedented spell, but it suggests that with a potential worldwide audience and the power of community, fears of being too visible may be over-blown. “I’m kind of in that jam band world,” Daniel says, meaning every show is unique (he’s performed 500 different songs so far) and the music itself is offered freely to build a larger community and long-term loyalty and income. “I’m kind of taking that approach. It’s connecting with the people. I mean they’re asking for songs in real time, and I’ll play them. It’s a total interactive thing.”
In Nashville, Drew Holcomb set up in his favorite room for writing and singing to offer the Kitchen Covers series, one-off songs usually sung in harmony with his wife Ellie. “We started it pretty early on, and it was a gut instinct decision,” he says. “We have all this time on our hands. What if we posted a cover every night at the same time? We started off doing mostly (songs by) friends and other artists that we run into on tour or here in Nashville. And we quickly expanded that into our influences.” So, he and Ellie have sung songs by John Prine, The Avett Brothers, Brandi Carlile and Tom Waits, among many others. Holcomb posted the pre-recorded single song videos for 41 straight nights and then backed off to three times a week. But they’ve added a live ensemble show once every two weeks. The next one is Sunday night at 8:30. Those involve more of a direct appeal for contributions, with funds going to support the band and crew who are out of work. “People have been incredibly generous,” Drew reports. “We’ve had the same band for a long, long time, so our fans know these guys and they want them to be taken care of. That was a way to directly do that.”
Another plan to turn streaming into revenue is the release of specially recorded favorite songs from the Kitchen Covers as a series of limited edition, signed LPs. Holcomb says the whole project has been rewarding in many ways, beyond staving off complacency and boredom. “I wanted to sort of challenge ourselves to think creatively about the covers and make them not just feel like karaoke but like an emotional, thoughtful performance,” he told me. “It felt like something different than what we’re used to, but a way to give something to the world in the midst of this. Thinking back about all the music that I love has continued to help me navigate my own experience during this time.”
One hears a similar take from innovative Americana trio The Accidentals, who are quarantining together and offering a livestreamed Daily Breather at noon central on Facebook and YouTube from their home in Traverse City, MI. The way singer and instrumentalist Savanna Buist sees it, the single-song live webcasts are dedicated to the well-being of themselves and their audience. “We really wanted to take 10 minutes out of people's days and give them something to center themselves and something to center ourselves as well,” Buist says. “Time is sort of a flat circle, so it's hard to keep track of right now and hard to center yourself before going into each day and hard to keep a schedule. And one of the best ways to do that is to have some sort of small routine.”
The Accidentals sets aren’t overt appeals for income. Instead the band set up a Patreon program in 2019 and it has been their “financial backbone” allowing them to keep themselves and their road crew afloat. And they’re not the only artists for whom the ambitious schedule of going live, plus care taken with audio and video fidelity, have opened up invitations for private shows for fees.
“Whatever you think is helping somebody, don't worry about whether you're exhausting people or whether it's financially benefiting you,” Buist recommends. “Those are good things to keep in mind and keep accountable for, but don't let it ruin the help that you could possibly be lending to people. There's balance in everything.”
“I’ve personally been encouraging all of my musician friends to do this,” Josh Daniel says in Charlotte, with a few provisos. Invest in gear and audio quality he notes. Pick your time strategically and stick with it. “And the third thing is connection with people. They want to see your guitar. People like shout outs. They like you to smile at them. I’m going to share a video that shows how to do this eventually.”
“Everybody has to take the temperature of what their fans are asking for or what they want to do, whether it’s just a creative outlet or a way to try something new,” says Holcomb. “There’s never been a time more like now to just try something. The stakes are lower in the sense that your production costs (are lower). You’re not taking a band and a van and a trailer out to a bunch of gigs to try something new. My advice is to trust your instincts and to be honest with your fans. If you and your band are in a tight spot and you lost a whole tour, there’s no harm in sharing that with the people who want you to survive the most.”