Musicians move their shows online, but it's not a living

Twin Cities musicians are streaming concerts, but don't expect the money they receive to match what they used to make at live shows.

A woman and man perform a concert on a live video stream.
Accordion player Dan "Daddy Squeeze" Newton performs a live concert on Facebook with his wife and manager Elizabeth Rowan. Newton says his first two live-streamed concerts drew 800 and 600 viewers, respectively.
Screen capture via Facebook

If this were a normal week, Jake Ilika would be spending his nights and weekends with his bandmates, performing at local breweries and restaurants.

This isn’t a normal week, and all the breweries and restaurants are closed to in-house seating.

Ilika said he’s out about $1,200 a month from lost gigs, but he still has his day job. Not so for some of the members of the three bands he plays with.

"Some of the guys in the bands are still sitting on a safety fund, or have saved up or have a part-time job or full-time job,” he said. “But there's a couple of them that do it just full time. And so I said, ‘I'd love to help you guys out if I could.’ And they're willing. So that's how I'm doing it."

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Over the course of the first week, Ilika livestreamed five half-hour concerts from home. He said he took in about $450 in tips – which viewers send to him via PayPal or Venmo. He split the money among three bandmates. It’s a drop in the bucket, he said, but it’s what he can do to help. If his friends get to a point where they’re stable, he plans to donate what he makes to the Twin Cities Music Community Trust, which helps musicians in need.

A man stands in front of brewery equipment with a guitar and microphone.
Jake Ilika streams a show from an empty Invictus Brewery Wednesday, March 25. He has been streaming half-hour shows from his home to raise money for bandmates who don't have other sources of income.
Screen capture via Facebook

Dan Newton has had a bit more luck, in part because he’s been playing in the Twin Cities for 40 years now. Newton normally plays 10 to 12 shows a week. He said as the reality of the coronavirus reached the Twin Cities, the bookings just disappeared.

"I've actually had people calling me canceling things as far out as May, June and even into September. And so it affects me in a big way because that's my living,” he said. “And my wife manages my business. And that's what we do.”

Newton doesn’t mind having more free time, but he realized that after so many years of performing, he couldn’t just stop. He’s now performing two livestream concerts on Facebook each week, plus a couple of pop-up performances whenever he feels inspired. The results, he said, have been fantastic.

“I'm used to audiences just from the Twin Cities and some venues … 30 or 40 is a big crowd,” he said. “Sometimes it's more like 90 to 100. But I've had 800 hundred and 600 hundred people watching my livestream on these last two.”

And many of the people watching have been generous with their tips. He said those two livestreamed concerts have been a couple of the better paying gigs he’s had in the past few years. He thinks people want to help in whatever way they can.

“People are just really in need of community and that's what this does,” Newton said. “In a small way it replaces that live gig experience. Even though we're not all in the same room together, we're all doing the same thing together and we're commenting and it gives us a chance to feel like we're a part of a community.”

While his first online shows were a success, Newton has no expectation that they will continue to generate as much revenue in the coming weeks. There’s simply too much competition as other musicians move their performances online. People now have access to free living room concerts by John Legend, Rufus Wainwright and Elton John. But Newton said he’ll keep playing, regardless.

"It is my financial living, but it's really not all about money. It's more, even more. So if the money dries up, I'm going to continue doing it because we all just need that connection and that community feeling."