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Pandemic forces music industry to hit new notes

Musicians turn to virtual performances and commissioned songs for income

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As the coronavirus pandemic stretches into June, local music industry professionals are seeking new ways to connect with audiences and help one another in the process.

Virtual performances on Facebook Live and YouTube are ways musicians are maintaining relevance in lieu of in-person concerts. Eddie Gumucio, a Springfield musician and educator, turned to Facebook as a way to help his fellow artists. Dubbed the Queen City Shout (Open Mic), Gumucio started the public Facebook group with livestreamed music performances and virtual tip jars through PayPal and Venmo.

The group, named after the city’s annual Queen City Shout music festival, amassed around 1,000 members within 48 hours of Gumucio creating it March 19. It now has nearly 6,200 members.

“I never thought it would get as big as it has,” he said, noting he’s uncertain how much the musicians have received, as all donations are made privately. “It just felt like the right thing to do.”

Roughly 100 musicians, including around 30 on a regular basis, have performed in the online open-mic sessions. They’re not all local, as Gumucio said some hail from Alabama, Minnesota and New York.

Professional pivot
Justin Larkin is one of the Springfield musicians who has performed live through the Facebook group. The singer-songwriter has played professionally since 2009 and was performing several times a week earlier this year at area venues, such as 4 by 4 Brewing Co. and Pappo’s Pizzeria.

Larkin estimates he’s lost nearly $10,000 in canceled shows since mid-March.

“I could crunch numbers, but the task itself seems nauseating to even think about,” Larkin said, adding he’s collecting some pandemic unemployment assistance after being laid off from a part-time job at Hy-Vee. “I’m open to any kind of work I can get playing music right now.”

Larkin said he immediately knew he needed to start virtual performances. But it’s a crowded landscape.

“I haven’t cracked that code yet, to be honest, about how to break through that noise. Everybody’s doing that now,” he said.

Songwriting commissions also have been a source of extra money for Larkin. He’s completed four songs and is working on three more, ranging from $250-$500 per song.

“It encouraged me to set up my home studio and recording system,” he said.

He’s written songs marking a couple’s wedding anniversary and one centered around actor and Missouri State University graduate John Goodman.

Concert cancellations don’t only impact the musicians but also sound engineers, technicians, venues and promoters, said Matt Baker, president of the Springfield Area Music Industry. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit, founded in 2018 by Baker, Robert Voss and Justin Medley, promotes and supports the local music industry. Some of the support is financial, such as helping a music industry professional with medical bills.

In mid-March, the organization set up a solidarity fund and Facebook page for those in the industry who’ve lost money due to the pandemic. The nonprofit put in $900 from its treasury not designated for other purposes, Baker said. Its current balance is over $1,500 after nearly $1,200 in contributions and $675 in distributions.

“We can’t sit here with money in our treasury that’s unspent,” said Baker, who’s worked professionally as a sound engineer since 2008. “It’s been coming in quicker than we can give it away. That’s pretty remarkable.”

Baker said he’d been doing freelance work prior to COVID-19 with local bands, such as The Mixtapes and The Rosy Hips.

“2020 was shaping up to be a really good year for me until this happened,” he said, estimating he’s lost about $12,000 in canceled bookings. “I was booked up pretty solid though October.”

Keep shouting
Music performances are also a regular part of the city of Springfield’s annual Birthplace of Route 66 Festival. But the music will have to wait for 2021, as the city recently canceled this year’s two-day event.

However, Gumucio said the 10th annual Queen City Shout is still on tap. Set for Aug. 20-23, the format likely will be a mix of live and online music performances. He said he’s received positive feedback to move forward from musicians and Commercial Street venues, including Lindberg’s Tavern, White River Brewing Co. and Q Enoteca.

“That’s a good sign in terms that they’re willing to be flexible as we move through the summer and see if it’s going to look more like a virtual festival or an in-person festival,” he said.

Larkin was among dozens of musicians who performed at last year’s Queen City Shout. Gumucio said organizers donated nearly $10,000 of the $11,200 in proceeds to area nonprofits, such as Victory Mission and Community Partnership of the Ozarks Inc. The remainder was earmarked for future event expenses.

As he looks beyond songwriting and virtual performances, Larkin said he’s starting to get back into live outdoor concerts. He recently played at Walnut Shade-based Bear Creek Wine Co. and Paddlewheel Pub LLC in Branson. Both venues provided people with room to spread out for social distancing, he said.

“Outdoor gigs seem to be the only thing that’s possible right now,” he said. “As long as I’m able to do that, I guess I’ll continue to stay afloat.”

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