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Coronavirus closures push Baltimore musicians onto another stage: livestreams

After cancelling 27 shows and losing about $60,000 in revenue, the 8x10 in Federal Hill partnered with Mission Tix on a streaming concert series called We Put the “Us” in Virus.
After cancelling 27 shows and losing about $60,000 in revenue, the 8x10 in Federal Hill partnered with Mission Tix on a streaming concert series called We Put the “Us” in Virus. (Sam Friedman/Courtesy of The 8x10)

For DJs and other types of musicians, livestreaming sets isn’t all that novel. Fans can regularly see their favorite artists using live video options on social media platforms at a moment’s notice.

But now there’s a new urgency and importance to livestreams.

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As the coronavirus pandemic increasingly threatens Marylanders’ safety and Gov. Larry Hogan’s orders continue limiting non-essential businesses, Baltimore’s artists and venues have adapted livestreaming as a way to fill the void of postponed and canceled shows. It mirrors a trend nationwide of prominent DJs and producers like D-Nice, Swizz Beatz, Timbaland and others using livestreams and social media to stay engaged with fans.

DJ Lil’ Mic, a friend and mentee of D-Nice, had to adapt when a planned drive-in party of his at Carroll Park became untenable. Having appeared in one of D-Nice’s viral streams, he also got feedback from fans who wanted to see him do something similar. He took to Instagram last Sunday to livestream his own set, dubbed the Covid Lounge, and found a receptive audience.

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“People were able to virtually enjoy the experience: the music was there, there were comments, there was banter, jokes back and forth,” said DJ Lil’ Mic, whose real name is Michaeljohn Frierson. “There were people in there whose weddings I’ve done, old couples, new couples, a lot of people who know each other, a lot of people who don’t know each other ...”

For Endalkachew, who DJs throughout the region under his first name, Dagm, and lost gigs through May because of the pandemic, inspiration came from seeing other DJs post sets. He also saw an opportunity to break up the anxiety-provoking stream of coronavirus news on social media.

“It just started with me going on Facebook Live, really, with no plan at all...in less than five minutes, there’s 30 people, and in less than 10 minutes, there’s 50 people,” he said. “People are sharing it, and it’s being shared on pages, people are doing hosting parties, and a lot of people are commenting and asking for song requests. People are telling me how much they needed to hear this music and how it was really making their day.”

A commenter suggested he list his handle for Venmo, the money transfer app, so people could tip him. He did so, and ultimately made nearly $200 off of about three hours of music.

Dagm, a Baltimore-based DJ, performs live.
Dagm, a Baltimore-based DJ, performs live. (Brady Welch/Courtesy of Dagm)

While DJs’ often solitary performance and digitally transferable setups make livestreaming easier, artists of other genres and instruments have also embraced the format. Pasadena-based country music artist Brody Kean did a livestream last Sunday with PBR Baltimore, the country-focused bar in the Inner Harbor’s Power Plant Live. The first stream, part of a planned series billed “Acoustic Sundays," took place last weekend at PBR Baltimore. The venue plans to make this a recurring stream, and PBR Baltimore general manager Anthony Matteo also plans to make it a live series when the club eventually opens back up.

“It’s still giving people a sense of hope and freedom while we’re all stuck at home,” Kean said.

“One thing this experience has done is make people get creative with how they’re trying to broadcast and get their music out to everybody,” said Matteo, who also manages Power Plant Live’s Angel’s Rock Bar.

Other local venues have put their own spin on the concept. For instance, the Creative Alliance in Highlandtown put together a virtual dance party with prominent Baltimore club music DJ James Nasty. An Die Musik livestreamed a set by acclaimed vibraphonist Warren Wolf from the music organization’s Downtown/Mount Vernon space last weekend.

The 8x10 in Federal Hill took the concept even further. After cancelling 27 shows and losing about $60,000 in revenue, the venue partnered with Mission Tix on a streaming concert series called We Put the “Us” in Virus. Rock bands like Litz and Squaring the Circle have already performed sets from the venue’s stage, complete with multiple cameras, lights and sound mixing. With its ticketing partnership, the series gave fans the option to donate money to either the bands or the venue.

“The whole point is to give back to the community, give back to the people that’re all lost in this,” said 8x10 co-owner Brian Shupe.

Not everybody’s totally on board with this idea. Tecla Tesnau of the Ottobar said that her Charles Village venue is considering streaming options, but she has concerns.

“I don’t even know if it’s worth it for the artist,” she said, referencing the risk of proximity for artists and those working on the stream, as well as the relative quality of livestreams.

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Depending on the livestream platform (and many exist), certain kinds of livestreams can also get flagged for potential copyright violations. Dagm has experienced Facebook either taking down or muting portions of videos.

“We’re playing music that we didn’t play ourselves,” Dagm said. “If I were to play a mainstream song from the radio, my mix is going to be much more likely to be flagged and taken down.”

For artists like Dagm, Lil’ Mic and Kean, however, the situational benefits far outweigh the downsides. At the root of all of these efforts lies the desire to connect through art, even if social distancing keeps people from sustaining the local nightlife economy.

“If we can get people to come together and, through the comments section, feel a little like they’re at the 8x10, then we’ve done our job," Shupe said. "It’s just crazy right now.”

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