Songwriter Ben Gage Turns House Concerts into High-Quality, Pandemic-Safe Livestreams
He launched his online platform, gagehousesessions.com, in January.
The site features a schedule of upcoming, livestreamed concerts, along with a viewable archive of dozens of past streams featuring local talent.
Gage House Sessions has featured a long list of regional artists over the last year, with a new guest performing every week.
The online streaming series began as smaller, in-person concerts that took place in Gage’s home.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced him to put these shows on hold, but it granted Gage the opportunity to develop a new way for audiences to get their music fix during lockdown.
“It was cool to see it blossom,” Gage said. “We now have all these videos cataloged on YouTube. You can look back at the beginning—I didn’t exactly know what I was doing. It was a lot of trial, by far.”
Capturing the local music scene
In March 2020, Gage was gearing up to host a live album recording event at The Rialto Theatre in Kenmore.
Shortly after, in-person gatherings were canceled because of the spread of the coronavirus.
Before the pandemic hit, Gage had a goal of showcasing how the Northeast Ohio music community brings artists together and promotes supporting each other’s craft.
He began ramping up this effort with his original iteration of the Gage House Sessions concert series.
Gage hosted private, invitation-only, bi-monthly gatherings of musicians and music fans.
The in-person house concert series started out with Gage and a few cameras. He invited some friends over to record, eat pizza and watch the show.
"They were incredible evenings. We were so excited to keep doing them. But then, of course, the pandemic hit, and we had to innovate."
This idea turned into a monthly concert event, featuring three to five performers each night, 30 guests and a pre-show potluck.
Gage would film then edit the recordings and share them on YouTube after the fact.
He captured this intimate setting through high-quality audio and video via for a little more than a year.
“They were incredible evenings. We were so excited to keep doing them. But then, of course, the pandemic hit, and we had to innovate,” he said.
Connecting with area talent
Gage didn’t have much trouble finding local artists to participate in his “Live With” Gage House Sessions concerts, and when he made the shift to livestreaming the performances instead of hosting in-person events, he soon amassed a large roster of local talent.
He said the Northeast Ohio music scene is special because of its inclusivity.
“My favorite thing about music is getting on the road, but as I go to other music cities, it never feels like it has all the pieces that Akron does, or that Northeast Ohio does,” Gage said. “It’s like a puzzle that’s just missing one or two.”
Gage, originally from Rome, Ohio, came to Akron for college and never left.
He said he fell in love with the music community in Northeast Ohio and met his greatest friends and strongest inspirations here.
He and his brother, Zach, started the Americana-folk band The Gage Brothers in 2014.
The duo would jam to old folk songs Sunday afternoons and soon turned these jam sessions into a full-blown bluegrass band.
Gage sang and played mandolin, percussion and harmonica in the group. After the project dissolved in 2017, he began pursuing a solo music career.
He said his songwriting pulls heavily from his Rust Belt roots and living in one of the “greatest cities” in Northeast Ohio.
His inspiration from local songwriters played a role in his shift to a solo artist, as well as his efforts to spotlight area talent through the Gage House Sessions.
“We just all seem to be doing it because we love it, and we all work so hard to improve and support each other. And it’s a really special and really incredible thing,” Gage said.
Rethinking the live music experience
For Gage, music has always been an outlet for telling stories.
The Gage House Sessions series lets viewers inside an intimate space where Gage and a featured musician will engage in conversation and perform live music.
Because he is so well connected with the local music community, the videos capture the rapport he has with other artists.
“I just think of it as me hanging out with one of my respected friends,” he said. “I think it’s fortunately very organic. Because we have such a great group of musicians locally, I just love hanging out with them.”
Gage said during the pandemic, a lot of artists were trying to figure out how to perform virtually and livestream, but quality was often a concern.
“There’s just a lot that is lost from that live, in-person to the livestreaming, and I wanted to reduce that loss as much as possible,” he said. “High-quality audio and video is not the same, but it gets us close.”
He had some experience livestreaming tech events for work and saw its potential for bringing live music to the masses.
He researched platforms and gear and made a streaming rig. He began watching YouTube tutorials and training videos. He said a lot of making high-quality livestreaming work was trial and error.
“Still capture that high-quality content, because that was a big focus for me, to get away from just a cell phone recording. I wanted to keep that quality high,” he said.
The Gage House Sessions platform has allowed Gage and other area artists to stay connected with their fans while in-person, live music events remain on hold.
“We were able to keep our Gage House Sessions audience in the loop, and we were also able to keep a lot of musicians still connected with their remote audience,” he said.
Chrissy Strong, Brent Kirby, Jul Big Green, Ray Flanagan and John Patrick Halling from The Outside Voices are a handful of Northeast Ohio musicians who have performed a streaming concert through Gage’s online platform.
Gage has a long studio room where he and the performer will sit on opposite sides.
The artist just has to plug in their microphone, and everything else is set up for them to play and stream.
"There’s just a lot that is lost from that live, in-person to the livestreaming, and I wanted to reduce that loss as much as possible. High-quality audio and video is not the same, but it gets us close.”
Finding silver linings during a dark time
Gage keeps a wall of set lists from each artist featured in his live streams.
He said music is a social endeavor, and operating the “Live With” streaming concerts has been a way to stay connected with his peers and local songwriters he admires.
“Not to sugar coat it, it was a really difficult year,” Gage said. “And it continues to still be a difficult time. I think by default, musicians and creators are extremely social people, even if we have to go into our isolation to recharge, we still get a lot from being around people.”
Gage said he has been writing a lot of new music, and last year he decided he wanted to get in the studio and start recording.
Those plans changed. His main focus in 2020 was on streaming and helping area artists have an outlet to perform.
Gage said the lack of socializing and performing as a musician has been difficult.
He said he struggled with bouts of depression and dealing with feelings he hasn’t felt of this magnitude before. The silver lining is that he’s gained a new perspective on what matters most.
“It also has maybe given us a little bit of a fire or a hunger to get back at the things that we do love that much with kind of a new focus,” he said.
Gage said he wants to try to get back on “the recording horse” this year and get new, original music out there.
He thinks streaming will be here to stay.
“I think that’s another positive for the pandemic,” Gage said. “It did, sort of, it gave us more of an insight into the ways we can use streaming.”
He said this won’t replace the experience of live music, but when everyone is able to experience concerts again, livestreaming will still be part of the norm.
“Streaming can augment a live performance in a pretty incredible way,” he said.
Streaming allows the public to enjoy the local music scene whenever, wherever—not every local band has a high-quality music video.
“It’s a worthwhile investment that I can continue to use for my friends and new musicians,” Gage said.
He wants traveling musicians to be able to use his platform going forward.
When they’re in the area on tour, they can pop in and do a streaming show and allow friends, family and fans back home to watch.
"Streaming can augment a live performance in a pretty incredible way."
In the future, when he is able to host in-person house shows again, he wants to livestream them instead of recording, editing and posting the videos after the fact.
“It’ll be a special way to highlight those evenings,” he said.
Gage said he has amassed a global following of his weekly livestreams.
“Australia, England, the Netherlands … those are people that, as a local musician, we probably never would have been able to connect with before,” he said.
Gage started a Patreon last year to support the work he puts into the streaming concert series.
Gage will perform a “Live With” streamed concert with the Ben Gage Trio at 9 p.m. Feb. 4.
Visit gagehousesessions.com/schedule for the full schedule of upcoming Gage House Sessions livestreaming concerts.
Northeast Ohio artists interested in streaming can fill out this online form to get in touch with Gage.