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Virtual becomes reality for Atlantic region's working musicians

Singer-songwriter Christina Martin is set to performe at the CIOE 97.5 FM East Coast Music Showcase concert taking place at Spatz Theatre on Saturday. Martin is part of a lineup that includes Dave Gunning, the Town Heroes, Lacewood, Elsie Morden, Owen (O'Sound) Lee and Shirley Jackson & Her Good Rockin' Daddys.
Christina Martin does offer music online, but she's also going to provide makeup tips. - Contributed

A quick glance at the list of tour dates on tells the story.

Friday, she and Dale Murray, her musical partner and husband, should have been gigging in Baiersbronn, Germany, promoting their recent album Wonderful Lie.

Needless to say, that and many other shows aren’t happening.

“We had 32 shows that we had to cancel; that’s between $17,000 and over $20,000,” Martin said during a phone interview.

“That’s about 20 grand we can no longer get that we were supposed to use to pay down debt and reinvest in your company and help you survive for the rest of the year.

“Our calendar was full up until mid-June and we're potentially looking to have to cancel all of our Canadian tour dates.”

Martin and Murray are self-isolating because they recently returned from Europe. She’d already planned a series of Facebook Live shows, when people can make Patreon-style donations if they like, but she’s been prompted to try something different next week by offering some remote beauty advice.

“I hope we can just have fun. I'm not an expert in makeup or skincare, other than being self-proclaimed because I am obsessed with it,” said Martin.

“I’m not claiming that it’s going to really teach anybody anything other than ‘let’s get together and have fun.’”

The low-key interactive tutorial was the idea of Side Door Access’s Laura Simpson. The Halifax company was already good at connecting musicians and artists in the real world, and coronavirus circumstances have shifted its focus.

“We act as a virtual booking agent. We’re like an Airbnb for people to create shows with available spaces for people using anything from a home to a community centre or whatever,” said Simpson during a phone interview.

“We can take that structure and apply it to an online experience, in a bit of a clunky way right now. We’re not in the business of streaming; that’s a different business. But we can provide, sort of, the window box to get people there.”

So, the Martin session Monday night will be a test. They’re going to limit it to 50 “attendees,” who will pay six bucks for a link that’ll be clickable at 8 p.m.

Simpson offered herself up as a virtual subject.

“I knew this about Christina, that she’s really great about taking care of herself, especially on the road, and I’m a bit of a mess when it comes to that sort of thing so I thought, ‘I can be her foil and she can try to give me a makeover virtually.’”

Simpson said they'll both be “in the middle of nowhere” (Simpson in Cape Breton, Martin in Port Howe) and connecting via a web conferencing app. 

Charlie A'Court is one of the musicians who's taken to offering his talents online. - Contributed
Charlie A'Court is one of the musicians who's taken to offering his talents online. - Contributed

Halifax-based musician Charlie A’Court has been using the social media platform Twitch for almost a year now, so he’s already up to speed with the technology.

“I suppose I have a bit of a jump on it, in that sense,” A’Court said by phone.

“It was my own personal circumstance that brought me to looking into streaming. I’d gone through a health problem of my own that meant I had to take some time off the road.

“I was really worried that, as an independent artist, I was staring at the end of my touring career and needed to find some other way that I could support my family.”

Encouraged by a friend to explore streaming his guitar and singing talents, he settled on Twitch. Known primarily as a site for video gamers, it’s broadened its user base.

“It’s live, it’s in the moment, people are sharing stories with me, so they’re having an influence on this winding river that is the broadcast,” A’Court said.

Twitch has elements similar to Patreon built into the platform that allow fans to financially support the streamer.

“It’s free to watch, but there are these mechanisms in place if you want to take it to the next level,” said A’Court.

“We’re all feeling it, on every level of the industry. For me, it’s been a safety net for my mental health but also to support my family to some extent.”

A’Court created a channel called CharliePlaysGuitars, where he performs his original music, as well as covers, a few times a week for followers around the world.

Simpson said artists and related businesses are in the same boat as many others, feeling their way through the early days of a new normal.

“We’re in the sandbox again in terms of our business,” she said.

“The reason for our business has not changed. We’re in the business of connecting people over art, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Martin sounded more than willing to try anything to keep from going stir crazy.

“I think everyone’s trying to come up with creative ways either to support each other or themselves to get through the months.”

However, she’s skeptical her makeup skills will lead to a new calling.

“I think it’s going to be sad if that happens.”

Jenn Grant announced she's taking requests for a Facebook and Instagram performance Saturday.
- DeeDee Morris - Contributed
Jenn Grant announced she's taking requests for a Facebook and Instagram performance Saturday. - DeeDee Morris - Contributed

Other online options

The Facebook-National Arts Centre Fund for Performing Artists will provide $100,000 in fees to support online performances through March 31 to help ease financial strain for those affected by the closure of performance venues across Canada related to COVID-19. 

Jim Cuddy kicked things off Thursday, and confirmed artists in the days ahead include Erin Costelo, Whitehorse, Irish Mythen and Serena Ryder. In addition to receiving a financial grant, selected artists’ performances will be shared on the NAC’s Facebook page and discoverable by searching #CanadaPerforms. 

In a period of five days, artists from across the country working in isolation during the global pandemic will perform a selection of works written, directed and performed in isolation. Viewers can donate to support the artists, many of whom have lost work.
Readings of the new scripts will be filmed, and the resulting video compilation will be released at on Saturday at 7 p.m.

Singer-songwriter Jenn Grant is doing an online concert Saturday at 8 p.m. on Facebook and Instagram Stories. She said on her Twitter account that anyone with “a super special child who needs a little shoutout with a song” should let her know.

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