OSWEGO — Singer/songwriter Mike Place is still getting a feel for what he calls “the new paradigm.”
With bars and restaurants no longer allowing sit-down dinner service, Place and other local musicians are finding ways to cope with the changes. Some have taken their concerts online in search of tips, while others are waiting it out.
Although the experience was “a little strange,” Place was heartened by the amount of people tuning in for his live-streamed performances on Facebook Live.
“I’m the kind of person that when I’m playing, a lot of it is the back-and-forth between myself and the audience,” Place told The Palladium-Times. “I was able to accomplish that a little bit with the three or four people in the room (at GS Steamers Thursday), but … I’m going to try and do this from my house moving forward. So it’s just going to be me.
“I’m wondering how that energy is going to hold up. I’m sure I’ll get some chuckles from the comments and the requests and everything, but it’s going to be weird just doing it sitting here by myself.”
Fellow full-time musician Cam Caruso is used to one to three gigs per week this time of year, and that number usually ramps up in the summer. Instead, he’s started to stream live from his Facebook page.
Like Place, he puts out a “virtual tip jar” in hopes people contribute via PayPal, Venmo or other apps.
“It’s very tricky, because a lot of musicians will say the same thing: they like to feed off that energy you get from a live audience,” Caruso said. “So if the crowd is kind of a dud, that might reflect how you perform. The energy just isn’t as great. So trying to maintain a positive energy when I’m in a room by myself with the only reaction being comments or likes or hearts? It’s tricky, for sure.
“The positivity makes all the difference in the world.”
John McConnell, another local musician, said he is considering streaming, but isn’t a fan of how it sounds or looks. Instead, he may team up with his girlfriend, a yoga instructor, for a yoga/music stream like the two have done before in live settings.
For now, McConnell — who has been a full-time musician since 2013 — can get by financially.
“I have a rainy day fund that I’m trying to avoid delving into here,” McConnell said. “I do have some resources to get me through for a while, but for months and months? I’m definitely a little worried.”
While each musician had heard of the coronavirus and was preparing for at least a slowdown in shows, none expected a complete shutdown on such short notice. Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered all bars, restaurants, gyms, casinos and theaters to close as of 8 p.m. on March 16 until further notice.
“It didn’t seem as if we were going to go into this kind of a lockdown so quickly,” Place said. “I didn’t really prepare for what was the inevitable outcome here. Luckily, I, just as a general rule, was prepared for cancelations and such. That’s the nature of this business — anything can happen. Places close, there’s double-bookings and things like that.
“I’m prepared on a general basis, but not to have all of it go away.”
Place pointed out not only are musicians affected now, but many others are out of work and bars and restaurants are being hit hard.
“It’s going to start to get thin all the way around,” Place said. “I’m hoping these small business — bars, restaurants and things like that — are going to be able to bounce back.”
The closures have also created a hole in the amateur scene. Tim Nekritz, the director of news and media at SUNY Oswego who also participates in the open mic night at Old City Hall, has started streaming online but realizes it’s just not the same.
“I feel a lot more for people who do this for a living as opposed to those of us who do it as a hobby,” Nekritz said. “At the same time, it’s a community. … I miss playing songs, but I really miss the people. You see people on a weekly basis, you see what they’re doing and talk about how are things, the kids, whatever it is.
“That’s what I miss as much as the music, if not moreso.”
Like anyone else, musicians have more time on their hands as they are directed to spend more time at home. Caruso is determined to be productive with the time away from the stage.
“The main thing, which everyone in any sort of industry needs to focus on, is staying positive and staying healthy and take advantage of the time to do something to elevate yourself when the time is right to go out again,” Caruso said. “That might be writing songs, learning new songs, whatever.”