Musicians consider different platforms as pandemic continues

Marty Ballentyne performs during the 2018 Pretty in Punk Music Fest at the Prince Albert Golf and Curling Club on September 1, 2018 (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

We are all making changes to our lives as COVID-19 continues to be a threat. Many businesses are taking a hit and that includes live music venues, as it would be very difficult to ensure social distancing in spaces meant for large gatherings and a lot of alcohol.

Live music is how some musicians make money and it’s also a way to promote new artists, something that Saskatchewan artist Michael “Kross” LePage has been doing. Lepage had seven live shows planned this year for himself and his team of musicians under the name Pro Revolution Productions, which has 13 artists including LePage. 

Pro Revolution Productions describes itself as a Saskatchewan-based Indigenous and Métis independent music platform. Their Facebook page lists their hometown as Saskatoon, Prince Albert, Lac la Ronge, Sandy Bay, Thunderchild First Nation and Regina.

It looks like there may not be any concerts or other live shows for the rest of the year and LePage is looking for different ways to promote his artists as he tries to beat this obstacle.

“Some are okay about it because they already had jitters about it, being on stage,” LePage said of his team dealing with the lack of live music venues. “But the other half is like, “ugh, how long do we have to wait?” But I’ve also been trying to think about other ways to do showcases, like not with people but in empty venues… but I think we’re going to try to do more music videos.”

Music videos used to be quite popular with MTV and Much Music, but with the rise of YouTube and streaming apps, these stations turned to other types of media and less focus was put into music videos as there was just less interest in watching a video. 

But with the current restrictions on large gatherings, big-name musicians have been live streaming ‘concerts’ from their own homes, so viewers can still have the option of watching their favourite artist without putting themselves at risk.

However, a musician with a large following is likely to have people tune into a live stream, new and local musicians don’t have such a fan base and live shows is generally how they promote themselves. 

“With music videos you can make maybe two within a month, if you go h,ard.” LePage said. “But as with the team, Pro Revolution, there’s 13 artists, right. And out of the 13, four are in teams like duos. So, to like, kind of structure everybody’s video, it’s a very hard thing to do right off the bat. ‘Cause everyone wants to do a music video and we’re just starting to progress at that… because we don’t know how to make the music videos, but we know how to edit… so we have to learn how to do it on our own.”

The idea of filming any kind of video seems a bit easy at first, but then you realize there’s more to it than just filming and releasing. There’s pre-production, this is the planning phase. Videos are rarely filmed in the order that you see. They tend to be filmed in an order that’s most convenient for locations, editing, wardrobe or other factors. Also, in pre-production is scriptwriting, shot list, wardrobe, locations, budget, actors, or dancers, and more.

Then there’s production, which is the filming phase.

And then post-production, which is editing, syncing music, effects or CGI is it’s a bigger project.

Videos for A-list musicians can range in hundred of thousands of dollars just for a few minutes (it’s easy to see how movies cost tens of millions), but with compact cameras becoming more affordable and able to shoot in high definition and even ultra high definition and with a few camera tricks, decent videos can be made on a modest budget, and a music video has the ability to reach a larger audience than one venue. And there’s no way to know how this pandemic will affect the future of live music.

“It’s not knowing that it’s going to be changed, it is changed,” LePage says of the future of live music. “It’s going to be very different in the upcoming months and years in how shows will be. Because for a lot of artists that’s their money. Not our label, but there are a lot of artists that are actually established, that are known, that are getting pushed out there… all of them are going to take the hit… it’s a sad thing, but this is the new world.”

An aspect of going digital is learning how to get the word out about videos or live streamed shows without the use of posters or word-of-mouth as well as learning how to create a digital presence that stands out among the others.

“There’s a market in it,” LePage says. “It’s just going to take a while to figure out how to do it right, instead of doing it just because we want to make money. I think it’s more of trying to figure out how to stand on our own, because it’s new. Just like three months ago we were like, “okay, we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do that.” And we were doing it, getting it all done and then boom! COVID happened… on a computer it’s kind of hard to rap when you’ve got a kid, you know I mean. It’s not hard, it’s figuring it out, that’s the thing.”

Although the future seems to be taking a more digital turn, there’s a learning curve for people who are just starting to create a digital presence. Things that may stand out to kids who grew up in the 90s may not appeal to those who grew up on the 2000s or 2010s and new apps continue to pop up and suddenly take the world by storm, then being forgotten about once the appeal goes away. Digital is not a platform that is taken easily, as many new content creators can probably attest to, it’s difficult to grab someone’s attention and keep it for the duration of your project. And many links can go unclicked before one finally gets some attention. 

We’re only a couple of months into the pandemic and already there are people talking about how they miss seeing live shows and that they can’t wait until they can finally meet their friends and hear some of their favourite music played through some loud speakers, as for many live music lovers, it’s not as much about the music as it is about the experience of a concert or a live show and it’s the same for musicians, who can’t wait until they can feel the energy of a crowd again.

“I would definitely appreciate going to shows and seeing the pop of the crowd,” LePage says. ”’Cause the pop of the crowd is gonna be more worth it now than it was months ago… the pop of the crowd is the main thing that is gonna be glorious. Yeah, that’s gonna be the most glorious thing for any artist, even if there’s only 4 people in that crowd. ‘Cause like, just being back on stage and knowing that you’re free again… it’s gonna be glorious.”

Most artists who do live shows, even comedians, have expressed how doing a show in front of just a sole camera is not the same as in front of a crowd, as the energy of a room full of people can be quite addicting.

The future of live venues could be a lot different, or it could go back to being how it always was. But one thing that seems for certain, is your favourite artist will appreciate their first live show back more than you will appreciate seeing them live again.