Live music will never be the same again. Whatever your view on that statement, it’s safe to say that for the time being at least, live music is a lot different. In this guest blog post, Sadie Jemmett tells us where lockdown has taken her music.
Almost four months ago the world changed unequivocally with the horrifying onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic. The necessary lockdown measures have meant that many industries have been badly affected, and not least the global community of musicians, singers, songwriters and composers. The ‘Workers in Song’ as Leonard Cohen affectionately called them. As if songwriters, composers and musicians were not struggling enough, this brave new world of streaming services has rendered the monetised part of the recording industry virtually obsolete for artists, with little or no return on their investments.
Increasingly, for many musicians nowadays the only way to earn money from music is to tour as much as they possibly can, relying on sales from gigs and merch as their only source of income. As a singer and composer myself I am included in this category, although I do have an additional income through teaching guitar, but that too has gone in the COVID employment cull. No surprise then that my initial reaction to lockdown was one of panic, I had gigs lined up, a new single and video to promote and also commissioned songs for a film that I had spent the past few months writing, that was due to be pitched to studios in LA the week that their lockdown began.
It quickly dawned on me though, through my panic, that everyone was in the same boat, and although the boat was partially sinking, I sensed a spirit of solidarity within our global musical community that was genuine and very welcome. I nearly fell over when I saw, for the first time, an announcement on certain streaming sites encouraging patrons to directly support the artists whose music they were listening to, inadvertently admitting that they sure as hell weren’t being supported through the streaming site itself. It’s a shame, I found myself thinking, that it’s taken a pandemic for this to happen.
Like many others I quickly downloaded Zoom and other video sites that would enable me to stay in contact with the various musicians I’d been working with, I also figured out how to film and broadcast a live video feed onto my Facebook and Instagram accounts, not easy for someone who is a self-proclaimed ‘technophobe’ – devices literally shut themselves down when they see me coming! I am also lucky enough to live with a very supportive and technically adept partner, so I did get some help. I decided to start doing fortnightly live shows streaming through Facebook and Instagram, from the very first weekend of lockdown here in the UK, and put a shout-out on to my social media asking people to send in requests and dedications to loved ones. I was really surprised by the response, I had worried that as there were now so many musicians out there doing the same thing, people’s Friday nights would be booked up.
Initially the idea of doing the first livestream was daunting, I guess that for me and maybe most musicians who play live, the performer persona needs a certain amount of feedback from an audience, or to put it bluntly: ‘it’s good to feel the love’. We thrive off it, it tends to feed a performance and can often be the difference between a mediocre and a really good show. I was unsure how this ‘love’ would translate into emojis and written comments, would it be enough? Would I be able to feel it, sitting in my kitchen with my cats wandering around and my teenage daughter blaring out Netflix upstairs? I decided to take the plunge anyway and to trust. Also, it was pretty much the only option I had to connect with friends and fans for the foreseeable future.
As I sang the opening number in my first livestream I was pleasantly surprised to see little hearts and hug emojis floating up on my laptop beside me, and even happier to discover that they were making me feel good, the performer persona was being fed, little comments and requests bubbled up and people that I had not heard from in years suddenly appeared on the feed sending me love and wishing me well. The 90 minutes or so flew by and suddenly we were running out of time on Instagram and I was playing my last song. It was a massive relief. I have since embraced livestreaming wholeheartedly. I’m not saying we haven’t had our fair share of teething problems (and a few arguments) but I will be doing my 10th online concert this Saturday 18 July, as part of my ‘Home Alone sessions’.
The impact of this increased online presence has meant that I have experienced far more engagement with fans; for example, my Spotify listening figures have increased by over 200 percent in the last few months, and the online launch of the video for my single, released at the beginning of lockdown, has attracted almost 5,000 views on social media. Ok, these are not massively high figures but it is certainly a huge upturn for me. What all this means for me personally is I’ve had to find a much more relaxed way to perform. Of course, livestreaming from your porch or kitchen, or wherever, is not the same as performing in front of 300, or even 3,000 people in a venue, and so you don’t need to have quite the same amount of energy and adrenalin. I’ve found that if I can approach it in a zen like way, embracing any technical difficulties, mistakes, cats or teenagers that suddenly appear, and engage with my virtual audience then it is far more enjoyable and far less scary. After all, that is what the audience will be doing, you are unlikely to be having the full attention that you would get at a gig, people will be cooking, gardening, chatting, bathing and all the other millions of things people do in the privacy of their own home, some people have three different concerts going at the same time… so I’ve been told. And I think that is the beauty of it, as one friend said, it’s fascinating for her to see people performing a skill, doing a gig, playing a concerto or singing an aria, in such ordinary settings like kitchens and gardens. It levels the playing field a bit, and helps us to stay connected through the magnificent and healing art of music.
I play my final livestream of the series on Saturday 18 July via Facebook and Instagram before I take a break for the summer. In September, who knows what the live music scene will look like? But I do believe livestreaming is here to stay.
Thanks Sadie for showing us how you are making live music work for you.