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Digital Busking: Local musicians scrambling for new revenue sources

Acton musician Matthew Bunt and his band Wicked Truth were close to completing a successful winter tour of Arizona and Florida when things started to tighten up. “The final show of the Florida leg of our tour was cancelled,” he said. “We left three weeks and six shows early. I don't think we quite understood the magnitude of the situation until we got back to Canada.”

While quarantining himself in his RV, Bunt found out that the Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival had been cancelled, a major seasonal event for his band. “Also, our big homecoming gig was supposed to be at the Black Wolf Smokehouse in Orangeville this weekend. Obviously that isn't going to happen. We're not sure when things will get back to normal but I'm not anticipating anytime soon.”

Some Help is Available for Musician/Contractors

Isolation means touring and performing musicians don't get paid. However, some relief may be available as CERB is offering $2,000 per month to contractors who have lost work due to COVID-19 and this should include musicians. As well, Music Together, a live streaming platform will pay artists $1,000 from CERB funds for a live-streamed concert.

To Live-stream or not to Live-stream

While bar and festival gigs drying up, blues guitarist Mike Branton of Oakville, sees some potential in live-streaming. ”I'm not sure if it's going to be the next thing or if it is already “the thing.” Livestream performance has been a popular thing for DJs, rappers and tech-savvy singer-songwriters since the demise of CD sales. It's a relatively inexpensive endeavour: you only need a solid connection, minimal sound and lighting, to put on a show that could potentially reach exponentially greater numbers of eyes and ears in the comfort of your own home, with your own sound system.”

Branton admits he's old school when it comes to live performances. “I like the amps cranked and clinking of glasses and people dancing to the music because I believe music is a vibrational thing. Maybe live-streaming won't replace festivals and big concert draws because it's a big money machine with big investors,” he added.

Branton is himself live-streaming these days on Facebook, presenting play-along solo concert jams that he invites viewers to join. “A friend of mine told me about 7 years ago, when I was buying a hi tech gadget with a built-in USB port, what the future of what I was doing would be (solo gig in a small club): my guitar going into an amp modelling system into the mixer, the mixer with my vocal mic going out with an 1/8 jack into my phone with a forward facing camera broadcast out into the internet,” he said.

“I didn't think about it again until the recent self-isolation found me doing exactly what he's definitely opened a lot of people's minds up to the notion that this is a viable alternative...If you have cultivated an audience there is potential to make way more money in one session than you would loading the van with amps and lights and fuel and food and beverages, it definitely has potential.”

Finally, Matthew Bunt offered some thoughts on the difficult times musicians and performers are facing. “The most important thing is to have other means to make a living available,” he said. “I have friends who are doing live-streams, giving lessons on-line, doing voice-over work, composing, sound mixing and engineering...these are great ways to keep money coming in when performance isn't an option. This will be a wake-up call for many, including myself.”


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