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Local musicians get creative amid coronavirus

Author’s note: With live performances canceled or postponed, many local musicians quickly pivoted to find new ways to keep sharing their music. This site -- created by a Seattle-based musician -- became a staple in the world of live streamed concerts throughout the pandemic, hosting many local and national acts. (This story originally aired April 3, 2020.)

As Seattle began to respond to stem the spread of coronavirus, many local artists saw their events canceled and eventually local venues and bars were shuttered. Artists got creative, and many turned to livestreaming on social media to continue performing.

One local musician turned to his previous job in tech as a programmer to come up with a solution.

Local saxophonist Gordon Brown can trace his love for music back to grade school, when he started playing music. He's been involved with bands since he was about 15 years old. 

"That's just never stopped, even when I became a member of the tech industry," Brown said. "There would be many days where I'd bring my saxophones to the office because I would have a gig right afterwards and just go straight to the gig and not get home until 2:30 or 3." 

He's now a full-time musician and a member of the local funk band, The True Loves. When the pandemic struck and he started losing gigs, he began looking for a solution. He knew other people in the music community also were facing hardship. 

"You hear stories about people who have all these gigs lined up for the entire year, and they just vanished," he said. "All this expected future income is gone, and I know a lot of people are pretty frightened right now."

Using his past experience as a programmer, he founded the website It has a live video feed and donation form in one place. Whenever someone donates, a virtual tip jar in the feed shows coins falling into a glass on screen, in real time. 

The website also has been successful. So far, the site has hosted eight shows from local and national acts and each of them has met or surpassed their fundraising goals. In total, artists have collectively netted more than $11,000 through streaming shows on the site. 

Livestreaming seems to be the new norm for artists, at least for now. But it can't totally replicate the experience of seeing live music, and it can be a little awkward. 

"One of the things that surprised, I think everybody, was that awkward silence that happens after a song when there isn't an audience," he said. "You don't really realize how much you miss it until it's gone."

Just having an opportunity to perform again provides a needed outlet for artists, Brown said.

"When you take that away from artists, it's really hard. So there's that aspect that's just feeling like you're an artist again when you're performing," he said.

Some artists have gotten creative on the site, too. One artist from Nashville streamed his recording and composing processes, instead of a concert, and then answered questions from viewers.

Brown wants to keep innovating the streaming platform and coming up with new interactive elements, like that one, that bring the audience and performers closer together. Some of his ideas include more Q&As and finding a way for the musicians to hear applause — whether real or manufactured — to remove some of that awkward silence between songs.

Brown hosts and works on the livestreaming website from his basement in West Seattle. The room doubles as his home studio, where he practices saxophone and rehearses with bands. 

Brown hasn't been playing saxophone as much lately, with no gigs on the books and all his attention on the website. But the work has been a welcome distraction.

"I guess I'm going to invent the term 'entrepreneurial escapism,'" he said. "It's been really nice just for my own mental well-being to focus on something that's trying to make a difference." 

News Coronavirus Coverage
Rebekah Way is an on-call news host at KNKX. She began her career in public radio as a news intern at KNKX, where she's also worked as an interim producer and reporter. Rebekah holds a life-long passion for music and also works as a professional musician and educator in the Seattle area.