Indie Artists Turn to Livestreaming as Coronavirus Unfolds - Rolling Stone
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Indie Artists Turn to Livestreaming as Coronavirus Crisis Unfolds

How artists and venues are coming up with innovative ways to keep the lights on and the music playing — without leaving the house

Ron Gallo, livestream coronavrius

Ron Gallo is one of many indie artists who are turning to livestreaming to play concerts for fans during the quarantine.

Michael Hurcomb/Shutterstock

Even though it will mean a huge dent in his income for the foreseeable future, Ron Gallo wants you to stay the fuck home.

That’s exactly what he did this past Saturday (and again on Sunday, for the European audience), after his show at Melted Music Festival in Columbus, Ohio, was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Broadcasting via Instagram Live from his home studio in Nashville, Gallo staged a concert he appropriately hashtagged “#staythefuckhome.”

“As artists, our livelihood depends on traveling around cramming as many people as possible in not always big spaces, so if we all sacrifice that right now, it’s 1,000 percent the right thing to do,” he says. Gallo is married to Italian musician Chiara D’Anzieri and has spent a good deal of time in her native Ravenna, and is watching from afar how the virus can devastate countries. ”It’s a really powerful message to get people to take this seriously and in turn do our real job, which is to make people happy and use our voice for truth and positive influence on the world.”

Gallo, and musicians like him all over the country, are facing a daunting, often seemingly impossible task: Fulfill the moral (and now CDC-mandated) duty of canceling concerts and festival appearances, but also make sure they are able to pay the bills, that album releases stay on track, and that they can continue to play for fans. Artists, and the independent venues that house their shows, are working fast to think of innovative ways to keep the lights on and the music playing — without the need for leaving the house.

Though the income won’t compare to what he could have taken in at a festival date (and, let’s be honest, many independent artists are lucky to break even on tour), Gallo, by asking for donations on Venmo or PayPal, was able to make enough money to cover some flights for his bandmates, with 4,000 people tuning in and sending funds. That’s a model that musicians are currently reluctantly banking on: staging livestreams from their living rooms or home studios, and suggesting fans pay whatever they are able, if at all. It’s not exactly the intimacy of live music, but it’s one way to assuage fears that many artists are facing as venues shutter and a summer festival season turns to flux.

It’s what Rookie, a new Bloodshot Records signee, decided to do after they canceled their sold-out album-release show in Chicago and their entire March tour. Instead, they livestreamed from the studio where they made their album, securing sponsorship from Pabst Blue Ribbon to pull the whole thing off. Nashville’s Ron Pope (who was, only last week, spending the release day for his new LP, Bone Structure, volunteering for tornado cleanup) streamed across Facebook Live on Saturday night, and Texas-based country artist Jamie Lin Wilson livestreamed Friday’s show from New Orleans, encouraging fans to stay home. And Monday, Darrell Scott will host “Live From the River,” a ticketed streaming event organized via Patreon. “Hopefully, this will all be over soon, and we can get back to the regularly scheduled programs,” Wilson says. “But until then, I’ll try to make up for whatever I can using the tools we have. And maybe I’ll quarantine myself and write a new record.”

Many artists, like Nashville-based Them Vibes, are using the livestreaming platform Stageit to support their #staythefuckhome shows. On Monday, they will be performing from home, talking to fans, playing originals and covers, and doing a Q&A, with tickets available at no official set price (“You can pay anywhere from $1 to $1,000,000 … if you’re feeling really generous,” they wrote on the invite). “Online shows will never match the energy of a live performance, but at the same time we think it offers a very unique experience for our fans,” says Them Vibes’ Alex Haddad. “We’re able to directly interact with them, take questions, ask questions, and get a one-on-one experience with each fan, all while collecting a virtual tip jar.”

Kevin Gordon, who will be doing his own livestreams, agrees that there are some upsides to home performance in quarantine. “The solitude I’m experiencing during the show positively affects the performance — I feel freer, somehow,” Gordon says. “I do prefer the interpersonal connections made at ‘real’ shows, but I find the streaming option to be a close second, one that has its own particular positives.”

Despite those silver linings, the bitter truth is that livestreaming can’t come close to making up for the losses that most artists will suffer due to coronavirus-related cancellations. Kalie Shorr had been planning her tour dates for months since releasing her album Open Book last year. Now, she’ll be hosting a series of livestreams on a new platform, Key, kicking off March 19th. For $5.99, fans can access the first of her “Social Distancing” tour dates.

“My team and I are taking a major hit financially by all of my shows in the foreseeable future being canceled or postponed,” says Shorr, echoing what touring artist Caleb Caudle recently told Rolling Stone. “We planned this tour for over six months. So much thought goes into routing, budgeting, and making sure we can make some sort of profit, or at the very least, break even. I hate complaining because there are so many people out there struggling, but this isn’t easy at all. What I would have made this past weekend was supposed to get me through until May or June, and now I’m scrambling to figure out how to make things work. I’m looking into what I can do online, from Cameo, to sponsored social media posts, but I think a livestream feels like the most genuine and enjoyable option.”

While many artists are staging their own one-offs, others are planning online festivals and concert series that will live exclusively online. Kelly McCartney, host of the Hangin’ & Sangin’ Q&A series and director of the Rainey Day Fund, alongside singer-songwriter Natalia Zukerman, is launching “Shut In & Sing,” kicking off March 19th with livestreamed performances from Chely Wright, Lori McKenna, Anthony D’Amato, Jill Sobule, Kim Richey, and more. Profits will be split between the participants, and the programming will be aired via Stageit.

“Once it started becoming clear that shows and tours were going to get canceled, Natalia Zukerman and I started talking about creative ways to do livestreams that would build community and connection while also helping to make up some of the financial losses that we and all our friends were facing,” McCartney says. “In a matter of days, we had interest from close to 60 artists. The plan is to keep the series going for as long as we need to or can.”

Billsville House Concerts, which hosts successful house shows in Vermont, is planning a series of Facebook Lives, and in Nashville, local musicians Allen Thompson and Rodney McCarthy are launching Virtual Festival, which will offer performances and superjams online, with fan donations via PayPal and Venmo going directly to participating artists like Zach Nugent of Jerry Garcia Band, Daniel Donato, and Emily Kohavi of Hozier, a.k.a. WildEyes.

Even streaming radio station Gimme Radio is opening up its platform, offering the opportunity for any artist whose livelihood was disrupted by pandemic cancellations to host their own show.

“Gimme Country is in a unique position to help these artists in ways that Spotify, Pandora, Apple, and Sirius XM can’t,” says Tyler Lenane, co-founder of Gimme Radio. “We built Gimme so that artists can host radio shows anywhere in the world from the comfort of their own home, and then communicate directly with all their fans.” Gimme Radio will encourage artists to use the platform to sell their music and merch or solicit donations.

Even established musicians like the Indigo Girls, who have a new album, Look Long, out April 24th, are deciding to reach fans by livestreaming. They’ll do a performance and Q&A session on March 19th at 6:00 p.m ET. “The heart-wrenching moment we made the decision to cancel our shows scheduled for March and April was the moment we knew we wanted to play a free livestream show,” says the Indigo Girls’ Emily Saliers. “People are feeling scared, isolated, uncertain, and unmoored. For the public good, we all have to do our part not to gather in person, but we can still play music.”

Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn will be playing their own online event on March 20th called “Banjo House Lockdown.” (“Life without other people is fine, but life without banjos would be intolerable,” Fleck says.) Watkins Family Hour are working on converting their regular show into a livestream, and Devon Allman of the Allman Betts Band is launching his own series of streaming events.

In Nashville, where the music community is still reeling from the March 3rd tornado, venues like the 5 Spot in East Nashville — which barely had a chance to reopen before voluntarily closing again — are planning a series of livestreams. Owner Todd Sherwood is working through the logistics and says funds raised will go to the venue’s GoFundMe, which he hopes will raise enough money to continue to pay staff and compensate some musicians (any excess will go to the Ben Eyestone Fund for musician health care). “Having the loss and heartache of our neighbors from the tornado encouraged our decision to close,” Sherwood says.

Other musicians are thinking outside of the box entirely. Members of Caylee Hammack’s band launched Family Tree Lawn Care Service, named for her single, to offer grass cutting and lawn maintenance while they wait for Hammack to get back on the road. Aaron Lee Tasjan is working on a collaboration with clothing label Gun Control, with profits going to the service industry. “Never has the phrase ‘artist in residence’ been so literal,” he says.

For Gallo, he plans to keep innovating ways to play music while staying the fuck home. “I kind of want to find a way to do the first online world tour, or even the first world virtual-reality tour,” he says. “Possibilities are endless, and I think artists just have to get super creative with it right now.” Sure, it’s about paying the bills, but it’s also about avoiding a catastrophe.

“Some people are critical of this or think it’s not possible for them because of work and the need to pay bills, which is reality for all of us,” Gallo says of his #staythefuckhome motto. “But also, fuck any job that wants you to compromise your health or health of others. You come first.”

In This Article: coronavirus, covid-19, music industry

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