Music in the Age of Isolation: online gigs, subscriptions, tip jars and more
The global pandemic of Coronavirus is challenging everyone is so many ways right now – and musicians are no different. With gigs being cancelled many have lost an income, and are worried about being able to recover any of that or continue to share their music with fans.
How to be a musician in isolation
There’s no easy answer as things are going to be hard but here’s a few tips if you’re looking to move gigs online, suddenly need to look at subscription models and building a community of fans, or are thinking about how your skills or teaching may be delivered online.
The good news is that while many music fans are facing hardship through loss of their own work, they still want to support their favourite musicians, and for those who have a steady income or sick pay they’re taking in more music while in isolation and are in a position to support financially too.
This post is intended to give a high level overview and much of this needs a deeper dive with practical steps to get started but – let’s look at what you can do, right now.
Online gigs and live streaming shows
This is the one I’m getting the most questions about right now, and also where most of the activity online seems to be headed. The immediacy of losing live music and having tours, festival slots, and planned gigs fall out of the diary is stark for musicians and fans.
Moving online with that show likely won’t replace the income, won’t necessarily help the venue you were due to play at, but it goes someway to sharing your music with fans and asking them to buy merch, music, or throw some money in a tip jar in return.
Things you’ll need: at a minimum a phone, preferably an external mic and tripod, possibly a soundcard to allow for multiple mics, and maybe also some lights.
This isn’t supposed to look like TV though – it’s fine to be rough around the edges and DIY. You might want to add in a Q&A via the comments during the broadcast, or just perform as you would a gig. It’s a far more intimate experience for fans than going to a gig, but through options like Watch parties on Facebook (where you share to a Page, or invite your friends to watch along too) there’s an element of the social we get from live music.
Overall – just make sure people can see and hear you and you’re good to go.
Facebook Live, Instagram TV, YouTube and Twitch
The quickest way to stage your own online gig is through one of the platforms you’re likely to already be using. Facebook Live, Instagram, YouTube or even Twitch (which is probably best known as a gamers platform but encourages musicians to try it out – their guide is here).
Twitch has the ability to monetise but with the others you’re going to want to link to places people can buy stuff from you, or create a sort of paywall. You could do this on Facebook by asking for an upfront payment before letting people into a private Group where you’ll do the Live, and the video will remain available afterwards – a sort of ticketed event.
With all make sure you’re promoting when the live performance will take place in advance, across all your social profiles and to any mailing list you have. Make the video available afterwards as you’re likely to see more engagement after the event. If you can rope someone in (remotely) to help moderate comments and signpost people during the performance all the better.
For a platform dedicated to live gigs you could check out StageIt. The platform allows you to ticket your online gig, or put out a tip jar, and they are currently giving 80% of money taken during a performance to artists. Find them here.
Amplify through online publications
There’s lots of people trying their best to help musicians by bringing these online shows together and amplifying to more people. There’s a couple of dedicated ‘online festivals’ and a couple of directories (viewing guides if you will) to help people find what’s on too. It’s well worth looking out for these and seeing if you can link up or submit your show to listings – this might push you beyond performing to your existing fans and into being discovered by others.
Move fans from streaming to downloads
Let’s be blunt: streaming is unlikely bringing you a big income already, and it’s not going to see you through this hard time on its own. Streaming platforms are unable to scale to the challenge being faced by independent musicians and so now is the time to educate your fans that even if they do stream you, they need to be doing something else to support you too.
That might be committing to download your music from Bandcamp even if they don’t listen to download and continue to stream. It might be ordering physical merch from you, and being understanding about any shipping restrictions you face at this time. It might be buying merch or subscribing to you (see below), but you have to be clear with them that while you appreciate streams it isn’t helping in a practical way.
Subscriptions, memberships and tip jars
Growing an online community is a good option for independent musicians at all times, not just in this very weird time. Amanda Palmer, Kristen Hersch, Laura Kidd, Steve Lawson – all have grown communities which support them to make and release music as a career and it’s worth checking them out even if they create in a different genre or way to you.
Patreon gives you a ready made system with an easy-to-set-up walkthrough where you can provide exclusive content in exchange for a subscription, and if you’re on Bandcamp you can also offer a subscription to people on there. Platforms like Ko-fi allow you to shape an ask for occasional ad-hoc payments, but you could easily set up a PayPal if you just want an ‘online tip jar’ where those able can put some money your way in appreciation of what you do.
Skill sharing and learning something new
You might already teach music or instrumentation to others, or you might be thinking about it for the first time. Again, there’s lots of people using isolation and an enforced slow down to work on some of those personal development goals and may well be on the look out for a teacher.
Most instrument teaching can be done remotely – use Zoom, Google Hangout or Skype to video chat. You may want to post some example lessons on YouTube or one of your other profiles for people to check out first.
And if you’re not in need of the money perhaps this is the time to think about skill sharing. Could you teach someone to play an instrument, home record, or production skills in return for something you’d like to learn? This is definitely the time to do things differently so think more broadly than exchange for cash unless you’re being forced into a position where your home and ability to stay well is at risk.
Need a hand?
If you need a bit more help then I’m offering free consultations by phone (or Zoom, Skype, or Google Hangout) for practical help getting started on this stuff or if you want some support with developing as an artist and making a longer term plan. I’m also available if you’d just like a chat to share worries or ideas, or have a virtual coffee while in isolation. Drop me an email and let’s book something in – no catch, no fee, no follow up hard sell down the line.
I'm a fan of black coffee, the west coast of Scotland, crows, conversations and connections. I'm in love with possibilities.
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