Shuffle: Northeast Ohio Musicians Go Virtual As the Coronavirus Quiets the Scene

Mar 20, 2020

With the recent closure of bars, restaurants and venues that serve more than 10 patrons, the local music scene is facing challenges. Scheduled concerts, festivals, album release shows and other events have been canceled or postponed to a later, unspecified date.

Musicians and artists who rely on touring or otherwise playing out for income or exposure are faced with a new reality with the local community being unable to congregate in the presence of live music. Weekend plans and evening socialization may have changed for audiences, but for many local artists, their livelihood has all but vanished.

Scheduled live concerts become digital performances
Cleveland singer-songwriter Michelle Gaw said she sat at home feeling anxious, until she decided to start Virtual Shows Cle, which aims to support musicians who work as independent contractors and are taking a financial hit during this era of social distancing and restrictions on public gatherings.

Using the online meeting platform Zoom and spreading the word on Facebook, she’s hosting concerts several times a week. Fans make a suggested $5 donation to join.

Akron singer-songwriter Zach Friedhof has been performing live on Facebook, either with his guitar or hosting mediation sessions. The coronavirus has put his music career on hold indefinitely. He normally plays more than 200 shows a year and his band, Zach and Bright Lights, are releasing a new album this month. 

“Music is definitely more than what I do,” Friedhof said. “I feel like it’s what I am here for, and it’s kind of the one major gift that I’ve been given to share. It’s definitely a challenge to not be out sharing it. I always feel really off when I’m not performing.”

"It's definitely a challenge to not be out sharing it. I always feel really off when I'm not performing."

Venues take a hit
As musicians feel the effects, so do the region’s independent venues. They’ve all had to close following Gov. Mike DeWine’s order limiting public gatherings and forcing bars and restaurants to shut their doors.

Musica in downtown Akron closed last week. Owner Jenn Kidd said she made the decision shortly after global concert promoter LiveNation halted all of its tours until at least April.

“I recognized the importance of people who are that big and have that much money,” Kidd said. “When they’re ready to stop making that money, it kind of shows the scope of it.”

Kidd said she’s working to find ways to connect with artists virtually.

“I was so excited for summer because in August, we have all these things going on,” Kidd said. “And now I’m like, ‘Alright, next week, are we all safe? Are we all healthy? Do we all have food?’ That’s as far as much brain so go right now because it just has changed so quickly.”

"The music scene is amazing and strong, and I can't wait to have music again."

Strength in the local music community
Kidd said she believes in the strength of the community, from musicians to venue owners and audiences alike, to overcome present obstacles by banding together and supporting one another.

“I hate that it brings out something this ugly, but everybody is just trying to work together to try to make everything better,” Kidd said. “And the music scene is amazing and strong, and I can’t wait to have music again.”

Akron pop artist Natalie Martin said her band, DreamStates, had three important gigs canceled this month, losing out on at least $500.

DreamStates alternatively hosted two 30-minute sets livestreamed from Live Music Now in Kenmore, where they debuted new material in support of the Spectrum Diversity Community Center’s 2020 Kickoff Party on March 14. 

She said now is the time for fans to buy an album or merchandise.

“Even though people mostly listen to music through singles these days, albums are still being made,” Martin said. “You can still sit down with one musician with over a half an hour, enjoying their product.”

International acts are also using their voice to be an advocate for independent artists. Torquil Campbell of the Canadian indie rock band Stars wrote an opinion article in The Atlantic this week. 

Alternate ways to support the local music scene
Those looking for alternative ways to support local musicians during this time can do so, virtually, in a variety of ways—from live-streaming digital concerts to purchasing merchandise online:

1.     Patreon
Several artists who are suddenly unable to pay for necessary expenses due to the shutdowns incurred from the COVID-19 outbreak have set up Patreon memberships to support themselves. Fans can search for artists in the Find a Creator box at Patreon.com/c/music and donate based on different amounts and membership tiers.

2.     Bandcamp
Bandcamp co-founder and CEO Ethan Diamond announced the company will waive its revenue share on sales beginning March 20. Listeners can buy digital albums, individual tracks or physical copies of local musicians’ recordings via their Bandcamp pages, with funds put directly into the artists’ pockets.

3.     Streaming and sharing favorite songs
While Spotify pays less than a penny per stream to artists, the more plays a song gets, the more the amount adds up. Listeners can add their favorite songs to playlists and share on social media to increase exposure for their favorite musicians.

4.     Buying merchandise
While the physical merch table in the corner of a bustling venue won’t be a reality for a while, music fans can still buy physical albums, cassettes, T-shirts, buttons, stickers and other items to both promote their favorite artists and put a little money in their pockets. To ensure the merch funds are directly paid out to the artist, the best place to buy is from the musician’s official website or social media pages.

5.     Participating in virtual shows
Performers are using Facebook, Instagram and YouTube to live-stream virtual concerts, many of which were originally scheduled for physical venues. Local recording studio venue, Akron Recording Company, is offering high-quality live audio and video streaming for local acts. The sessions are scheduled for 30-minute blocks, and artists are paid on a donation-based model.

6.     Following local artists on social media
Liking, following and engaging with band pages on social media not only helps increase the artists’ reach, it also legitimizes them in the eyes of venues and record labels, which can open up future opportunities. Social media is also a helpful way for the community to stay in the loop about new music they can stream or purchase, as well as virtual concerts or alternate ways to support individual artists as they arise.

7.     Supporting local record stores and music venues
Swinging by the local record shop or club may not be an option presently, but some stores have items available for purchase online. Local music venues that also sell food or beverages might still open to offer carry-out and delivery dining options, which can help support the spaces in lieu of their canceled events.

8.     Keeping your concert tickets
Music fans are already selling or asking vendors to refund their admission to spring or summer shows. However, until the venue or distributor reaches out directly with an official cancellation announcement, buyers may want to hang on their tickets in case the event is postponed to a later date when crowds can safely gather. Some in-person concerts may evolve into online concerts viewable by ticketholders only.