Virtual Venue Keeps Missouri Music Live | KBIA

Virtual Venue Keeps Missouri Music Live

Mar 23, 2020

If you log onto social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, users are sharing their hobbies and artistry online due in large part to people isolating themselves in their homes whether by mandate or choice. 

That’s what happened to Shannon Morris. 

“I just recently joined a band and we had our first gig coming up and it got cancelled,” Morris says. “So I thought well, you know, we could always just livestream a practice.”

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, Missouri event venues have shuttered and concerts have been canceled, leaving musicians locked out of a critical part of their business: live shows. 

One Missouri Facebook group is trying to help fix that.

Morris, who used to work at a record store in Columbia before recently moving to work at the owner’s Overland Park, Kansas, location, experienced a familiar situation happening to many musicians across the country.

Indeed, with many gatherings limited to fewer than 10 people and locations where performances typically take place, like coffee shops, restaurants and bars, closed, many performances have been driven online. Morris, inspired by Kansas City social media groups, decided he wanted to take the live streaming one step further and bring local artists together at a virtual venue through a facebook group.

“This lets people go and kind of see a schedule and a list of what's happening in that area,” he says. “And I think that just kind of connects the local music scene with the audience.”

The group is called “Mid-Missouri Virtual Venue” and here’s how it works:

Step one: Pick a date and time you want to live stream. 

Step two: Create a Facebook event and tag the virtual venue group. Morris will then share that livestream on the virtual venue’s group page when the event takes place. 

Optional step three: Create a donations link or set a cover charge through paypal or venmo for the event. 

“We've had so far everything from a couple of guys playing Skynyrd tunes on guitar to a guy playing piano the other night,” Morris says. “We've got the Burney sisters coming up, which I'm pretty excited about.” Currently, there are about 1,000 members in the group.

The impact of losing venue locations hurts the musicians, yes, but also impacts those who work in the music business. Matthew Crook programs musical acts for Columbia’s Cafe Berlin, which is a restaurant by day and small music venue by night often featuring local acts.

Their venue has also temporarily closed down during the pandemic, although the restaurant is still serving limited take-out orders. Crook says it’s imperative to support local artists right now, especially since many of the musicians and venue employees also work in the collapsing food service industry.

“Them losing shows is huge because when they get back home, their jobs are also not there,” he says. “And that’s true of people that work at the cafe.”

Crook, who also runs an experimental music nonprofit in Columbia called Dismal Niche, says people should check out the website bandcamp.com, where many up and coming musicians feature their music, and buy their music and merchandise. Right now, he’s put together a compilation playlist on bandcamp of local and regional acts who regularly play at the venue.

“We’ll be selling this compilation album with all sales going directly back to the people who work nights at the cafe who are currently out of work,” he says. 

Finding the time to livestream performances is helpful, too, Crook says. Getting a performance onto a Facebook group like Mid-Missouri Virtual Venue allows more eyes to catch a new act or remind them of a familiar one. 

And that is the flip side of all the live streaming going on: music lovers who are stuck at home have access to live performances again, albeit in a slightly modified format. And many Missouri musicians are hoping that this new normal will catch on with viewers willing to tune in online and toss a tip into the virtual bucket.

Ultimately Crook says these are helpful steps to support the independent music industry right now, but he hopes people are also looking long term.

“We really don't even know how restaurants and venues and things are going to come out on the other side of this -- like if we'll even be financially sustainable or able to carry on,” he says.