Livestreaming in the Age of Quarantine

Austin musicians “going live” instead of playing live

Having their public gigs wiped from the books by coronavirus, Austin musicians are now “going live” instead of playing live.

DJ Mel, during his Living Room Dance Party on Saturday.

The online livestreaming of performances, long an unexplored opportunity for many local artists, has become the go-to move after the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the city to push pause on concerts. Any night this week on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitch, you’ll find dozens of Austin musicians playing in living rooms, studios, practice spaces, or empty venues, ranging from multi-cam setups to an iPhone propped up on a beer can. Meanwhile several websites, like Cabin Fever Tunes and the House Concert Hosts Consortium, have launched as a local directory.

Last Saturday, preeminent Austin selector DJ Mel demonstrated peak engagement of quarantine livestreaming with the debut of his Living Room Dance Party, which drew hundreds of thousands of viewers over six hours.

“What started off as a little dance party for my friends in Austin, Texas, morphed into this global dance party,” the DJ, a.k.a. Mel Cavaricci, mused in a followup video. “Who would have thought?”

Cavaricci returns to the decks this Saturday, 6-10pm.

On Sunday, pan-Latin pop favorite Gina Chavez told Facebook Live viewers: “I think it’s really important that we don’t go out – that’s why I’m doing these livestreams.”

On her Social Distancing Sundays, Chavez is taking requests and accepts tips via her Venmo. While concert promoters in Austin have yet to find a viable way to sell livestreaming, artists use it as a virtual tip bucket. A fruitful session could equate to the payment for a venue gig.

Mbira player Joel Laviolette, of Rattletree, goes live on either Facebook, Youtube, or Twitch almost everyday from his studio at Mosaic Sound Collective, demonstrating production techniques, answering questions, and generally trying to get people enchanted with the African thumb piano. Last Monday was the first time he posted his PayPal and he accrued $50 in tips.

“You’re being authentic and if you’re connecting with people, they may want to tip,” he explains. “Right now, people are asking, ‘How can I financially support you?’”

Having himself lost a spring and summer’s worth of gigs over COVID-19 spread, Laviolette sees equally economically hammered musicians gravitating towards streaming.

“It’s happening now more than ever,” he says. “This situation has made livestreaming part of the consciousness for everybody. Everyone is either doing or wants to know how to do it.”

Streaming’s already been part of Jackie Venson’s artistic toolbox – going live on Facebook while taking Venmo donations or giving exclusive performances for her Patreon subscribers. Now that all musicians are “chilling at home,” she identifies a moment for livestreaming.

“We musicians that stream – we have the world by the balls right now,” she told the Chronicle. “We’re the only entertainment available. There is limitless opportunity in that.

“We don’t even have sports. The only thing that could compare to entertainment value is sports. Sports is even bigger than music, I think, and those people don’t have anything to watch right now. The opportunity is intense right now for livestreaming. My brain has been going nuts.”

The extemporaneousness and intimacy of recent no-audience livestreams can feel almost voyeuristic.

On Sunday, after a performance at Radio Coffee & Beer got canceled, a stripped-down version of Kelsey Wilson’s Sir Woman livestreamed from what she described as “a vibey-ass room with candles.” They took requests, including a magnificent “High Road,” taught guitar chords to commenters, and remotely split-screened in the group’s backup singers – the sync delay causing a rhythmic trainwreck. That informality only made it more interesting.

Austin’s Star Parks shined bright on a March 14 multi-act livestream from Scholz Garten, showcasing the thoughtful and despairing orchestral pop of recent LP New Sounds of Late Capitalism. From the comments, it’s clear the band won new fans, but singer Andy Bianculli – ever the cynic and unimpressed with online culture – isn’t overly enthusiastic about the Austin’s livestreaming moment.

“I don’t really feel like anyone needs to hear me sing that badly,” he scoffs. “Let’s say this goes on for a month and you can’t see bands, who would you want to see? ’Cause I can’t think of anyone offhand… a local band that’s gonna save me. The desire to see some people, for joy and humanity is necessary, right? But it feels like we’re so overwhelmed so the quiet is kinda fuckin’ nice. Maybe we’ll appreciate [musical performances] more when they come back.”

That being said, the singer/guitarist says he’d be open to doing another livestream during the live music blackout, but he’d be more interested in collaborating with other quarantined musicians or finding a new way to present livestreamed music.

“I want to see who can step it up, who can do that in the most entertaining way,” he offers. “That might be a really cool, weird, competitive thing – artistically and creatively. Because just a camera and someone singing is great right now, but I think when everyone’s doing that we’re gonna have to figure something else out.”

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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Coronavirus, DJ Mel, Sir Woman, Kelsey Wilson, Jackie Venson, .Gina Chavez, Andy Bianculli, Star Parks, Rattletree, Joel Laviolette, COVID-19

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