As an eighth-grader, Justin Larkin’s passion for skateboarding was abruptly interrupted when he was hit by a truck. During a long recuperation, he taught himself to play guitar, and the instrument became his longtime passion.
“Getting hit by a truck was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Larkin said, with a wry smile.
Now, in March 2020, he’s experiencing another passion-smashing event.
“So I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck all over again,” he said, as concerns about the COVID-19 virus have shuttered bars, restaurants and other unessential facilities in Springfield.
This time, Larkin said he’s finding ways to keep making music and a little money, such as writing personalized songs for special occasions and offering new songs on Bandcamp. He has a small nest egg, but he’s aware that he can’t carry on this way very long, especially if the “gig ban” continues for a long time.
Discussions with 10 sources revealed a variety of ways local musicians are coping in the COVID-19 era.
Lost gigs, lost income
For some, music was a primary source of income in 2019. Larkin, who works solo and with many other players in town, said he worked in music totally except for two shifts as a waiter. One of the foremost artists in the city, Molly Healey, said she had 85 percent of her income from music, and the rest from waiting tables. Each noted that restaurants are not serving inside now.
In contrast, Barak Hill, a singer-songwriter, said his work in music was 50 percent of his income, and he originally thought this year would be even better. Andy Havens said he had 40 percent of his income from music last year.
Johnny Strickler said his income was totally music-related in 2019: one-third from performing and two-thirds from teaching. For 2020, he doesn’t expect much from playing. The other musicians interviewed had the same outlook for live shows.
“It’s looking very much like the only thing that will remain is online lessons, and that’s up to whether the parents will continue to afford that for their children,” said Healey, who offers one-on-one teaching.
Ingenuity, backup plans
Healey said she has been looking into live streaming performances and is pushing her albums online.
“I’m encouraging people to, rather than stream through Spotify, go online and buy the album, especially on a platform like Bandcamp where they can go and pay what they choose.”
Strickler is creating videos for his students at Missouri State and Drury universities and Ozarks Technical Community College. He’s still working with six or seven children at the Boys and Girls Club, he said.
Three singer-songwriters, Andy Havens, Brett Miller and Larkin, among others, have discarded live release events and have focused on releasing singles; or in Miller’s case, offering the whole album in early April. Havens uses his website; Miller and Larkin use Bandcamp.
Eddie Gumucio, organizer of the annual festival Queen City Shout, has established an open Facebook group — Queen City Shout (Quarantine Open Mic) — in which local musicians can sign up to play live streaming in 30-minute increments daily, 5 p.m.-midnight, and anyone can listen. Gumucio started the open mic on Thursday, March 19, as a way for the community to connect during this time of isolation. A musician may use a cash account for tips during the show. The group, a work in progress, had 1,200 musicians and followers by the end of the second day, he said.
Streaming from home is another option. Earlier in March, Hill’s two regular gigs were canceled, and on Sunday, March 15, in direct response to the gig ban, he created a live-streaming show in his home. He recollected: “I still want to play music for people, so I’m going to see if anyone will tune in to this.”
“I put up a PayPal link and called it a virtual tip jar. I really didn’t expect that. I thought it would be a way to interact with the fans and stay in front of them so people don’t forget me,” he said. “Sunday (March 15) people were very generous, and I was blown away. It was more than I expected. And I don’t foresee all of them (Sundays) being that way. I’ll try to do this every Sunday.”
Larkin has been providing suggestions for songwriting, using his home studio to flesh out demos and make records for friends.
Healey said she’s working on live streaming in her home and at The Acoustic Shoppe; however, she’s concerned that the tool may become saturated.
Streaming for musicians
Two operations in Springfield are working in different ways to provide a platform for presenting live-streamed music and a way for musicians to be paid.
The Acoustic Shoppe has television experience with KOZL and elsewhere.
The shop invites bands to use its studio at no charge. A crew of three technicians films the performance, and the shop arranges for purchases of merchandise at the store.
“It’s our way of supporting local musicians, knowing that their income has to be supplemented because live performances are down,” said Alex Clayton at the shop.
Healey performed the first “virtual concert,” on Friday (March 20), and she reported that the concert was a success.
Among the artists to be scheduled are Jin J. X, The Petersens, Izabel Crane, Brian Bulger, Hudson Freeman and Joe Dillstrom.
Jeremy Chapman, one of the owners, said they want to support musicians in many ways. “We are using our full audio and video production equipment that we use for our TV show ‘The Ozark Music Shoppe,’ to live stream.”
“We’ll keep doing this as long as the ban is on,” he said. “We know there are a lot of artists in town, and this could last for two-three months. … We’ll help them get through.”
Meanwhile, a partnership of three entities is working on a television-like plan: The Dirty Saints, the popular cover band; The Riff with quality audio and venue; and Sunset Strip Productions for webcast capabilities and multiple-camera synching, said Rus Weatherby of The Dirty Saints.
Several weeks ago, they saw the need for a new model of musical performance in Springfield, he said — something that could be assembled quickly, that musicians would feel connected with.
The Riff was a perfect venue, with its reputation for supporting the community, as well as its excellent sound engineering and experience in webcast. Sunset Strip Productions works with numerous cameras at the same time, Weatherby said.
Beyond the technological matters, Weatherby put forth a model for sustaining live-streaming performances for which musicians would be paid. Performances would be free to viewers. Sponsors would buy ads that would be placed during the show. Ads would compensate musicians.
“We knew that there would be a definitive need, and as one of the more visible bands, we wanted to help, perhaps blaze a trail and help all our friends,” Weatherby said.
Self-care and lifting others
Several musicians have been looking on the bright side of life, and many are giving back in various ways.
“That whole element of reaching out to people is indefinitely suspended,” said Larkin. “That’s causing me to re-analyze my approach to making a living in the arts, which I will continue to do — find a way to make it work. But it’s going to be pretty lean times coming up.”
Stickler said musicians currently are in uncharted territory, but predicts better days ahead. “Once people can get out again, there will be a surge in music and restaurants and bars.”
Havens suggested take advantage of the isolation: “Use this time to be introspective and create our new music and develop our musicianship. So when we come out on the other side, we’ll have fresh material. … Look at the bright side, or you’ll never get through it.”
Others are directing energy into efforts that support others.
Hill said he’s making a recording of local musicians available free, only with a carryout order from venues that have supported live music and are now trying to get by on take-out orders. Hill and his friends are trying to stay positive. “It’s hard on us, it’s hard on the venues. If we all get through it, we can recover. It’s easy to get really run down about it. We’re trying to find things to work on.”
Another effort to watch is the Springfield Virtual Music Festival, a show on Friday evening, April 17, from the Gillioz Theatre, that will benefit local food banks. Jason Wert, publisher/editor of Ozarks Independent, is organizing the project, which will feature popular local acts. More details will come soon.
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