Press Play: Concerts and record stores evolve during COVID-19 pandemic


Photo credit: Richard Andrus

Richard Andrus and Michael Kelley

Although promoters have canceled or postponed all live in-person concerts for the foreseeable future, with some officials saying they are unlikely to return until 2021, artists from all genres are finding alternative ways to connect with fans and make a change during these turbulent times.

Live Concert Experiences

During the pandemic, performers around the world have been offering digital concert experiences through social media and other technological means. These “concerts” are invaluable as they intimately illustrate the artists in their purest form to their audiences.

A bulk of these performances have been taking place on Instagram by utilizing their live streaming functionality.

There is a wide array of musicians doing this such as producer Diplo, multi-instrumentalist James Blake, country singer Keith Urban and frontman of Coldplay Chris Martin, among many others.

Award-winning producers Swizz Beatz and Timbaland have used the platform to create VERZUS, which features beat battles between legendary hip-hop personalities. At the time of writing, some of these battles have been Sean Garrett vs. The-Dream, Lil Jon vs. T-Pain and DJ Premier vs. RZA of Wu-Tang Clan.

Several artists including singer-songwriter Julien Baker and R&B songstress Kali Uchis have donated proceeds from their Instagram Live sessions to charities that financially support those affected by COVID-19. Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard has been donating the proceeds of his live streams on Facebook and YouTube to foundations supporting COVID-19 survivors as well.

Electronic music pioneer David Guetta donated the proceeds from a two-hour set he performed live on a hotel balcony in Miami on April 18. The set, which was also live-streamed on YouTube, raised over $700,000 for COVID-19 relief efforts.

Ariana Grande, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Yo-Yo Ma are among the various performers who have preferred to use Twitter to share their musical remedies during the pandemic.

Music festivals have also adapted to the circumstances, shifting their events online through multiple different venues of media.

YouTube channel Proximity and Los Angeles based collective Brownies and Lemonade held Digital Mirage, an online music festival, from April 3 to 5 on YouTube and Playstation streaming services. The festival, which highlighted over 50 DJ sets from artists such as Allison Wonderland and Kaskade, raised over $300,000 for charity.

Proximity will also be putting holding Room Service Music Festival, in collaboration with fellow channels Trap Nation and Chill Nation, from April 24 to 26 on YouTube. The event promises performances from rapper A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, indie rocker Yungblud and electronic musician Marc Rebillet, among many others. Room Service will also be raising donations for charities such as Sweet Relief Musicians Fund and Feeding America throughout the three days of festivities.

Artists American Football, Anamanaguchi and Baths were among those who participated in Nether Meant, a virtual concert inside of “Minecraft,” on April 11. The event, which took place inside of a virtual club modeled based on Brooklyn venue “Elsewhere,” raised over $8,000 for Good360‘s efforts to relieve cases of coronavirus.

Open Pit, the promoter of Nether Meant, will also be putting on Square Garden, a “Minecraft” festival to raise funds for Feeding America, on April 24. The lineup consists of Kero Kero Bonito, Charli XCX and 100 gecs, who are hosting the event.

Block By Blockwest, another festival inside of “Minecraft,” is also due to take place inside of the best selling video game of all time on April 25. Fever 333, IDLES, Citizen and special guest Massive Attack are among the artists playing the event, which will be taking donations for the Coronavirus Emergency Response Fund.

After holding a concert by Marshmello in February 2019, “Fortnite” is getting back into the music atmosphere by holding an event curated by Travis Scott until April 25. Titled “Astronomical” after the rapper’s 2018 award-winning album “Astroworld,” the event promises five opportunities to experience a “one of a kind musical journey.” The first performance of the event on April 23, which reportedly drew over 12.3 million viewers, revealed “The Scotts,” a collaboration between Scott and Kid Cudi.

Club Penguin Rewritten, a recreation of the early 2000’s massively multiplayer online (MMO) game, planned on having an event with indie band Soccer Mommy on April 2 until fans overloaded its servers. The event, which hoped to allow players to meet and talk to the band during a listening party of their latest album “Color Theory,” has been postponed until a later date TBD.

Television broadcasting networks have also joined the bandwagon and participated in having living room concert experiences.

Fox presented the “iHeart Radio Living Room Concert For America” on March 29. The event, which was hosted by Elton John, not only featured performances from artists such as Mariah Carey and Sam Smith, but also displayed how a selection of medical professionals are feeling in regards to the increased necessity of their services.

CBS hosted an intimate concert experience featuring Garth Brooks and his wife, Trisha Yearwood, on April 1. The couple hosted the broadcast on Facebook Live as well, repeatedly crashing the website while taking song requests for the special.

The broadcast organization also hosted James Corden‘s “Homefest: A Late Late Show Special,” a living room concert special which featured K-pop band BTS, Dua Lipa and various other performers. Will Ferrell was a highlight of the production, coming up with songs to sing while washing your hands.

“One World: Together At Home Concert,” a global benefit put on in collaboration between Global Citizen and Lady Gaga, aired on ABC, CBS, NBC and online April 18. The concert, which presented performances by Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones and a variety of others, including Gaga herself, raised over $127.9 million in support of the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak.

MTV has moved its acclaimed “Unplugged” programming online with “MTV Unplugged At Home,” a new series that promotes social distancing by broadcasting performances by artists from the comfort of their homes. The series, which kicked off with performances from Jewel, Wyclef Jean and Finneas, promises episodes with Monsta X, Bazzi, JNCO and more in the future.

The station will also be reviving Club MTV, its popular dance show which ran from 1987 to 1992, for one night only, with a special livestream on its channels April 25. DJ D-Nice, recently known for his celebrity-filled sessions on Instagram Live, will be spinning records throughout the stream, which will also include celebrity guests and dance challenges featuring viral social media stars. Viewers will be encouraged to donate to the Save the Music Foundation, which works to secure remote music education for second-class communities throughout the U.S., during the broadcast.

Other Concert Experiences

To coincide with live concert experiences, many festivals and touring artists have begun to release archival footage for audiences to enjoy.

Although this year’s iteration of Switzerland’s annual Montreux Jazz Festival has been postponed, the festival has provided music lovers with over 50 diverse sets available to stream on their website. Organizers from the festival hope that the performances from artists like Wu-Tang Clan, James Brown and Johnny Cash “will brighten up your day… during this unprecedented time.”

Coachella released a documentary via YouTube Originals about the history of the festival on April 10, the day the first weekend of the festival was supposed to begin. The film works to give “a rare look at Coachella’s colorful beginning, presents exclusive, never-before-seen footage, interviews and features key performances from some of the biggest names in music,” according to the documentary’s website.

Austin City Limits, the longest-running music series in television history, has released a plethora of episodes in their entirety on their website. Those available include performances from hundreds of artists, such as teen megastar Billie Eilish, indie rocker St. Vincent and rap duo Run the Jewels.

Bands including Radiohead, Sonic Youth, Pink Floyd and The National have all made various concerts from their archives available for fans to stream, with the latter of which using the footage as a fundraiser for their touring crew during the pandemic.

Guitar corporation Fender has launched “Artist Check-In,” allowing artists such as Cory Wong of Vulfpeck, Matt Freeman of Operation Ivy and Johnny Marr of The Smiths to share their techniques and tricks. For every episode of the series made, the corporation will donate to the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.

Fender competitor Gibson has launched “HomeMade Sessions,” a video series that supports musicians and keeps them in contact with their fans amid the pandemic. The sessions, which include episodes with members of Halestorm and Rise Against, support the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund as well.

NPR Music’s celebrated series “Tiny Desk Concerts” have adapted to the times and introduced “Tiny Desk (Home) Concerts,” which consist of home performances from artists such as King Princess, Michael McDonald and Lang Lang.

A multitude of Broadway performers has released living room concerts of their own as well, including but not limited to Jordan Li-Smith singing “Make Them Hear You” from “Ragtime” and Gabrielle Carrubba singing “Only Us” from “Dear Evan Hansen.”

Speaking of Broadway, BroadwayWorld has compiled a list of 157 shows and musicals that are available to enjoy on streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ and others during the pandemic.

Music Lessons

In a letter to fans regarding his plans for self-isolation, Nick Cave stated that his “response to a crisis has always been to create.”

With COVID-19 locking many indoors around the world, many people, like Cave, are creating media to stay productive and joyful while in quarantine.

Several companies involved in the music industry have noticed this and since, assisted these creators in their efforts by offering their services at a discounted rate for a limited time.

Apple has started giving 90-day free trials of Final Cut Pro X and Logic Pro X, its filmmaking and music production software, respectively. This offer is the first time the latter has ever been available to test for free.

Ableton is doing the same with its music production software, Ableton Live 10 Suite, which retails for $750. The platform has also made all tiers of Live 10, including Intro, Standard and Suite, 30 percent off until May 20.

Fender is offering 3 months of free guitar, bass or ukulele lessons to the first 500,000 new subscribers of their Fender Play app.

Moog is offering one of its iOS synthesizers, the Minimoog Model D, for free.

Serato recently launched Serato Studio, a free program that allows aspiring DJs to make beats, mashups and everything in between. The program also boasts upgraded features, many of which are behind a paywall.

Many musicians and artists have also come forward, offering lessons to aspiring musicians during the pandemic.

Mac DeMarco recently launched a new web series, “Advanced Studio Recording Techniques,” which aims to educate viewers about the numerous processes of building recordings. The series is exclusive to the subscription service Eternal Family.

Megadeth bassist David Ellefson has launched a new initiative to provide music lessons to kids who are unable to participate in school activities via Skype. To accomplish this, Ellefson’s Youth Music Foundation is partnering with the GRAMMY Music Education Coalition to teach one-on-one Skype sessions for students 18 years old and younger. Dirk Verbeuren and Kiko Loureiro of Megadeth, Chris Kaelof of Five Finger Death Punch and Nita Strauss of Alice Cooper are several of the musicians participating.

Record Stores

Due to the widespread closures of concert venues, smaller artists are struggling to make a living and are counting on fans to support them through music and merchandise sales.

Bandcamp, a music distribution platform, assisted artists by waiving fees and providing them with a higher percentage of profits on March 20. Fans bought over 800,000 items, equivalent to rough $4.3 million worth of content — more than 15 times the sales the platform receives on a usual Friday.

Bandcamp CEO, Ethan Diamond, stated the importance of this promotion.

“For many artists, a single day of boosted sales can mean the difference between being able to pay rent or not,” Diamond said. “Still, we consider this just a starting point.”

A countless number of record labels participated in the sale.

Run For Cover, representing artists such as Citizen and Turnover, let fans pay what they wanted when it came to their entire catalog, with 100% of proceeds going toward its roster.

Polyvinyl, home to artists such as Alvvays and American Football, let fans do something similar by paying as little as $1 for anything within their catalog pre-2020 and starting at $5 for any 2020 releases.

Bandcamp is due to waive their fees once again for artists on May 1.

Record stores across the country are fighting to continue striving and assisting artists during the outbreak.

Through the practice of social distancing, record stores have started primarily reaching their customers through social media, providing them with the ability to see new releases and order online.

One store that has implemented this is Gallery of Sound, located in both Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, which has revamped its website and started encouraging roadside pick-up alongside postal shipment.

Other record stores like Third Man Records, run by Jack White of The White Stripes, Philadelphia’s Creep Records and many others are also following suit.

Discogs, an online database and marketplace of music, has been an alternative for many record shops to also reach with their customers as well.

Many record stores have had to close their doors, despite modifying their pre-existing systems of sales. As a result, the organizers of the annual Record Store Day have decided to postpone this year’s festivities until June 20.

Taylor Swift made sure one store in Nashville, Tennessee, where she resides, could survive the outbreak.

On April 2, the country-turned-pop star donated an undisclosed amount to every full-time worker of Grimey’s New & Preloved Music, one of the most renowned stores within Music City. Swift also reportedly covered the business’ health-care costs for the next three months.

Co-owner, Doyle Davis, has stated that it gives him “peace of mind” while applying for small business association loans to help cover rent and other costs.

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