Music in the age of Covid-19, Part 2 streaming tech

by AlanRowoth on April 18, 2020

This is part 2 of my post from earlier in the week. It’s going to explain the technical aspects of streaming from different configurations. This is the information that everybody wants, but everybody wishes wasn’t so complicated. Let’s dive in.

If you are going to make internet live streaming an integral part of your career development, you have a lot of choices in how to do it. In terms of getting your video onto the internet, you have 3 basic choices: phone, computer, or dedicated hardware.

Stream from your iOS phone or tablet – This is by far the simplest solution. Modern smartphones have cameras that rival the quality of low end mirrorless or DSLR cameras. Your smartphone is very likely a more powerful computer than your laptop or desktop. There are a wide variety of dedicated apps that primarily make live streaming on the internet a point and shoot affair. Many of the modern streaming platforms are mobile only and you can’t even participate in them from a laptop computer. If you are a solo or duo act without a lot of technical knowledge or expertise, This can be the path of least resistance.

There are quite a few downsides. These cameras typically like a bit more light than the more expensive professional cameras. This isn’t a deal breaker. Even the pro cameras will require you to intelligently paint your set with light for best results. The cell phone cameras are often automatic and hide from you settings that I find useful. My greatest annoyance in streaming from a cell phone camera is the occasional continuous searching of the autofocus is distracting. Good lighting can minimize that.

More serious is the challenging of streaming with sufficient audio quality. Arguably, the most important factor in capturing high quality sound is microphone placement (even more than microphone selection) The optimal microphone placement is often within 4 feet or less of the sound source. This level of proximity is NEVER the most desireable placement for the camera. The smartphone cameras are built into the body of the phone, as is its native microphone. But while you can add external audio, you can’t use an external camera with your phone.

iOS devices have a distinct advantage in this regard because the lightning or USB3 connector has an API that works with any CORE audio compatible device. This is a very popular standard and you have dozens of choices. They can be as simple as a Shure MV88 microphone (Which unfortunately attaches directly to the phone) to a full blown audio mixer or Digital Audio Workstation. Nice compromise choices include the Shure MV51 motiv microphone or any microphone of your choice thru the Shure X2u, a Scarlet 2i2, or any of dozens of A/D audio interfaces like you would use with ProTools or Garage band. While microphone placement is paramount, you will also find that microphone selection will give you much greater control of your sound.

if you go this route, you can’t forget about your lighting, you will need a tripod to mount your camera and probably mic stand(s) to place your microphones. If you are a very nontechnical person, this may work best for you. if you want to multistream to multiple platforms at once, it might be as easy as just setting up a second device and doing two entirely separate streams.

You can stream from your computer using OBS, SLOBS, Ecamm, or other software. This was how everyone streamed in the beginning. OBS (the Open Broadcaster System) is a free, open source software program that is very powerful. It is available for Mac, Windows, and Unix. It takes the signals from your audio and video devices and assembles them into a proper stream to feed to Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or other service. These streams have quite a few possible parameters and none of the platforms want exactly the same settings. You may have to do quite a bit of experimentation before you get satisfactory results. Once you get it tweaked for your platform, your connection and your equipment, it shouldn’t be too hard to manage. You can buy plugins for OBS that will allow you to interface your iOS camera, a skype stream, or other unusual sources.

Your Macbook Pro has an integrated webcam and audio microphone. I recommend you use neither of these in your stream. You can use a USB mic like the Shure MV51 or the Blue Yeti or snowball microphone. If you are serious about your stream, you will likely use professional microphones and a high quality interface, especially if you normally use multiple mics or instruments in performance

You can get USB Webcams, but most of them aren’t great. If you want to integrate a high quality DSLR or Mirrorless camera with an HDMI or SGI output you will also need Video capture hardware. This is where things can start to get expensive. If you want to use more than one device, you will also need a video switcher.

Often the switcher and capture hardware can be found integrated into a single piece of hardware. In 2020, I think the clear leader is the Blackmagic Design Atem Mini Pro. It has 4 scaleable hdmi video inputs, 2 audio inputs with fairlight audio processing (including equalizer, Compressor, limiter, noise gate and expander.) each of the HDMI inputs has identical audio processing capabilities. I will list a bunch of hardware options in an appendix to this article. If you are using a single high quality HDMI camera you could use an Elgato Camlink 4k they aren’t cheap, but they are compact

My primary concern over OBS, beyond the complexity of the parameters is that I (like many professional musicians) have been lax about upgrading my computers. I have 6 macs that I use regularly. My primary desktop is 8 years old, my better laptop is 10 years old, my newer macbook air is a 2018, but a very lowspec computer I bought primarily for text generation. I’m not confident that either of my macs has the horsepower to field OBS with any reasonable smoothness. If your mac is less than 3 or 4 years old, runs the current max version OS, and will properly support a DAW like ProTools or Logic, then I would anticipate no problems broadcasting using OBS (unless you want to run ProTools or Logic concurrently to process your audio, in which case all bets are off.) The good news is that OBS is free and you can download it and play with it to see if it yields satisfactory results for you.

If you want a less complicated, more elegant software solution to manage your streams, investigate Switcher Studio, a very powerful iOS based software switcher than can use as many as 9 iOS iphones or ipads as cameras and will share your mac screen as well. It’s not cheap. Pricing using the popular subscription model ranges from $468 to $4200 per year, plus the cost of all those iphones, ipads, and tripods. It is very impressive. There is a free trial you can try.

If that sounds like a lot of money to you, you can use a mac program called Ecamm Live that supports a variety of video and audio encoders, does live switching, text overlays, computer screen sharing and other power effects. You can add guests over skype. eEcamm will even accept video from select Canon Cameras via USB. It looks quite a bit easier to manage than OBS, I don’t know about the hardware requirements, but again, a free trial is available. Another subscription software, it won’t break the bank at $144 to $240 per year.

You can also stream with cameras that have integrated streaming hardware. The Mevo Plus Event Camera and soon to be released next generation MEVO Start Camera are controlled from your iOS Device and connect directly to popular streaming platforms directly, bypassing considerations about the muscularity of your computer. They offer audio inputs and have a really slick free software called MEVO Mic that let you add audio from up to three iphone sources and mix it into your stream. So, if you have a really nice mic that you want to put right in front of the performers and set the camera back further you can get great sound and pretty pro looking video. They promise software soon to do live stream switching with multiple MEVO cameras. These are almost as simple to use as the run and gun smartphone streaming. Here is a Youtube review. I see the first version MEVO event cameras used on eBay for at little as $100 Aside from the weak wifi and the lack of a native audio input those first generation models are very similar and very serviceable.

In MEVO world, I think I would go for their next gen MEVO Start camera. It has enhanced microphones as well as an audio input, longer battery life, and can even be used as an input device to your computer based OBS system. It retails for $300 They promise to add multicam live videos down the road.

I saved the best for last. If you opt to use high quality HDMI DSLR or Mirrorless cameras interfaced thru the Blackmagic Atem Mini Pro, it’s a powerful switcher with Auto scaling, powerful keying, high quality Audio and a host of wonderful production effects that you usually need to pay a subscription fee to access. But it also integrates a full streaming hardware. (In fact I think they said it could simulcast to Facebook and YouTube simultaneously, but i’m not certain about that.) That means you don’t need a computer for streaming at all. It has a lot of imbedded preconfigured settings templates. If you did want even more parametric control, you can feed the output of the Atem Mini Pro to OBS. It’s quite likely you could add an extra stream thru OBS as well. In addition to all the hardware controls, you can control much deeper thru the network software for Mac or PC. (or you could spend $3500 on a hardware control surface…) I think this box is far and away the most powerful live streaming solution and probably easier to use than OBS directly. At $595 retail, it would pay for itself in a year just in the subscription fees you could save for advanced features, and then you still have equity in the box.

If you get into the world of HDMI cameras for live streaming then you have dozens of options, far beyond my ability to properly contrast here. Two widely acclaimed models are the Canon M50 and the Panasonic Lumix G7. Here is a more in depth article. And here is another great comparison.

I know it’s pretty mind boggling, feel free to contact me directly if you want to talk thru your needs. I don’t sell anything, but I would be happy to help if I can.

Don’t leave yet. There are a few other issues I feel obligated to address here that will effect your choices.

For years, I have been suggesting that it’s easier to get started with Live Streaming if you use your smartphone. Because of the point and shoot zeitgeist of it and the general superiority of the smartphone cameras over inexpensive webcams. But time marches on and i think now that you are smarter to launch your streams from the computer. The reason is that now, on the computer you get access to YouTube Live Studio. Their iphone app does not give you this. There are several very compelling reasons for this. First, you can schedule your streams, you can choose to use a persistent stream key rather than getting a unique key each time and, most importantly, you can GET YOUR STREAM URL IN ADVANCE.

I have lots of trouble getting to live streams on facebook. They say it’s starting at 4, I log on and look for it. It’s not on the artist page. It’s not on their personal page. I assume they’ve had technical difficulties and may not be online. but often, 10 minutes or so later, the stream does appear. And when I go there it looks like I missed the first 10 minutes. If you use Facebook live studio, you can get that URL hours in advance and, if you like, you can even map it to a consistent redirect link on your personal website. so your fans could always go to and be immediately routed to your current stream. I think it may be worth the extra work. Or you could just blast the stream url out in Whatsapp or Mailchimp.

The other reason I am drifting away from smartphone streaming is that quality has never been more important. When I was begging everyone to get on and just try streaming, you could get some watchers if you had a pulse. Now, at least in prime time, you are competing with fabulous performers and writers, flawless audio, and strong visuals. If you can, I think it’s worth upping your game, expensive cameras and mics are noticeably better.

I still believe strongly that fishing for audience in the hundred or so mobile streaming platforms like TikIok, Periscope,, Bigo and dozens of others offers you the best chance to meet new audience that will never click on your facebook live stream. Be bold, be adventurous. Try something new. You’ll need to use your smartphone for most of them, so get a decent quality mic for that phone too.

There are situations where you just can’t use a cabled microphone, like being the wandering troubadour at a farmers market or doing a yoga class where you are constantly moving around. Often microphone placement is more crucial than microphone selection. I have had good luck with a pair of Sabinetek 610 bluetooth microphones, using one as the transmitter and the other as the receiver. A similar solution is the Rode Wireless Go microphone. I chose the sabinetek because I could get it faster and I preferred the size and the versatility. Each Sabinetek can be a transmitter if you have a compatible receiving app. This isn’t all that useful yet, but I am hopeful. Neither of these mics have a lot of low end. but I think for a guitar slinger, they might be a good solution.

I hope you read to the end, because I’m going to close with an important tip. When using a mic feed thru your camera, ordinarily the audio and video are well synced. But when broadcasting thru OBS and probably other situations where the audio and video are processed separately, You will frequently find that encoding the video takes longer than the audio, leading to Sync errors (or what I like to call Milli Vanilli Syndrome) They can be very distressing to the watchers. Because of the data density, you will mostly likely find the video lags the audio by a noticeable amount, sometimes as much as 1000 milliseconds (1 second) and perhaps as little as 40ms. There is a control in the audio mixer of OBS (and probably in the Atem Mini Pro) that will delay the audio enough to bring it into sync. When you are setting up your streaming system that latency should be pretty constant based on your sources, and your encoder speed. You can align them by eye.I suggest that it’s easier if you use a metronome that gives a flash and a beep on the beat. This guy has a different, and possibly more elegant solution.

I was going to go in depth on Audio interfaces in this post, but I think I should save that for the next post. I’ve given you guys a lot to think about. I know it’s a lot to absorb, but my favorite Albert Einstein quote is “Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler.” I hope you guys find this information helpful.


Music in the age of Covid-19 – Streaming and more

by AlanRowoth on April 16, 2020

When I started heavily promoting live streaming back in 2015, I knew it was going to be an important part of our future. Little did I realize it would become an essential technology for so many people just a few years later. I won’t lie. It’s been a hard sell. Humans instinctively hate and fear change and creative people sometimes have a phobia about technology that can hamstring them when they try to learn about what they wish they didn’t have to know anything about. Streaming took off in Folkworld far more slowly than I ever imagined it could.

But before I get into the meat of todays discussion, lets solve a few problems quickly for you streamers just getting started with your phone.

1. If are streaming on your iphone and you have a tip jar, a logo, or other printed materials that you intend to display during your live stream, they will appear in mirror image if you use the screen side camera for your stream. I prefer the backside camera which doesn’t mirror and is usually a considerably nicer camera than the front side, but if you require access to the stream controls during your broadcast, you can remedy this problem in one of two ways. My old school solution was to print your information flipped on your printer. It is generally very easy to do and if you crash your stream, you don’t have to think about getting everything set up again. But now there is another solution for this, right in the facebook client for iphone itself. Before you start to stream, click the magic wand directly to the left of the big Go Live button. it will bring up a submenu at the bottom of the screen. click on the icon on the very right. It’s a tools icon that looks like a wrench and a screwdriver together. That presents you with 3 options. The leftmost option will reverse the screen for you. I believe this has to be reset every time you start a live stream

2. if you want to stream in landscape versus portrait mode, which I highly recommend, You must START the stream in landscape. you can’t reorient the camera view once you go live. The phone can be a little finicky about this. First check your control panel to make sure view mode is unlocked. Tell the facebook app you want to go live and orient the camera properly, you may have to dip it forward and back a couple of times before the onscreen controls realize you want to broadcast in portrait. If you are using any external microphones or CORE audio compatible sound sources, I suggest you get them connected an levelled up at this time. Then when you are all set, start the stream.

3. For the love of all things holy, USE A TRIPOD and smartphone clip to position your camera.

4. PLEASE monitor your stream with a second device so you can check sound levels and read comments. If at all possible, recruit someone to be your streaming buddy, responding to simple questions and passing on pertinent requests and comments to you. they can also share and promote your stream in real time. (and try to review your streams afterwards to see what you missed.) if you can at all avoid it, don’t spend a lot of time reading all the onscreen comments yourself. That gets boring really fast.

5. Don’t be late! Start your stream a couple of minutes before the official start time. You may have unexpected issues that take you time to work around and people can’t read your mind. If i go to look for an 8pm stream, I might try for 5 minutes or so, but if they aren’t on by 8:05, I’m gone.

6. Don’t pfnutz around. Unless you are absolutely positive that you are not going to archive the stream, don’t sit around picking your teeth for 15 minutes before you start singing. My streams typically garner 80-90% of their views after the fact. Even people who make it to your stream may be late or want to rewatch the stream later again. Putting 15 minutes of dead air on the front of the stream is a sure buzz killer. If you have to “open” for yourself, by all means, play a cover or a song in progress or tell a funny story about your day, but don’t be boring.

I’m going to start by discussing Streaming.

Why stream at all? Who are you trying to reach? What are you trying to accomplish? Understand why you are doing it and what you hope to accomplish before you push the button. Do you just want people to know that you’re still there? Are you simply bored and looking for a little audience love? Are you looking for feedback on the new songs. Are you starving and you need to make money to pay the rent. Are you trying to raise money for charity? Are you mostly concerned about maintaining a connection with your core audience. Are you out LOOKING FOR NEW AUDIENCE?

So many things suck about the lockdown, but one important benefit is that you are not the only one locked down. There has never been a better time to make new friends for your music. A lot of people don’t have the creative outlet that you have. Use this time to meet them.

If you played under the Big Orange Tarp one night and got discovered by the Bieroc Cafe or the Ark or the Folk Project and you got the gig, They are a folk club. They generally draw a folk audience. A warm, wonderful, accepting, singing along folk audience. The same folk audience that has been attending that venue for years. In the whole of the US, I’ll bet that there aren’t more than 10,000 people nationwide who regularly attend small venue folk shows. Their demographic is fairly homogenous. With some exceptions listeners are white, literate, socially aware, politically liberal, greying, and not a slave to drugs or alcohol. The salt of the earth and I love them. But that means that there are approximately 580 million potential audience members in North America that you have a chance to reach out to. Most would probably never come to the Me and Thee to hear you perform, but now they don’t have to. You can go where they are and serenade them. You are going to save a ton of money on transportation and the logistical costs of touring. You are going to recover many hours of time that you would ordinarily spend in travel, soundchecks, and logistics. Life gave you lemons, lets make some really great lemonade.

Where are all these viewers? I couldn’t find an authoritative list of all the streaming platforms on the internet. Dozens to be sure, possibly hundreds, with new companies staking a claim on the space almost weekly. If you are just going live on facebook once a week, you will probably just be fishing the same old pond with all your folkie friends. And that space is rapidly becoming dominated by Elton John and Paul Simon and Joan Baez and… Is it any wonder that your streams don’t draw as much attention as Mary Gauthiers?

This is exacerbated by the fact that there is no feature rich single guide for internet live streams. This has been needed for a while and nobody has stepped up to fill the gap. There are dozens of guides, but none has more than a fraction of the available content listed or the essential feature set. A proper guide would be location aware, platform aware, time zone aware, platform aware, and genre aware at the very least. A proper guide would have relational databases enumerating the artists, presenters, and support resources. It would provide not only real time searching but also user profiles with saved searches, searches where a registered user could save a query like “mail me a list of all the folk, bluegrass, and skiffle concerts airing monday-thursday starting between 5:59 and 10pm Eastern Time for the next two weeks. You should also be able to bring up a standard search each time you log into the database on the web. The artist database should be similar to an EPK with a bio, photos, and a video link or three as well as contact and booking information. When they wanted to add dates they would just have to identify with a single ID and not have to retype all that information each time you add an entry. Ideally it should also offer Google Calendar and Apple iCal synchronization. As it is now, you could waste more time looking for streams than watching them. I don’t bother and I miss a lot of compelling content. I’ve been stumping for this for a while, but I don’t have the funding to create this myself.

I’ve been saying for years that performers needed to get onto the web and stake out their streaming presence, but most artists never really cultivated this audience. Now they are a face in the crowd. Some people like Jonathan Byrd have been creating scheduled quality streams for year and they have a solid audience, but everyone entering now faces a situation not unlike what we have experienced on the club scene for the last several years. I call it “Too many monkeys and not enough bananas” There are only so many hours where people would actually watch available each day. Once you subtract the time slots dominated by established music stars, It can be hard to find a good available time slot. Another important benefit of a strong content calendar would be as a planning tool.

It is for this reason, that I believe artists cannot think of live streaming as a panacea to solve all the problems brought on by the Covid Virus. Any artist trying to replace the revenue of a live touring career is going to have to integrate more than one strategy to recover the lost revenue. There are so many live streams available for free, at a time when many listeners are particularly cash strapped. One approach that some artists are taking is to retask their performances by simultaneously streaming to two or more platforms simultaneously. This is nontrivial, but you can purchase a service which formats the streams for you to as many as 30 platforms concurrently. For more information, visit

I think live streaming and canned video sites like YouTube, TikTok and others are arguably the most powerful audience development tools available to musicians in 2020, but in terms of bringing in cash on a regular basis, I think that we are going to have to look to patronage sites like Patreon, premium web content on their own sites, Merchandise (of all sorts), affiliate marketing, and sponsor alliances (like brand deals, product placement, testimonials, and outright sponsorship). Musicians are going to have to pursue placement in TV, movies, video games, and other content that incorporates music as part of their larger product.

If we accept the premise that our current audience pool has been “overfished”, Then it seems logical that we should seek new audience in the places on the internet which receive at lot of views, but are not already awash with musical content. I think particular opportunities exist in the smartphone apps frequented more often by a younger demographic. I think it is a mistake to ignore these. I’m particularly enamored of TikTok, a canned video site (with 800,000 plus visitors each day.) I have started a Facebook group aimed at using the strengths of the platform to find new fans. If you are willing to step outside of your comfort zone, visit my Facebook discussion group called TikTokTakeover to discuss strategies. I believe this represents a huge opportunity for the right people.

I have two other Facebook discussion groups that you might find interesting. I recently created a facebook group called the Live Music Covid Response Strategic Workgroup. This was meant to foster a discussion of the kind of issues we are facing in this new reality. It hasn’t really fulfilled that goal and has instead become sort of a dumping ground for publicizing artist live streams. I may just delete it, but I am hopefully that group members may eventually grok the true intent of the group and participate in productive discussion of our challenges. Right now only a handful of us actually address the meta issues. I would love some more people with thoughtful content.

There is another group that I started a couple of years ago called Live Music Streamers focused on helping artists with their specific challenges, mostly technical and promotional to stream successfully. It never got a lot of signups, but theres some great questions and answers there. It was ahead of its time. I think now it has the potential for become an essential resource.

I have five prior blog posts discussing this topic. They can all be accessed thru the last one I did on the topic.

I have much more I want to discuss with you, mostly regarding the technical dos and don’ts for live streaming using a smartphone, a computer, and a dedicated piece of streaming hardware. Initially I was going to do this in a single blog post, but I know how you guys hate reading, so I am going to give you a brief respite and come back later in the week with important updated information on the state of the art in live streaming for 2020. Please stay tuned (and if you read my old posts, don’t buy anything until you read the one that’s coming up first.)

Stay safe, stay creative. Use this time to hone your craft and build your audience.

Alan Rowoth/Big Orange Tarp – FAI 2020 Rm 1227

by AlanRowoth on January 20, 2020

This is the first time I have run a full showcase schedule at FAI. The lineup is incredible, featuring over 120 of the finest musicians I know. Many wonderful Canadian artists, guests from Cuba, Spain, Ireland, Australia and more. Great singers, virtuoso instrumentalists, and incredible songwriters. They range in age from 12 to 70+ and span a diverse range of fusions and genres. Every single one of these acts has my personal endorsement and recommendation. We will also be exhibiting a selection of photos by legendary Folk photographer Robert Corwin. Please come and join us in Room 1227. #FAI2020 #NOLA #BigOrangeTarp #AlanRowoth #BOTrm1227

  • Wednesday Jan 22
  • 10:30-11:00 Langham and Gill, Zoe Mulford, Tow’rs
  • 11:00-11:30 The Contenders, Kira Small, Fletcher Nielsen from Tracorum
  • 11:30-midnight Kerry Grombacher, Freebo, Vicky Emerson
  • 12:00-12:30 Brianna Straut, Olivia Frances, David Starr
  • 12:30-1:00 Claudia Nygaard, Kora Feder, Lizanne Knott
  • 1:00-1:30 Janiva Mangess, Marc Douglas Berardo, Skinner and T’witch
  • 1:30-2:00 Robinson & Rohe, Madison Galloway, Liv Greene
  • 2:00-2:30 Jen Cork, Jess Clinton, Joel White
  • 2:30-3:00 Izzy Heltai, Bella White, Casii Stephan
  • Thursday Jan 23
  • 10:30-10:50 Changui Majadero
  • 10:50-11:10 Windborne
  • 11:10-11:30 Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem
  • 11:30-11:50 Walter Parks
  • 11:50-12:10 David Jacobs-Strain & Bob Beach
  • 12:10-12:30 Ken Waldman and friends
  • 12:30 -1 Sarah Clanton, Emerald Rae Anna Vogelzang
  • 1:00-1:30 Alyssa Dann, Bailey Bigger, Rachel Garlin
  • 1:30-2:00 Leslie Evers, Rick Ruskin, Shane Hennessy
  • 2:00-2:30 Randy Palmer, Brian Kalinec, The Sam Chase
  • 2:30-3:00 Gina Forsyth, Jess Clemons, Jeff Black
  • Friday Jan 24
  • 10:30-11:30 Neale Eckstein and friends (featuring Eric Schwartz, Tom Rush, Jenny Reynolds, Seth Glier, & RJ Cowdery)
  • 11:30-12:00 Grace Pettis, Natalie Gelman, Danielle Knibbe
  • 12:00-12:30 Alice Howe, Christopher Smith, Shanna in a Dress
  • 12:30-1:00 Rod Abernethy, Steve Addabbo, Pipo Romero
  • 1:00-1:30 Ellis Delaney, Charm of Finches, Rumour Mill
  • 1:30-2:00 Alice Peacock, RJ Cowdery, Socks in the Frying Pan
  • 2:00-2:30 Alicia Stockman, Heart Hunters, Bob Hillman
  • 2:30-3:00 Dylan Menzie, Jack Barksdale, Alice Hasen
  • Saturday Jan 25
  • 10:30-11:15 Dan Pelletier, Lisa Aschmann, Sadie Gustafson-Zook
  • 11:15-12:00 Seth Glier, Diana Chittester, Christopher Smith
  • 12:00-12:45 Freddy & Francine, Robby Hecht, Justin Farren
  • 12:45-1:30 Andrew Delaney, Kate Klim, Lisa Bastoni
  • 1:30-2:00 Kora Feder, Tim Easton, Alice Hasen
  • 2:00-2:30 Letitia Van Sant, Hussy Hicks, Alyssa Dann
  • 2:30-3:00 Maya DiVitry, Randy Brown, Fletcher Nielsen from Tracorum

Just a tiny sampling of what you will hear.


and so much more. For even more previews, search Facebook for the hashtag @BOTrm1227

Sponsored by Grassy Hill. With great appreciation to Robert Corwin.

Vote Now in the Board Election

by AlanRowoth on November 23, 2019

Confused? You are not alone,,,

A number of people have complained that they are having trouble trying to vote for me in the ongoing Folk Alliance Board Election. I just did a dozen text searches of the website and there is very little information regarding the board election, no announcement of the final slate of candidates or information on voting in the 2020 board election. Nothing in the November Newsletter.

I don’t believe this is a conscious attempt at voter suppression, but rather I choose to believe it is a result of poor communications and bad website design. There is no way to log into the website and enter your vote there. (That might be a project to tackle in the future. It seems to me like a no brainer.)

But at this point, it appears that the missing election info was sent to folk Alliance members in good standing via email, along with your unique voting code. Search your mail and spam boxes for an email message with the title “Vote Now! 2020 Folk Alliance International Board Election” or “Vote Now in the Board Election” and that email should provide a unique link for you to vote in this years election. If you haven’t received that email YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO VOTE IN THIS YEAR’s ELECTION. Paper ballots could be requested before November 1, but that deadline has passed.

If you did not receive an email with the ballot you should contact Jerod Rivers at the folk Alliance office and request a copy. I’m sorry this procedure is so convoluted and information on the election so difficult to find.

I appreciate you taking the time and effort to vote. Your participation is crucial if you want FAI to truly reflect the needs and priorities of its membership. It is easier to just complain than taking the time and energy to vote. But be proactive, your vote does matter. If you abdicate that responsibility you get results like we did in the 2019 presidential election.
Quick shout out to Michael Kornfeld who is up for re-election, I hope he gets the opportunity to continue his service.

Jerod Rivers should be able to answer all of your election questions. After a bunch of searches, I also could not find on a contact phone number for Folk Alliance on the website, but I did on the folk conference website (816)221-3655 I don’t believe this number is specific to the conference..

If, armed with this information, anyone still has trouble receiving their ballot or voting, feel free to contact me and I will look into it for you. Thanks for caring and letting me know this was a problem.


Falcon Ridge Emcee Alan Rowoth was a professional musician for 30+ years. He was an agent, manager, publicist, record producer, Internet expert, lighting designer, and audio engineer.   Alan pioneered the folk Internet in 1990 and created Internet Quartets and the Folktrain. He’s written for Performing Songwriter, Dirty Linen, Sing Out! and other magazines.   27 years teaching at the Rocky Mountain Song School. Alan teaches year round on a broad range of creative, technical. and business subjects. His Big Orange Tarp has showcased hundreds of musicians. Find his teaching and showcase materials online at

Candidate Statwement
Reinstate a sense of institutional memory and give voice to the needs of our core constituency. Expand technical and year-round benefits of membership. Ensure that the conference isn’t the all-consuming focus of FAI. Find ways to broaden our visibility and reach at the regional and local levels. 

This statement was limited by the Folk Alliance to 50 words. That’s not a lot of space to condense my hopes and dreams for this organization that I have been a tireless supporter of for 3 decades

I feel like our sense of community is eroding, like Folk Alliance has forgotten the people and the priorities that got us to where we are now. I strongly believe that Folk Alliance membership should be stickier. I don’t think we do enough for the people who don’t get a formal showcase every year to renew their membership. I see needs in the community for a strong, robust folk calendar similar to the long list Musi-Cal. I know dozens of performers searching for a more friendly and powerful alternative to SonicBids. I think it should be easier to connect and network within the folk alliance regions and sub regions. I think that folk Alliance could partner with musicians And venues for more than 4 days each year.

I’ve seen the PGS showcases gutted without proper explanation. The cost per minute per seat to showcase artists in those rooms has quadrupled. The size and suitability of PGS rooms should be a considered factor in the selection of the conference venues. the Elimination of daytime hours in the PGS rooms harms both the showcasers and the bookers, many of whom would prefer a chance to hear some of these artists earlier in the day, when they are at their best.

I have other concerns, most of them revolving around who we are and where we are going. I haven’t gotten a clear picture of that from outside the board. Rather than just grouse about it, I felt it was incumbent upon me to get involved and gain a deeper understanding. This is not a career move for me. I derive no income from my work in the community. It’s a labor of love. I enjoyed a wonderful career spanning decades as a professional musician, rich with travel, and friendships, and a stunning array of unforgettable experiences. I want to be sure that everyone who wants it gets the same chance to enjoy that life, as I did.

“Alan has a knack for being ahead of the curve on all things Internet and software related especially as relates to the folk community. For years, he provided Internet access at FAI conferences. He serves on other non-profit boards in our community, serves as mentor and workshop leader on a variety of topics, including touring. He has also been a touring musician himself. He still does the festival circuit with his BIG ORANGE TARP program providing networking and performance opportunities to emerging artists and songwriters. He is part of the teaching staff at Rocky Mountain Folk Song School and part of the production team as well as an MC at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. All of the above barely touch the surface of all he has done for and in the folk community. Service has been his mantra and he has a longstanding relationship with the entire folk community and with FAI. He has much-needed institutional memory of where this organization has been and a steady finger on the pulse of the current membership’s needs for the future.

I can’t think of a better candidate at this time in our history.”

Anne Saunders
Artistic & Publicity Director
Falcon Ridge Folk Festival
32 years of Folk Music & Dance in the Berkshires

Alan Rowoth & Sally Johnson Present: Big Orange Tarp – NERFA 2019 Fiske Rm

by AlanRowoth on November 5, 2019

I’ve been crazy busy this summer. I wanted to do my usual post with all live links to the artists websites, but I just ran out of time. You guys know how to use google. Anyway, Sally and I are super excited about all the fine talent we get to present to you this year!  Here is the list with a handful of videos to whet your appetite. BTW. I am running once again for the Board of Directors of Folk Alliance. I would appreciate your support!

Alan Rowoth & Sally Johnson Present:
Big Orange Tarp NERFA 2019
In the Fiske room


  • 2:00-2:15 Fiora Laina
  • 2:15-2:45 The Promise is Hope, Orly Ben-David
  • 2:45-3:30 Lea Morris, Katherine Rondeau, Jeffrey Pepper Rogers
  • 3:30-4:15 Rupert Wates, Claudia Nygaard, Gina holsapple
  • 4:15-5:00 Travis Knapp, Jeffrey Martin, Marc Berger

Friday Night

  • 11:45-12:45 pm Fox Run Five (Neale Eckstein, Eric Schwartz, Matt Nakoa, Craig Akin, & Steve Jagoda)
  • 12:45-1:15 Heather Mae, Sophie Buskin, Matt Nakoa
  • 1:15-1.45 Megan Burtt, Alice Hasen, Andrew Delaney
  • 1:45-2:15 Annie Sumi, Freebo, Rob Lytle
  • 2:15-3:00 Andrew Dunn, Brad Cole, Dave Dersham, the Malvinas
  • 3;00 3:00 Open Circle


  • 1:00-1:45pm Group Mentoring Live Streaming (Fiske Rm – No registration required)
  • 2-3 Kora Feder, Piper and Carson, Alyssa Dann, the Rix
  • 3-4 Andrew Delaney, Jaeger and Reid, George Wurzbach, Sandie Reilly & Max Cohen
  • 4-5 Dan Navarro, Matt Nakoa, Megan Burtt, Kipyn Martin

Saturday Night

  • 11:45-12:15 Alice Howe, Cricket Blue, Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem
  • 12:15-12:45 Kora Feder, Alice Hasen, Markley and Balmer
  • 12:45-1:15 Lynne Hanson, Susan Cattaneo, Willa Mamet
  • 1:15-1:45 Peter Mulvey, Rod Abernethy, Sarah Clanton
  • 1:45-2:15 Fiora Laina, Alyssa Dann, Mosa
  • 2:15-3:00 Finale w/ Mark Dann, George Wurzbach, Matt Nakoa, Alice Hasen, Bob Beach, Fiora Laina, Alyssa Dann, Andrew Dunn
  • 3:00 Open Circle

Hey! Want to go with us to India this winter?

Live Streaming – What’s Next?

by AlanRowoth on September 25, 2019

I’ve been beating the drum about live streaming for a while. I think it may be a way forward for the musicians whose careers were decimated by the loss of CD revenue. Uptake has been slower than I expected in this community. It does represent a shift in the way we do things. And the loss of the immediate crowd can be hard for performers who draw most of their energy and inspiration from the audience. On the other hand, it opens the door to an audience of far greater geographic and demographic diversity.

The four greatest challenges for the touring musician are transportation, food, lodging, and time.

Transportation just gets more and more expensive. Most local travelling is done by car and you are not just paying for gas, but also for insurance, wear and tear, routine and extraordinary maintenance on the vehicle, but you are also taking a risk every time you leave the vehicle unattended that someone may break in and steal your stuff. If you are travelling further afield, you have airfare, trainfare, carfare and other associated expenses. Maybe travel insurance. And the sad truth is that just the act of travelling itself opens you up to a wide variety of other dangers that I won’t enumerate here.

Food can be another issue. It’s hard to find healthy, reasonably priced food on the road. Smartphone apps like Yelp and TripAdvisor can help, but many communities don’t have a lot of viable options.

Lodging can be among the most expensive factors. I travel constantly and am blessed with a wide network of friends who let me “couch surf”, but still wind up spending a significant amount of money to sleep on my journeys. And I have no pet sensitivities, no food allergies, or issues with light and noise. I bring a sleeping pad with me at all time and have slept in hallways, basements, garages, and tree forts. Any of these can be a deal breaker for some people.

But, of course, your most valuable resource of all is time. On a good day, you might only spend an hour driving to and from the gig. But in my professional career, travel times of 3 to 5 hours between gigs were no uncommon, Plus the time spend loading and unloading the gear, packing and unpacking your luggage, waiting for ground transportation, waiting for food, waiting for sleep, budgeting in extra time for the “Murphy Factor.” It all adds up rapidly. As you can see the “opportunity cost” for live streaming is practically nil, where conventional gigs can cost you $100 or more before you strike the first chord. if you are live streaming from your home, You might have setup and tear down times of 5 minutes or less. Literally 95% or more of your time might be spent engaging your audience. In addition, your streams may be archivable, and become a resource that pays you over and over and over again.If you are live streaming from gigs you may be able to, for little or no additional expense, amortize that performance to a much wider and more persistent audience.

I have done several handouts previously on Live Streaming. I’ll try not to rehash too much of that material here, To that end, here are the links.

Getting the most out of and live streaming alternatives 

Live Streaming – What are you waiting for?

Seven Ways to Monetize the Internet (for Musicians)

Your Internet (in 2016) (I may update this before this handout is widely seen)

And I have started a Facebook group for Live Music Streamers to share tips, tricks, and techniques. I am hoping to foster collaborations and audience sharing. I would love to get more hardware/software reviews there. I feel like I am the only one doing them.

But lets forge on to what’s new. Concert Window has folded. Arguably the most popular streaming platform among folkies, it languished technically  and never really solved many of it’s nagging technical problems. I was hoping they would get a bailout from somebody who could help them with this, but ultimately, they were sort of a mom and pop operation that never stood much of a chance.

Meanwhile the Big Boys have all doubled down and reemphasized streaming on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Instagram launched the portrait-only InstagramTV and you can even start a live stream directly from the twitter app powered by Periscope. I just saw an ASCAP video today from a host called which apparently is an arm of Periscope.

The problem is that the behemoth services consider viewers THEIR customers not YOUR customers. And you are THEIR product, the sticky goo that attracts and holds viewers in the sphere of their advertisers.  While their virality and reach is largely unmatched, the options for monetizing that content are meager at best. Facebook doesn’t understand or care about the revenue you lost when CDs stopped selling. But I think it is important to leverage the big services to funnel audiences to your streams if you choose an alternative platform as your streaming home. It is even more important to always link viewers to your web domain. You need them in your database, since facebook wants to charge you not to block content from your followers.

There are innumerable platforms for live streaming from your mobile devices, many of which have built in tipping options. Typically the streamers cut of these revenues is undercut by the large percentage the hosting platform takes. They lock you into using their proprietary apps, but the revenue option may make it worthwhile. The behemoth services also support live streaming from their mobile apps, albeit without direct payouts to streamers. It seems there are new services almost weekly. While remains a popular platform, others come and go. Recent additions are DLive, TikTok, Ilive, Bigo live, Vuuzle, Livestar, live Now, YouNow, Uplive,, Tango, MeetMe,Trillo, Yubo, LiveAF, Coco, KittyLive, V Live, StreamKar, Omlet Arcade, FaceCast, DrFame, Line Live, ExclusLive,live up, Doki doki live,  and… You get the idea. No clear winner has emerged, and, by the time it does, it may be widely populated with musicians. I think it behooves you to try half a dozen of these out. If you do, please report to the live streamers group what you find so we aren’t duplicating each other’s efforts.

The battle for eyeballs is so intense that some services are hiring contract streamers to beef up their content. LIve.Me used to do that, i’m Not sure if they still do. Facebook is doing it right now with Video Game streamers. And I think a lot of the Mobile platforms are dabbling in that. Maybe we could persuade facebook to try that with musicians, if we only knew who to approach.

With all this streaming going on? How do you find anyone? The best way is to follow them on their streaming platform of choice, but other tools are cropping up. LiveList says they will be a clearinghouse to locate online concert streams. PeriscoSearch, Perisfind, live-events for youtube, and liveTube are all mobile apps that claim to do that.

But lets  talk hardware for a little bit. I posted a link in an earlier tutorial about building a modest lighting system for under $100 with parts from the hardware store. It works, but if you are willing to invest a little more, you can reap big dividends. I recently bought a Neewer Lighting system from Amazon for $230. You get 3 lighting panels with 660 LEDs per panel, with stands, barn doors, and soft cases. The kit provides considerably more light than the home brew version and more light means better video quality. CRI is 96 (out of 100- that’s very good) color temperature is variable from 3200K (tungsten) to 5600K (daylight). It’s a very cost effective setup. It is also compatible with Sony style camera batteries. You can buy a kit with 6 batteries and 3 chargers for an extra $140 or so. That will give you a couple hours of light outdoors or in areas with no AC power.



I’m still toying with different video hardware. Mostly I use either my IPhone XR or my MEVO live event cam. I generally prefer the MEVO, primarily because I can control it surreptitiously from my ipad. The camera itself is tiny and can be mounted from the ceiling or a lighting stand or almost anywhere. It will shoot at resolutions up to 4k. I prefer 720p for my live streams to keep the bandwidth reasonable. In extremely limited bandwidth situations you can stream at 480p or even 360p. Amazon sells the original MEVO for $199 and the MEVO plus (same resolution, stronger wifi) for $399. I see the originals on YouTube for around $100. The MEVO shines brightest when it is controlled by an operator, but it has several automatic features like face follow and automatic switching.

The Achilles Heel of the MEVO  is its poor internal microphone. It’s not horrible, but inadequate for music. You can add the MEVO Boost battery pack and Ethernet interface for another $199. It also has a CORE audio compatible USB interface that works with any signal that’s compatible with a Mac or IOS device, allowing you to use virtually any professional microphone or board feed with the MEVO.

Another bane is that the best camera location is usually NOT the best microphone location. And it’s messy and annoying spreading a bunch of cords all over the place. To that end, MEVO recently released a free app called MEVO mic which allows you to take any IOS compatible microphone or audio source and transmit it wirelessly to the MEVO. You can mix up to 3 of them into your recording.

And can you simultaneously stream and record a performance auto the internal microSD card? Yes you can. I’m told you could even stream to multiple platforms at once, I haven’t tried this. I think it is forbidden by most of the platforms who want to hold you captive on their site. Eventually, if you want to go really crazy you can upgrade to Livestream Studio 6 for true multicamera shoots.

Lastly, on the mobile side, I just bought a PIVO, I’m not even sure exactly what it does, but I think it’s supposed to make me breakfast tomorrow morning.


For most budget streamers, I feel that your smartphone camera is of better quality than any other camera under $1000 that you are liable to find. If you are a total quality fanatic and have the money for a high quality DSL camera, There are other alternatives. Blackmagic Stuidos makes kind of a nice box called the Web Presenter that takes any SDI or HDMI video signal and massages it into a form that looks to your Mac like a standard Webcam, making it compatible with a wide variety of platforms and services.

My pal Bob Bennett uses a Mac software called Ecamm Live that adds a plethora of features to your live stream with live camera switching, screen overlays, scheduling and more. Prices range from $12-$20 a month.

How does it look?

I won’t even begin to talk about DSLR HDMI cameras. I don’t have the money to dabble in those. You need to do that research yourself. Personally, I think you can get great looking and sounding live streams with under $500 worth of gear.

Here are a few more important statistics on Live Streaming. And more.

I believe the future belongs to the people who can reach new audiences. I can’t think of a better way than live streaming. Please join the Live Streamers group and team up with us.



The Big Orange Tarp at Falcon Ridge 2019

by AlanRowoth on June 30, 2019

We are thrilled to be returning once again to the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, this time to celebrate their 31st Anniversary. We play music under the BOT Wednesday-Sunday evenings and often well into the night. Wednesday and Sunday are Open Circles, starting around dusk. Thu, Fri, and Saturday we start with feature rounds and go Open Circle sometime later that night. On Friday and Saturday evening our features will be primarily made up of this years Grassy Hill Emerging Artists (featured on the main stage on Friday afternoon) and the Most Wanted Artists from last year’s showcase: Quarter Horse, Carolann Solebello, and Justin Farren.
Oliver the Crow was also selected by the audience, but will be touring in Europe this august.

The Emerging Artists this year include:

I hope you can be here for their Friday afternoon main stage set, but if you can’t, Sally and I will attempt to give you a second chance to see each of them on one of the weekend nights at the BOT. Friday and Saturday Feature start when the main stage ends. In addition to Emerging Artists and Most Wanted, we always have a few additional tricks up our sleeve.

On Thursday night we are kicking off with a memorial to Dr. John. led by Radoslav Lorkovic. This will start directly after the lounge stage finishes, so please plan on joining us if you can. We will follow this with other special guests. That, of course, will finally lead into Thursday’s Open Circle.

If you are a regular follower of my blog you know I spent the better part of March this year in India with lifetime Falcon Ridger Allie Sibner. It was life changing for me. I’ve convinced her to do a presentation at the BOT on Saturday afternoon at 3pm called “Yoga and Travel Talk with Allie Sibner” Where she will do a little yoga with you and talk about her experiences traveling in India, Cambodia, and Southeast Asia. Q&A will follow.

I’m very pleased with the entire program and we look forward to sharing it with you.

Here’s a taste of some of what you might see

Here is how you find us at the festival


Allie Sibner and I celebrated India’s “Holi” holiday in Rishikesh.

Into the Heart of Yoga with Allie Sibner – Rishikesh, India 2019

by AlanRowoth on June 23, 2019

I’ve intended to do an in depth travelogue of this trip since my return to the USA in April. I want to share all the minutia with you, but I’ve had writers block. I finally realized I had to preface that with the meta story of why the trip was so powerful.

My deep dive Into the Heart of Yoga with Allie Sibner was the greatest vacation of my life. That may sound crazy as I am an atheist, and had never even attempted yoga. I went primarily to visit the Childrens home at Ramana’s Garden and to experience the food and culture of India. (Which we did) But the trip was so much more than that.

Allie Sibner is the most enlightened, peaceful, mindful person I know. Allie’s personal spirituality reflects a deep understanding and respect for not only the customs and mores of Hinduism and lndia, but also traditions and teachings of Christianity, Judaism, Native American and other indigenous cultures. We learned not only about Yoga and Meditation, but so much more. Altho I am a senior citizen, this was mostly new information for me. Most of the other travelers were Yoga teachers themselves, but they all seemed as enthralled as I was. Even if you have no interest in India or Yoga, take the time to follow Allie on Instagram.

Nepalese Yogi Veer Shahi worked closely with our group almost daily, teaching not only various forms of yoga, but also the history of the British Colonial era and India’s caste system. His warmth and infectious smile was a pure delight to all of us. Veer and I became very close.

Allie’s selection of the Santushti Yoga Vini guest house as our home base was perfect. I have never enjoyed a hotel stay more. They provided 2 delicious vegetarian meals each day, cheap and expert laundry service, as well as vast local insight. The utilitarian rooms were clean and comfortable. Their filtered water service was essential to me as I don’t use sugar drinks, fake sugar drinks, or alcohol. The fourth floor Yoga studio was large and well executed. But it was their care and attention to our every need that went way beyond what I have come to expect as hotel service. The proprietors Vishal and Sunit often participated directly with us in Allie’s program. Both have become true friends that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

In addition to morning meditation, learning mantras, and yoga in the yoga studio atop the guest house, we did a lot of exploring and experiential learning in and around Rishikesh. Visiting various shrines, temples, and waterfalls. Experiencing Aarti and Puja ceremonies, and spending time on the banks and in the waters of Ganga Ma, the sacred river that energizes the region; Allie expertly wove the entire experience into a seamless celebration of our own lives and spirituality.

We celebrated the Indian Holiday of Holi. Rishikesh was bursting with joy and colors and love and music. Words can’t capture that experience, you have to be there. We did Dance meditation with Daria Stoian. And of course we ate and shopped and did the full tourist experience as well. The food was great and the shopping fascinating. I had several dinners at the Beatles Cafe. If you like bargains, the food and shopping was super inexpensive.

I saved the best for last. We spent a lot of time at Ramana’s Garden, bonding with the children and staff that make it such a beacon of hope in a region struggling with poverty and homelessness. In addition to the children who live there, Ramana’s provides a daily education to another 200 children from the surrounding community. They finance their mission by growing their own food and selling organic, vegetarian meals in their delicious on site restaurant, as well as thru donations. Paying extra attention to the unique needs of young women, traditionally marginalized in India’s patriarchal society, they provide skills and education critical for these women to achieve their full potential. The joy and love that permeates this community, the laughter and smiles of the children stole our hearts. They recently received a grant to expand their dormitory space and add a couple of classrooms, but this grant doesn’t cover their increased operating expenses. They could use your help.

The trip exceeded my expectations on every level. The people who chose to join are incredible human beings and I love each of them. Though only in her mid 20’s, Allie handled our group masterfully, responding to our feedback and interests on the fly, constantly adapting our daily schedules. It was all so much Fun in addition to being educational and emotionally enriching. Because we were based at the guest house, no activity was mandatory. Each guest could prioritize their personal objectives and slip away at any time for a massage, some Ayurvedic therapy, or just some personal time to absorb what we were feeling, with no fear of “missing the bus” and becoming disconnected from the group.

Allie checked in with us daily to see where everyone was at. I won’t lie, it was a powerful emotional experience, life-changing for me. Emotions were intense. Waves of tears and joy. A deepening sense of connection to my self, my body, Ganga Ma, all of nature and even mankind as a whole, and a love affair with our entire travel group. In a world that encourages us to anesthetize our true feelings and disconnect from the cacophony around us, this trip brought into sharp focus for me the true joy of living and breathing on this beautiful planet. The joy and wonder each day can hold for us. And the richness of deep human connection.

Now I’m back home in the USA and telling everyone I meet about what I have learned. I’m counting the days until I return to India next year with Allie and the group. Best of all, the cost was lower than I ever expected, putting participation well within the reach of most people. To learn more about Allie, yoga, and India, visit her website I hope you can join us in the experience.

Here’s a youtube music playlist I shared with the members of our group.

A small sampling of the many photos we took while we were there.

A taste of Satsang with the kids from Ramana’s Garden

Veer Shahi

Daria Stoian

For more info

The Big Orange Tarp at Folk Alliance International-Montreal 2019

by AlanRowoth on January 28, 2019


In the Access Film Blue Room, Rm 469

I’m super psyched about my showcase lineup for Montreal. Partnering again with Access Film Music in their blue room. I’m not super psyched about the tiny hotel rooms.My usual audience is not going to fit into the room, I encourage you to come early to get a seat. 

Thursday night 

11:30pm Freddy and Francine, Scott Cook, Lynn Miles

12 midnight Peppino D’Augustino, Rod Abernethy, Noah Zacharin

 Friday night

11:30pm Sara Wheeler, RJ Cowdery, Rachael Kilgour

12 Greg Klyma, The Rix (Rick Nestler & Rik Palieri), Tim “Doc Fritz” Liebert

12:30 Markley and Balmer, Lisa Bastoni & Naomi Sommers, Reggie Harris

 Saturday night

11:30pm Hope Dunbar, Hayley Reardon, Scott Cook

12 Annie Oakley, Emily Mure, Rachael Kilgour

12:30 Lisa Bastoni, Dave Gunning, The LYNNeS

1am Freddy & Francine, Vance Gilbert, Ellis Paul


Making Music Together. The value of Social Music.

by AlanRowoth on November 9, 2018

The first music was social music. Scientists have found musical instruments dating back 40,000 years or more, but anthropologists feel music is much older, maybe as much as half a million years, predating any recorded history, perhaps even language itself. There is something very elemental about making and sharing music.

My earliest musical experiences were my grandmother singing me to sleep. Soon, I was singing with her, it was a cornerstone of our bond. Not long afterward, I was singing in the congregation and later the choir at church. I got up in front of my 3rd grade class and sang a Beatle Song (If I Fell) acapella. I sang in the school bus on my way to day camp. (0n top of Spaghetti, Great Green Gobs, and other classics). Chorus in school, pep rallies, and much more. By the time I was in 8th grade, I was in my first rock band.

i became a professional musician, but most kids don’t. Pretty much everybody loves to sing, or try to. Social music remains a great way to excite and engage human beings in group activities. Whether you are singing protest songs at a political rally, singing your grandchildren to sleep, or singing “You’ve Got a Friend” with James Taylor on the lawn of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, making music in a group brings us closer together. Everyone can sing, not always well, but the important thing is the act of singing itself.

My rock bands sometimes took great pains to break the fourth wall. We would set up a performance that drew them in as spectators, but someplace in the course if the evening, we would break down the invisible barrier between audience and performer  sometimes it was a simple as jumping into the audience or trolling across the bar with a wireless guitar rig.  Other times we might thrust the vocal mic into the face of a fan who had clearly been singing along. In my prime, I spontaneously kissed a number of women in the audience. (Long before #MeToo was a worry) That moment of realization when the audience understood they were now a part of the performance could be very powerful

In my continuing work in music, I use social music in many ways, from encouraging audiences sing alongs to hosting open circles. Under the Big Orange Tarp, I used to bring a box of percussion instruments to festivals. Egg shakers, tambourines, bongo drums, claves, maracas, you name it. I drifted away from that because untrained musicians can be such poor time keepers. I like to attend drum circles with my pal Chadd Ferron. They are so fun, but they can be obtrusive late nights at your music festival or in urban settings. They may or may not be right for your constituency.

Singing songs together can be fantastic. From folk songs, protest songs, inspirational hymns to Late night Beatles jams in Gene Shay’s room at NERFA.  These always generate smiles and cameraderie.  At Falcon Ridge this summer, Dan Navarro kicked off our loving tribute to David Glaser, Maggie Marshall, and Jimmy LaFave with a New Orleans style, second line processional from one side of the camp ground to the other, ending up at the Big Orange Tarp to kick off the tribute. The crowd was “All in” before our formal feature even began. Audience engagement and participation was fantastic.

Some venues have group sings after their shows  these can be particularly powerful in small house concert situations. Ireland is all about the pub sings, where people haul their chairs over into a corner and play together.  Orchestrated jam sessions provide a place where wannabe professionals can noodle around quietly, testing their musical ideas to see what works and what doesn’t. When I was starting out, I always played along with records, but I can tell you first hand, that’s not as exciting as playing along with people.

Many Americans are shy, socially inhibited, uncomfortable in their own skins  it has been reported that many Of them fear public speaking more than they fear death. To stand in front of a group and speak extemporaneously is unthinkable for some, but to sing some Simon and Garfunkel or Phil Ochs, sharing that eloquence is far easier.  So many people feel isolated and alone, unseen and unheard. They may not even realize it, but most people light up when they realize they are a part of something. It is natural to yearn for connection In a purely practical sense, you want customers coming back to consume your music, but trust me, that’s feels great when you discover your events are serving people in a deeper and more meaningful way.

in my opinion, Folk Dance is making music with your body. our dance stage at Falcon Ridge has one of the most engaged and enthusiastic audiences that I know of. As a long time music listener, I can get mesmerized by a fantastic performance that I view only as a spectator, but the physical act of dancing is a full body, aerobic experience with a much broader emotional payload.

If you really want to see some fireworks, try workshopping some of the theatre games from Viola Spolin’s classic book “Improvisation for the theater”. Considered the Bible of Improvisational Comedy groups like the Second City or the Groundlings. It has been used with great success by musicians as well as actors and comics. It gets people laughing and thinking outside of the box.

Improvisation for the Theater: A Handbook of Teaching and Directing Techniques (Drama and Performance Studies)

However you decide to incorporate social music into your programming, the big win is in audience engagement and customer loyalty. Just as volunteerism brings people back in the doors, so does getting them to be music makers, not simply spectators.