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From Drive-In Concerts to Livestream Raves, Artists Band Together to Keep Music Alive Amid Coronavir

A "drive-in" concert in Los Angeles organized by Los Angeles musicians Celia Hollander, Booker Stardrum, Jeremiah Chiu and Ben Babbitt with Dublab Radio.

"We have to find creative ways to do special things, because we are still here, we are still active and alive."

Tours and concerts may be on hold for the foreseeable future, but musicians around the world are banding together to prove that the show must -- and will -- go on. From livestreaming performances to collaborative recording projects to “drive-in” concerts, artists are tapping technology and their creative networks to develop support systems and stay connected with fans as self-quarantining becomes the norm amidst the escalating coronavirus pandemic.

Over the weekend, dozens of artists and venues announced they would be live streaming upcoming performances that were canceled due to venue closures. On Sunday, Spanish singer-songwriter Alejandro Sanz teamed up with Colombian rocker Juanes for a live streamed performance called La Gira Se Queda En Casa Para Todos, or “The Tour Stays Home for All,” which received more than 5 million views in under 24 hours and became the top global trending video on YouTube Monday. The Metropolitan Opera also announced it would begin streaming free performances from its “Live in HD” series on its website beginning Monday. Other artists who have streamed or are planning to live stream shows include U.K. rock artist Yungblud, J-pop entertainment giant LDH Japan, Dropkick Murphys, Indigo Girls and Burger Records acts Shadow Show and This Uni. Christine and the Queens, Neil Young, Keith Urban, Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy, John Legend and Miley Cyrus have also all performed or announced streaming performances and digital hang-outs with fans. Meanwhile, a slate of folk and country artists have announced Shut In and Sing, an online festival to stream this weekend via StageIt.

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DJs and nightlife producers have also harnessed streaming platforms like Instagram, TikTok and Twitch to host Boiler Room-style “raves” to stay connected with fans.

“Raving remote! Since everyone is feeling pretty isolated right now, we thought we could all use some music to cheer us up,” electronic label and artist collective Second Nature Seattle wrote in an Instagram post on Friday, announcing the night’s canceled Mala Junta party with DJs Hyperaktivist, DJ Tool, D. Dan and Archivist would instead be live-streamed over Twitch. The event page also included a donation button to support Seattle Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund, which helps support organizations that work with populations disproportionately affected by the virus and its economic impact.

Brady Keehn, who performs as L.A. electronic artist Panther Modern, is working to help share resources for artists to put on streaming and virtual reality shows. In addition to writing a guide for how to make the most of your equipment for concert streaming, Keehn is also working with tech company The Wave XR to design stages, venues and other environments that acts can use for VR concerts. He plans to upload the software to Google Poly, where anyone will be able to download and modify the designs.

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"What's really awesome about the internet right now is that everything you want to do can be accomplished for free somehow, some way," Keehn says. "Hopefully people will want to contribute to this and help develop it further. The climate is ripe for it right now, and I don't see any other options. The things I was banking on to make money on to survive off of are gone right now. This is the only thing I know to do."

Beyond the growing ubiquity of streaming shows, other artists are developing creative alternatives to safely convene around music in person. Los Angeles experimental musicians Celia Hollander, Booker Stardrum, Jeremiah Chiu and Ben Babbitt teamed up with Dublab Radio to organize a “drive-in” concert in a grocery store parking lot after business had closed. Operating out of a white van, the performers used a hyperlocal FM radio transmitter to broadcast a performance to about 50 cars parked with people listening “alone, together.” Around 900 people also tuned in from home via Dublab’s website stream.

“I’ve had this idea for awhile, but felt the social isolation went against what I valued about live shows, so I never did it,” says Hollander, explaining that the event is a way for the artists to continue the month-long residency that was supposed to begin at local venue Zebulon that night. “It’s a strange time that this now has the potential to be a beacon of community. It’s definitely an experiment. But I think it went well, and we plan to do it every week.”

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The once unremarkable scene of a full grocery store parking lot on a weeknight was both surreal and heartening on Monday as listeners politely honked and waved to each other through their windows to welcome other attendees as they drove in. Some vehicles carried groups of people, while others drove solo. Though most remained anonymously in their cars, a few fans opened their back hatches to face each other while listening, and a handful ventured out to walk their dogs and chat at a distance. After each set, listeners silently flashed their headlights in applause.

“We have to find creative ways to do special things, because we are still here, we are still active and alive,” said Babbitt, concluding the broadcast. “We need to support each other to find creative solutions in these challenging times.”

Other artists who have lost work due to show cancellations are using circumstances as an opportunity to remotely collaborate on creative projects. Touring bassist and writer-producer Allee Futterer, who performs with acts like Mayer Hawthorne, Donna Missal and Kiesza, began organizing a remote writing camp for artists of any medium to remotely contribute to EPs that Futterer will then edit and send to a mixer and release the following week. Its first edition, Community Arts Project: L.A., will be put out March 23, featuring collaborations from Los Angeles-based artists. Since posting an open call for the project on Instagram Sunday, Futterer says she already received inquiries from more than 60 artists from Berlin to London to Buenos Aires, which she hopes will lead to more location-based EPs in the weeks ahead.

“I wanted to give people an outlet to be fully creative and express their emotions in a collaborative way without actually creating in the same room,” she says. “I have no idea what to expect, which is the fun part. I drew names out of a hat to figure out who went on which team -- everybody is into very different kinds of music so I’m really excited to hear the tunes.”

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