In this week’s guest column giving a voice to Michigan musicians, singer-songwriter Nicholas James Thomasma hails the advantages folk musicians have during a COVID lockdown. He performs online tonight.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Local Spins Musicians’ Soundboard gives a voice to Michigan musicians and industry veterans amid an ever-challenging music scene. Today, singer-songwriter Nicholas James Thomasma offers up his take on surviving and thriving as a folk music artist.
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It’s been an extremely folked-up year.
No, that’s not a typo.
One of the best things about the pandemic is that it has highlighted just how vast and supportive the music community really is. Folk musicians are at a distinct advantage in the music industry right now simply because we are able to perform. We have shined in our resilience and our ability to carry forward traditions by taking them into the virtual realm in the form of open-mics, song circles, peer sessions, performances, workshops, lessons and even virtual conferences.
I may be wrong, but I don’t think there will be any major festivals or any national/international touring bands this summer or fall. That said, solos/duos/trios and other small ensembles can be just as entertaining and just as impactful, especially for folks who haven’t been to a concert in a year or more.
You can still support and enjoy live music by supporting the musicians in your community. Michigan residents, in particular, are fortunate to live in a community whose well is overflowing with talent. If you want live music this summer, think small and local.
Either that or think virtual.
Technology is evolving because of musicians and the demand for live music. A year ago, the sound on Zoom was pretty bad. So, they designed their platform to eliminate “noise” and we, as musicians — desperate to share our songs with each other — have forced them to change that. There is now a “high quality audio” setting on Zoom.
Another platform called Twitch was originally a place where people would just play video games. Now, artists host concerts on Twitch. On top of that, the most popular app of the last year is TikTok, a new platform designed completely around short-form video. The content is heavily based on users creating video by utilizing existing audio. It is actually a “music discovery” platform. Music supervisors monitor what’s going viral on TikTok and, in some cases, sign those acts to major label deals. That is exciting.
Patreon is another silver lining. If you want to support artists directly, subscribe to them on Patreon. It’s a modern-day, patron-of-the-arts app. It’s brilliant.
Perhaps what’s most exciting about the music industry right now is the fact that music is driving changes in technology. Technology is working hard to keep up with the demands of musicians. I believe it’s only a matter of time before we can all jam together over the Internet.
LIVE-STREAMS IDEAL FOR SOLO FOLK ARTISTS, PLUS OTHER WAYS TO STAY CONNECTED
Live-streams, like them or not, are not going away. They are very specifically suited to singer-songwriters and solo performers. Large ensembles, symphonies, rock bands, etc., need a large enough space to do what they do. I miss playing in a band fiercely, but I also feel very fortunate that I can pick up an acoustic guitar anywhere at any time and just go live.
The simple fact that we can perform has put a spotlight on folk musicians and singer-songwriters over the past year. Michigan native Billy Strings tonight wraps up a six-night run of shows in a venue with no live audience. Instead of being limited by the capacity of the venue, there is an unlimited number of people who can attend via the Internet. People are tuning in from all over the world to watch a group of young folk musicians play experimental bluegrass music.
I remember thinking this would pass quickly and we would return to work in a few weeks. Weeks stretched into months and months have stretched into nearly a year now. I can’t just sit around. It’s not in my nature. After a few months of being home alone, I found myself spiraling into a dizzying depression with no shows, no income and no real plan for the future.
I was questioning my value as an artist as well as my value as a human being. It was rough. I want to be useful. I want to work. I want to be considered essential. Everyone does.
I came to the conclusion that I need things to fill my time. First I reorganized my apartment, then I reorganized my social media strategy to include daily, weekly and monthly tasks. I built a content calendar to help me keep things on track.
Instead of open-mic every Tuesday, now I have “Mixtape Tuesdays” where I make themed Spotify playlists. I used to go out for coffee with people twice a month to talk about music business, now I go live every Thursday for “Beans and Business.”
I’m doing occasional live-stream performances, some home recording, some virtual collaborating, volunteering as a board member at Folk Alliance Region Midwest, and posting monthly acoustic cover videos in my “underCover” series. I’m part of a songwriting group and write at least one song per month which I immediately upload for my Patreon supporters. That’s in addition to my monthly email newsletter.
Since I can’t travel, I’m focused on learning about my craft, myself and the business of being an independent artist in 2021.
I signed up for every free online class that I could and have completed webinars on financial independence for artists, financial management for non-profits, grant writing, marketing, branding, leadership trainings and more.
In fact, if you’re reading this, you’re among the first to know that thanks to the Michigan Reconnect Program, I will be going back to college at Grand Rapids Community College in the fall. That’s right. I’m going back to school. You’re never too old to learn or to pursue your dreams!
So I’m busy again. I’m optimistic again. And I have every reason to be hopeful for the future.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nicholas James Thomasma is a Michigan-based singer-songwriter, a member of the Earthwork Music collective and a volunteer on the board of directors for Folk Alliance Region Midwest. He will showcase his music virtually at 7:30 p.m. today (Wednesday, Feb. 24) as part of Folk Unlocked, the new online conference from Folk Alliance International. Tickets are donation-based and good for over 800 hours of virtual performances. Donations go into the Village Fund for artists financially affected due to the pandemic. Details online here. Learn about Thomasma at https://linktr.ee/nicholasjamesthomasma.
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