SOMERVILLE, MA – Bill Janovitz has a gig scheduled for Saturday. Only it's not where it was supposed to be when he booked the back room of The Burren as part of the Buffalo Tom singer's music series in Somerville's Davis Square. It will be in his makeshift basement studio staring into an iPhone.
And, instead of being in a venue full of bustling bartenders, music crew and restaurant staff, it will be to raise money for the staff of that venue who help fuel the live music industry while that industry is shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On March 21, Janovitz did his first livestream to benefit Boston-area club employees. Playing a collection of songs from the band that was a staple of the alternative music scene in the 1990s — and still plays a handful of shows each year to the glee of its nostalgic-greedy fans — Janovitz said he was able to raise $5,000 from 18,000 Facebook viewers, plus 1,700 more viewers on YouTube.
"I wanted to give something back to them at a time when it means so much," Janovitz, now also a Lexington-based real estate who joked "I might not sell another house for six months either," told Patch this week. "It's not just the musicians. It's all the sound people, the bar staff, the promotion people. They are all out of work too."
Reminder for any interested and/or morbidly bored folks, I will be streaming many live songs at my virtual happy hour today starting around 4:30 EST. It shall begin with a martini demo on Buffalo Tom Facebook page, and full set will be there and here: https://t.co/OBwevQWqgO
— Bill Janovitz (@billjanovitz) March 21, 2020
While millions of Americans fear for their jobs during a nationwide economic shutdown that could last anywhere from weeks to months, musicians have already been feeling that desperate crunch for weeks. Those who tour, or play out locally up to four or five times a week, found all of their shows for the foreseeable canceled within the span of hours two weeks ago as bars and restaurants hurtled toward a state-ordered shutdown.
For gig workers — most of whom are considered self-employed, personal contractors — there was no immediate unemployment insurance. The valve of income simply closed.
"These moments teach us what we need," said Will Dailey, who had a tour of China and Japan, as well as shows he curates for Harpoon Brewery and Fenway Park, suspended indefinitely. "We need love. We need shelter. We need food. And we need the oil of human art. Everything else — like the stock market — is make believe. This too shall pass. The problem is that none of us know if the industry will exist the way it did before when it does."
To help that industry maintain some sense of itself during this unprecedented time, Dailey has begun a virtual "Isolation Tour" of Boston with "stops" benefiting Great Scott in Allston, the Paradise and Zumix in Boston, Atwood's Tavern, Club Passim, Plough & Stars, Toad and The Sinclair in Cambridge, and The Burren in Somerville.
His said his first three efforts raised a combined $4,400 for the clubs and their workers.
"It ensures that the culture is still there even if the club is not physically open," Dailey said. "How can I go back to these places after this is over, and they have been closed all this time, and ask for shows if I had not been there for them when they were closed?"
While touring artists can use their name and extensive following to help others, as well as themselves, local musicians who might make $150 on a Friday or Saturday night playing to 54-person capacity bar outside of Boston face the challenges of how to pay their own rent and credit card bills.
Amanda Cote, of Leominster, typically plays three or four shows a week in the Worcester and Fitchburg areas, as well as southern New Hampshire.
She admits the initial cancellations were "nothing short of devastating" but felt some relief when some friends from Worcester, Giuliano D'Orazio and Joshua Croke of "Action by Design" #LiveStreamLocal, reached out about being part of their livestream series.
"I instantly said" 'yes,'" said Cote, who played that show on March 19 and now is planning weekly shows on her own Facebook page. "Having several networks of fans and friends to work through was beyond helpful. I made a decent chunk of change and it certainly helped ease some of my own anxieties. I hope everyone that uses this method of 'playing out' for the time being can feel that sense of relief."
The state-mandated closure of bars and restaurants went into effect in the first minute of Saint Patrick's Day — one of the biggest business days of the year for many music venues in Massachusetts. In response, the popular Boston punk band Dropkick Murphys played a livestream "Streaming Up From Boston" for their Claddagh Fund that drew 5.7 million Facebook viewers. Many local musicians, such as Monica McNamara, of Fitchburg, sent out more intimate Irish messages of hope and comfort through posts on social media.
Dailey, who grew up in Andover, said he is looking to raffle off "Isolation Tour" merchandise, including signed tour posters, to help pay musicians from across the country who may virtually join him for shows. He said his advice for other livestreaming musicians is to keep whatever you are doing a passion project.
"Reach out to a local bar where you might play a lot," Dailey said. "Then have them reach out to their families and community, and promote it like a live show where they can hear an hour of music they would normally hear at that bar on a Friday night. Then maybe you can strike a deal where instead of you taking a cut, you tip them out to give back to their staff that is out of work. Keep it close to your heart."
The musicians said not only do the livestreams help them generate a touch of income, be creative and provide a sense of professional purpose, it also gives them fan feedback from those feeling their own sense of detachment.
"We are missing out on that connection when it's all about keeping your social distance," Janovitz said. "I am a pretty social person. When you do this you find you have this great family following you online. They get to laugh and sing along with you. I find my nerves before one of these shows are just like they are going live on stage. But it feels nice to be connected too.”
Janovitz said he went down "the rabbit hole" of audio technology trying to figure out how to best produce the livestream, and initially had an effort that sounded good on Facebook, but more like a "bad cassette tape" on YouTube. He said through trial-and-error he hopes to produce a quality weekly series for as long as it takes until things begin to return to normal.
Looks like we will exceed $4k for local venues and promoters. Next week, I’ll perform one again, but likely on FB and Periscope. https://t.co/fNuPcFt6Pm
— Bill Janovitz (@billjanovitz) March 22, 2020
"If we're locked in our houses anyway, there is not much we can do," he determined. "People love watching and listening to music. And there is something about watching something in real time — rather that post a video from some show a year ago — that makes it better. You know the people are out there, and see the comments, and feel connected for that two-hour show."
"We’re all aching for some semblance of normalcy," Cote agreed. "It warmed my heart to read all the comments from friends and fans about having their 'night out' with me playing music to them while they were in their own kitchen or living room."
In a time of need, resourceful musicians are finding creative ways to fulfill the needs of their fans, their friends and even themselves.
"It's one of the few things that a lot of musicians do consistently — raise money for causes and other people," Janovitz said. "This is something they can do now where they should not feel bad about raising a little money for themselves too."
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