How Streaming Platforms Are Helping Musicians Navigate The Pandemic

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Linda May Han Oh and Fabian Almazan have used the Crowdcast platform to livestream performances from their home in New York.

(Photo: Biophilia Records)

We are currently “living in unprecedented times.”

Pundits have drummed this phrase into our collective psyche since the arrival of the pandemic on U.S. shores. And with it has come an obvious need to adapt. While most live performance opportunities are still on hold, artists and staffers at online platforms have pursued inventive ways to present music to fans.

Launched in 2013, Patreon is an online source that many artists have turned to during the pandemic. New York City-based soul and jazz vocalist Madison McFerrin is utilizing the platform to remain creative and stay connected to her fan base. “We had been talking about setting this up for quite a while, and then the current situation presented itself,” McFerrin said. “It’s really important to have engagement with people, in general, right now. And I want my fans to know I don’t want to be [considered] this untouchable figure. I want to be part of a larger community, because I feel that’s how we prosper as humans.”

On her Patreon page, McFerrin offers various tiers of engagement, with price levels of $5, $10, $25 and $100. For each level, there are commensurate benefits offered, ranging from monthly livestream concerts and one-on-one songwriting tips to workshops on vocal arrangements and discussions of songs that have inspired McFerrin as an artist.

“When you reach out to people on an individual level, they show up for you,” McFerrin said. “It’s been a tough adjustment doing livestreaming, because I’m definitely a person who feeds off a live audience. But there is something to say about the positive energy people will give you on this internet platform.”

New York-based keyboardist and Biophilia Records founder Fabian Almazan and bassist Linda May Han Oh are a husband and wife team who each have careers as bandleaders, but who also collaborate on performance and recording projects. Like many other artists, their worlds were turned upside down when the pandemic first hit. “At first, it’s like our gigs are canceled, but at least we’ll be home and have some more personal time,” Oh said during a mid-May interview. “But we’ve actually been really busy doing a lot of online teaching—and now [performing online].”

Working with video streaming platform Crowdcast, Almazan and Oh have taken their careers in a new direction—and encountered a few bumps along the way. “It’s been a lot of cramming to get how this streaming technology works,” Almazan explained. “We didn’t know what we were doing and nothing worked, but … I’ve finally got things working,” he added with a laugh.

“It was very strange doing our first livestream,” Oh noted. “We were using [Open Broadcaster Software] and there was a slight delay.”

Like many venues and organizers, Almazan has tackled the challenge of reconfiguring a previously scheduled festival so that it can occur online. A cadre of Biophilia artists had been slated to perform at the Jazz Gallery in New York on April 22 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

“We were scheduled to have all 14 of the Biophilia Records artists performing, but it was canceled,” said Almazan. “I thought I’d take the plunge and see if we could do it online instead. It’s been very encouraging to see how resourceful all the artists on the label have been.” Rather than a one-day event, Almazan transformed the festival into a series of online shows that featured performances by drummer Justin Brown, vocalist Sara Serpa, trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, saxophonist María Grand and others.

AirGigs launched in 2012 as an online platform to provide musicians with remote access to audio engineers, producers and related services. “There were all kinds of stories that the music industry had basically dried up and people were freaking out,” AirGigs CEO David Blacker recalled, regarding the environment in which his company was founded.

“Prior to the pandemic, people were doing livestream concerts for their fans as a niche-type thing,” Blacker said. “When the pandemic hit, it became one of the only things to keep performances going. That hit us like a ton of bricks. So, we opened up this category called ‘Livestream Shows’ about a month ago.” The new category allows users to hire musicians for virtual house concerts and other events. Among the artists who have used AirGigs are Joel Kibble of the vocal group Take 6, bassist Alison Prestwood, who appears on George Benson’s latest album, and saxophonist Ronnie Eades, whose long resume includes a stint in the Muscle Shoals Horns.

The European market also has responded to the need for live shows during the pandemic. In Finland, the platform G Livelab Helsinki helps fans enjoy concerts via the G Livelab App. Performances are streamed, and an on-demand feature allows users to watch a show anytime for a period of seven days. Artists who have used the service include saxophonist Timo Lassy, the UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra, veteran Ghanaian vocalist Rob (aka Rob “Roy” Raindorf) and bassist Antti Lötjönen’s Quintet East. DB



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June 2021
Vijay Iyer
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