The pandemic has taken away or greatly changed the livelihoods of many; and musicians may be among the hardest hit.
With no end in sight on restrictions on large gatherings, many musicians are longing for the feeling of playing in front of a live audience — something that has been basically impossible since March 2020.
Even prior to the pandemic, finding spaces to play shows in Penticton has always been a challenge, according to Stephanie Lines the lead singer of Penticton-based band Yarrows.
The diminishing number of venues in the city has long been a concern for artists in the local music scene, Lines said.
“Penticton has had an ongoing venue challenge to be honest and it’s getting frighteningly worse because the small businesses are finding it so hard and shutting down,” Lines said.
“For us as well, we tend to play music that is a bit more punk-rock or experimental and so having venues that will actually appreciate having us is very challenging… but it continues to get worse with the housing crisis and now with COVID.
“For me, it’s pretty scary to look at the future of shows.”
Despite a trying year, lines and her band Yarrows managed to release the bands’ debut album Stardust Motor Inn this summer.
The three-piece band’s debut album — named after a now defunct Penticton motel — aims to convey Penticton’s unique dichotomy of natural beauty and “languid slowness” through their blend of psychedelic country and existential dream rock.
In a normal year, the album’s release would have been met with a handful of local shows and likely a tour, but due to COVID-19 that wasn’t possible.
The band was able to perform a small, outdoor, socially distanced show for their album release party in August, but that was the extent of the album’s live promotion to date.
Rob McLaren, one half of Kelowna duo The Cavernous, has been organizing and performing concerts in Penticton for over 15 years.
While he’s been frustrated with not being able to play shows, he understand the severity of the pandemic and the importance of the public health orders. “The last thing I personally want to do is minimize a crisis because I’m inconvenienced,” McLaren said.
McLaren also said COVID-19 has brought new opportunities for creativity.
“I think as musicians we have to kind of live like this (COVID) isn’t going way… I think we have to think creatively. Working in Penticton as a musician, you’re already running the gauntlet with how to be creative with like-minded people.
“I’ve played on-top of a parkade because that’s what somebody thought up, you have to continually evolve in this town because there’s no way you’re going to be able to present (your music) and COVID is just a new hurdle to jump over.”
Many live-streamed virtual performances have taken place during the pandemic, offering at least some way for musicians to play live for their fans. But for obvious reasons the experience just isn’t the same for both fans and artists. For some musicians, virtual performances aren’t even worth the time.
McLaren himself has struggled to adapt to live-streaming performances.
“The little imperfections that make a live performance beautiful live are the same things that kill it on a stream,” he said. “When somebody’s consuming music through a phone or a computer you’re kind of in a space where — for better or worse — you’re conditioned for perfection.”
While live-streamed performances may not be the permanent answer, they do at least offer some form of interaction with bands.
In Penticton, music fans will soon have another way of catching live performances from a distance. The local community radio station, Peach City Community Radio Society 92.9 CFUZ-FM, was recently awarded a grant that will help launch a new series showcasing live, on-air performances by local musicians.
Video and audio content from the performance will then be created from the performances and shared online.
Lines is hopeful that her band Yarrows will be able to book a slot for a live, on-air performance with CFUZ in the near future.
Having just launched an album, Lines said the pandemic has made promoting her band’s first release very challenging. “Touring and playing shows is really when you’re able to connect with other musicians and music lovers… without that we’re a little lost,” she said.
Despite this, she said the local community has received the album very well and has been very supportive.
The pandemic has also been very tough financially for bands who rely on touring and merchandise sales for most of their revenue.
On top of being able to promote themselves and gain new followers at shows, many artists also generate the majority of their revenue by playing shows. Streaming services such a Spotify and Apple Music are hardly profitable for smaller artists. Spotify currently pays artists $0.004 per stream, meaning an artist would need to log 1000 streams to earn $4. Apple Music pays $0.00783 per stream.
Lines said “buying music” is the best way to support local musicians during the pandemic. BandCamp is the ideal platform to purchase music through, as artists get paid directly through the website, Lines said.
Locally, she said buying records from local shops like the Grooveyard record store is a great way to get started supporting local musicians.