REGION — For a gigging musician, having a performance get canceled can make it difficult to make it through the week. In the midst of this pandemic, area musicians don’t know when that next gig is going to come, leaving many incomes “decimated,” as performer and instructor Jason Merrill described his own.
Merrill makes his living performing throughout Northeast PA and Upstate New York, teaching lessons at the Black Bear Conservatory of Music in Hawley and as a caregiver. Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) hit the region, he’s lost the ability to do any of the three.
The musicians’ struggle to survive this pandemic is just one subset of “gig economy” workers, whose work has been “eroded” by the COVID-19 pandemic, as The New York Times described days ago. With nowhere to go but online, musicians like Merrill are using the internet to stay afloat in their homes.
Merrill “saw the writing on the wall” in mid-March and decided with his friend, Dan Barnes, to create a Facebook group for Wayne, Pike and Sullivan county musicians called W/P/S Co-Vids (home concert videos). The group serves as a place for now venue-less performers to stream live performances from their homes, post videos of past live shows and video blogs. About a week into the group’s creation, more than 300 people have joined. He also created a group, meant for a smaller audience, called Home Recordists and Collabs of W/P/S, for musicians who are using this time to make high-quality recordings.
“This is all stuff that in my opinion musicians should have been doing all along,” Merrill said.
One of the first people to use Merrill’s platform was Chris Raabe, who The River Reporter featured in its River Recordings series in October. As he explained in that profile, live performances are Raabe’s main livelihood.
“As a musician… I can’t think of a time where I’ve been fired from music,” Raabe said. “And that’s the closest thing to what it feels like; it feels like one day I could see my whole six months out, I could see my rent paid, my everything paid… then two days later seeing everything completely wiped out.”
Raabe wasted little time adjusting. Since the cancellations, he’s signed on 10 students whom he will teach guitar over Skype, he’s been paid to make videos of himself singing for people’s birthdays and anniversary celebrations and he’s started planning and promoting live stream videos the same way he used to regular gigs.
“I knew I wanted to do a live concert, but I wanted to do it in a way that was kind of more ordinary,” Raabe said. His first live stream show was last Friday evening when people would typically be leaving the house to go watch a show, Raabe said.
From getting local businesses to sponsor their live streams to accepting virtual tips through apps like Venmo and PayPal, Raabe and others have been able to make their online existence profitable. Both Raabe and Merrill see these online tools as valuable assets during and after this pandemic. Raabe described it as a “wave of a new lifestyle.”
“There’s absolutely nothing about the current situation, musically or societally, that we’re not going to be able to use later on,” Merrill said. “If we can set up the foundations right now in a time of need, then later we can build upon that.”
Merrill has been surprised by the response to the Facebook group, noting that even some of his less-than-tech-savvy peers have quickly adapted to this new virtual ecosystem. “Necessity is the mother of motivation in this case,” Merrill said.
This goes beyond making money, Raabe said. “I think people need music now more than ever.” Through the Facebook groups and live stream shows, Merrill hopes to maintain a sense of community and to bring some positivity into people’s homes.
“I’m going to be okay, but a lot of people aren’t going to be okay,” Merrill said. “This isn’t just for the musicians, this is for everybody.”
The River Reporter’s ticketing platform, My River Tickets, is another resource available to musicians. Performers can use the platform to promote their shows—virtual and otherwise—whether or not they plan to sell tickets. For more information, call Roger at 845/252-7414 ext. 130 or visit www.myrivertickets.com.