Posted: Apr 27, 2020
Category: Live Performance
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**Guest post by Casey Burke of Plaze, which helps musicians connect to the people & resources they need.
"COVID-19 is testing our ability to come together and figure out how to live in a radically different world. It’s been particularly tough going for musicians, for whom live shows are a huge source of income. For DIY musicians, who may not have the financial resources of more established acts, the problem is only magnified.
Thankfully, musicians have found ways to maintain their livelihood in the absence of physical human contact. Enter: the Instagram livestream. While not strictly new, this format has taken off during all the unrest, and it’s likely to develop for at least as long as social distancing is the norm.
Singer-songwriter Matthew White, née Facebagel, is one of the Philadelphia scene’s more dedicated streamers. Since the pandemic’s escalation in mid-March, Facebagel has been doing a live acoustic guitar set on Instagram at 7:00 and on Facebook at 7:45, every night. He embraces the format and has fun with it, but he acknowledges challenges: “You don’t get the call and response in real time. Live people you can just read right there and it’s a conversation, but this is a lot of silent space.” It’s a bit like a live show without audience cues or validation. Ironically, the tenets of great live playing become even more important in a livestream: you need to be prepared and you need to bring the energy. It takes confidence and composure to play into a void like that, especially since “people can leave their phone even quicker than they can leave a live venue.”
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Livestreaming does have its benefits, though -- for one, the intimacy of the comments overlaid on the digital set’s screen. They generate a scrollable feed as they accumulate, visible to artist and audience throughout the performance, each with at least a theoretical chance at being answered. Facebagel “tr[ies] to answer everyone, sometimes just a hello or an in-depth question. I love the live Q&A stuff because it gets a feel for the performer and the listener.” In a sense, streaming is like a hybrid of a crowded show and a private concert. A smattering of digitally connected viewers feel at once like they’re in private shows.
This gives artists room to go the extra mile. For Facebagel, the comments inspire fun challenges: “I’ve had people request random songs before and I’ll look ‘em up and go for it.” It’s a win-win: the artist expands their repertoire, the viewer gets to see a favorite song come to life. The unprecdented time we’re living in can actually be an advantage here. Already quarantined with time to kill, the artist is more likely to take an hour after the performance to answer questions or look up songs to cover, and the audience is more likely to think them up.
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There are other mutual benefits, too. The artist gets to play in an armchair and sweats -- for once, a taste of the audience’s comfort -- while the audience gets nuggets of personal habits or routines that they wouldn’t in a live setting. “You’re basically putting your personality on display,” says Facebagel. This is a prime opportunity for artists to connect with fans on a deeper level.
Whatever the case may be, COVID-19 can’t keep musicians and creatives down. At the other end of a million small video boxes is a living, breathing world of uncertain but unflagging artists. Your music family is among them, and you can still find them. Just find a quiet, comfortable spot and press play.
With the inability to charge for admission, many musicians are encouraging donations through Venmo, and some are giving a portion to COVID relief efforts. Facebagel contributes 50% to the Philadelphia Performance Artists’ Emergency Fund, a GoFundMe helping local musicians and creatives pay their bills. As of this writing, organizers Taylor Plunkett-Clements and Vincent Scarfo have raised over $11K."
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