As it has for many in the D.C. region, the coronavirus pandemic brought Loudoun County, Virginia, singer songwriter Andrew McKnight’s business to a halt.
During the first weekend of March, he started crafting a new album and embarked on a book release tour. He performed in Texas and New Orleans before returning to Virginia.
“By the time I got home on St. Patrick’s Day, the world had completely changed, and everything was being canceled and postponed,” McKnight said.
McKnight followed the direction of other musicians, working to adjust to online platforms.
“Immediately, everyone from James Taylor down to your local pub singer is online singing from their living room, trying desperately to maintain some sort of human connection with their audiences,” he said.
He soon joined them. McKnight has been offering short, free performances, hoping to remain connected with his fans. He hopes to do the same with a live concert from his living room later this month.
For an artist accustomed to performing in front of a live audience, online performances involve a bit of an adjustment, he said.
“You know, the eyes are the window to the soul,” McKnight said.
“When you’re performing for a live audience, the expression on their faces, whether they’re sitting or they’re standing in front of you with their hands in the air, it’s really that visual eye-to-eye connection that you experience. It’s an essential part of that cycle of a performance, of a unique experience.”
While getting used to online performances, McKnight said he started offering them for free, hoping to bring people some joy in this time of uncertainty. He said he’s going to have to start charging for some shows, though, as today’s world doesn’t allow musicians the same
safety net they used to have.
“It used to be recording sales and royalties from airplay, whether it was terrestrial radio or whatnot, would be big chunk of your income, and that stuff wouldn’t go away,” he said.
He said if this were 15 years ago, those royalties could help many artists make it through an economic hit like this pandemic.
However, the past decade of streaming music and changes in how those royalties are paid have substantially depleted that income source, he said.
“For the most part, royalty streams for all but the top-tier artists are not going to sustain you through your grocery bill for a week, let alone months,” said McKnight.
His solution is to perform a longer, ticketed, online concert, with the hope his fans will be willing to spend a few dollars for live entertainment in their homes, while helping him support his family.
“I have always been up front with my audience that an independent artist is actually a misnomer, because we are completely dependent on the people who enjoy our work, who show up at the shows, who buy our music in one way or another,” said McKnight.
“So, I’m trying to walk this balance between doing some free things for those who are out of work and don’t have the resources to do anything and the fact that I need to pay the mortgage and all of that too. I have a family and this is my livelihood.”
McKnight is planning an April 9 online concert — the suggested price is $15 to watch, but viewers can pay as little as $5. There will also be options to pay more or to tip during the performance.
Plus, as a perk, he said: You can enjoy the show in your pajamas.
“And you have your own liquor cabinet,” McKnight said. “You’re free to have the beverage and snacks of your choice. You can sit on the couch, you can put it up on the big screen TV. You can do it whatever way you want.”
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