Making Music During the Pandemic

Jan 13, 2021

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How Midwestern musicians are surviving the pandemic, and how the industry will change. Song Show host Brick Briscoe gives his predictions.

As part of our ongoing coverage COVID Between the CoastsWNIN's Steve Burger talked with Song Show host Brick Briscoe on how professional musicians are managing their careers when they can't play live events. One thing is clear, recording collaborations will never be the same. Here is a transcript:

Burger: You mentioned that the industry is driven by optimism, but yet optimism is nowhere to be found right now.

Briscoe: Yeah. Well the optimism is the real optimism is that a guy or gal is setting at home and wrote a song, figured out how they can record it on their own, work their butt off on it. And also they've got this great thing to share it to the world. The pessimism is there's so much noise because everybody and their brother's doing the same thing every day and your have to cut through that noise to get that heard by anybody other than your close friends and to get the publicity you need. You have to have a little bit of money to pay a publicist or you have to be really good at social media to stand out to get anybody to hear what you do. So that's the pessimism the wheels of the industry are still chugging but those wheels take some grease and grease in this instance is money.

Burger: Is there a Midwestern vibe about the pandemic?

Briscoe: Yeah, I would say, you know as midwesterners we're very pragmatic and we're hard-working and we're loyal and the artists I've spoken to people in the business. I've spoken to that our Midwestern tend to be people who have discovered that the work has to continue if you're going to make a go of this during the pandemic and you've got to be able to figure out how to work within that system of people you already knew and that's helping people like myself, Steffi Horning, Monte Skelton, those people who developed nice networks of regional folks that you can pull on and say hey I'm going to send you all these tracks put them in your system and you play saxophone on and send back to me we're finding ways to make that all work. The big problem is that because we're sort of flyover country except for in Chicago and Minneapolis. Maybe it's hard to still break into that system that is controlled mostly in Nashville and New York and Los Angeles and London etc. And we're having to pull on these grassroots strings even more. So because of the pandemic you would think with the internet that you know, automatically you're a national artists and it's just not the case. It's not that easy to get popular in Brussels, you know from from Indiana or Illinois. It's still easier to kind of coordinate through Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, people you know within a couple hundred miles of you who've seen you before.

Burger: Something you just said, can you walk me through how you record a song and arrange it during the time of COVID?

Briscoe: Yeah. Absolutely, you know just I'm going to use myself as an example if that's okay, but everybody's doing this. I have a recording system at home, you know based on certain software. So I record a bunch of tracks. I put them in a file on Dropbox call up a buddy of mine who's a drummer in Philadelphia and I say hey, will you download these put them in your system play it send it all back to me the same way. I sent it to you with your part in it. So they do their drum parts and send it back to me. I mix and say oh gosh, I'd really like to get that sax player I met in New York and I call him up and I say I'm sending you this file. Will you play it and he says absolutely I'm not doing anything right now. Let's do it and he plays it same way sends it back to you via Dropbox. I can't tell you how many gigabytes of Dropbox imust be being burned right now at this very second by people doing that. I've got a guy from Ireland working on a song of mine, you know, it's just how it works right now. And what's interesting I never would have been able to to meet any of these people in the same way because they would have been too busy out running around but now they're all sitting around home not doing anything you call up this somewhat well-known person in Belfast and you say hey will you play sax on this? Yeah. Why not? What am I doing? You know, so they do it and they send it back and most of the time they just want you know mention on it and that's a bonus. That's a beautiful bonus, but we're still faced with the same situation of getting the stuff out and out in the public. Does that make sense when I said?

Burger: Yeah, but why wouldn't that carry over after the pandemic is over. Wouldn't you keep doing that?

Briscoe: It absolutely will. There are software and I'm sorry, I can't think what it is. But there's some software companies who are developing this to be even better. So it's you can actually flip up on a screen like this and Zoom or some other program and we can actually be working live, you know, the problem is still lag and and things like that and technical glitches, but that's just being refined where you can do that. You've always been able to do it but we've just never been able to do it at the higher quality and now it's getting really close. And so economically that's going to be better. But you know still the kid in Fort Wayne is still going to have trouble getting Mick Jagger to sing backup on a song, you know, you're still going to have to figure out how to network. But you might be able to get somebody on the Rolling Stones record that you see is a session man to want to sit in with you, you know, so yeah, it's opening things up that way. That's a beautiful thing to try to communicate with somebody in Bordeaux to do your baseline and then they send it back and you can create this bigger relationship with a market that you didn't have because all of a sudden he's going to tell everybody in Bordeaux, "Hey, I worked with this guy in Fort Wayne and it's really cool." It's like a gift every time it happens because you send them what you've worked really hard on. They spend a couple of days on and they send it back to you and it's like, oh my god. I've opened this incredible gift and they've sent you several different choices. They play it all these ways and you can decide what to do with it and that's a beautiful thing but it's still not the same as sitting in the room with them and having that great vibe thing that happens in the sweat flowing and you know, it's just just not the same.

Burger: Yeah, I would say that why would you want that to go away? I understand that the ultimate experience and that the best stuff comes from playing together live, but you're talking about something you can do for a few dollars as opposed to something that costs tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to do to fly in these people from all over the world to rent a studio and in record something.

Briscoe: So that's exactly right in a weird way and you know and you'll see this in my show when it when it gets done is we feel a lot more connected as musicians, but we still feel kind of alienated from the rest of the world. I think as artists we feel like we're getting a lot done and we feel like, you know, we're kind of breaking new ground and we're like I said trying to reinvent ourselves constantly, and we're getting to do that, but the wheels of motion of getting this stuff publicized and in the right hands is very difficult right now. If not impossible.