BY LYDIA RIVERS
ART BY TIANA GREENE
With shows indefinitely cancelled, artists are working to adapt to the rapidly changing reality of releasing music and earning a living as an artist with the sudden and inevitable rise of digital platforms.
“It’s changed the whole landscape of what we’re doing right now,” said Rob Wilcox, the promotions director of Polyvinyl Records. “There’s such a large component to music that is reliant on people being connected, and there are only so many ways in which you can be creative to try and replace that.”
There isn’t a way to truly recreate a live in-person experience, but artists are constantly coming up with new ways of sharing their music and themselves online. The new way of staying connected has become live streaming music, whether it’s through social media platforms or through games like Minecraft or Fortnite.
“I know there’s some cool stuff that’s come out of it as far as just the ways people have had to adapt,” said Roddy Gadeberg, the lead of Minneapolis three-piece band niiice. “The Instagram live streams and stuff is like definitely something I do a lot. You gotta find ways to let people know you’re still grinding.”
The band is planning on releasing their album this summer, and are using Instagram live streams to stay connected with their audience in the wake of their cancelled tour.
“Before this happened, how often were people going live on Instagram playing their music?” said Jessica Mindrum, who runs the social media for Audiotree. “You’re accessing so many different people from so many different countries and time zones because you’re playing on an app rather than in a physical time and space. So for artists, I think that can be a really cool thing.”
Audiotree has been co-live streaming with artists on their Instagram account nearly every day since March 30, reaching up to 2500 viewers per stream in the 24 hours they are viewable. Although the meaning of “live” has changed, the Chicago-based artist discovery platform has been able to use live streaming to work to promote artists online.
“We’re hoping that whenever things go back to normal this just becomes a part of the promo package for an artist,” said Mindrum. “The same sort of thing like when you get your press shot, you get your branding, but you also get videos of you performing live.”
With the changing standards of promoting music and the increased social media presence that artists are now expected to maintain, there is a more careful cultivation of their image online. Beyond live streaming, many creators are starting their own Youtube channels, putting out IGTV series, participating in AMAs on Reddit, or creating virtual tours. By the nature of putting out more content online, musicians are working to shape stronger communities for themselves and their listeners by creating a more authentic, fleshed out digital version of themselves.
“From a promotion standpoint, I think it really does put a little bit more of that power back into the hands of the artists to decide how they want to present themselves to the world,” said Rob Wilcox. “Right now, so much of promotion relies solely upon social media platforms.”
However, live streaming hasn’t been able to generate the income that touring does.Listeners are trying to support their favorite artists by buying merchandise and vinyls, but the sales are a short-term solution for a long-term problem in an industry nearly fully-dependent on live-performances.
“Artists are just naturally making less and less money off of physical sales because of streaming and things like that,” said Wilcox. “Whereas a stream of a record will only pay out fractions of pennies, an artist can sell a record to a fan and make 12 bucks. An artist typically ends up making a lot of their money by touring and being on the road.”
Regardless of when live shows resume, the impact of the coronavirus on the music industry has brought about a new place for digital platforms in the music industry while showing that there needs to be a stronger digital economic system in place for artists to continue to sustainably create music and earn a living.
“It’s more crucial now than ever, to value art over commerce,” said Wilcox. “If you truly want to support an artist, you should go out there and you should buy their album. Until the day comes that the power imbalance is corrected between those who are in power that decide what an artist gets paid for their art and the artist, it really comes down to the people to rise up and try and create that change.”