Releasing a record is rarely easy, even at the best of times. But amidst a pandemic where touring isn’t an option, musicians have faced unexpected challenges.
Ron Hawkins: Creative live-streaming, supporting causes
Ron Hawkins’ latest album, 246, was set for release on Warner Canada, but the pandemic had other plans.
“Warner had signed on to release it, which was a surreal thrill due to the fact that the record was made on a four-track cassette recorder from 1985,” explains the longtime singer-songwriter, perhaps best known for his early work fronting Lowest of the Low. “I just loved that weird contradiction – a major [label] releasing a very scrappy DIY record made in our drummer’s living room. [But] because we couldn’t do support shows or make physical copies – factories were closed down due to COVID at that time—we decided it made more sense to release it as the truly independent beast it was.”
The prolific musician – who’s been consistently releasing music since 1991 – figured that this surreal time was actually the perfect moment to launch the album. “I figured it would be interesting to see what would happen with a ‘captive’ audience,” he says. “Would people be too distracted and bummed out to pay attention? Or would they be even more eager to get something new, that felt at least in part like our normal pre-COVID lives?”
There have been drawbacks, and fans still want the hard copies – particularly vinyl – but with the complete support of his team, he’s forged ahead, promoting the album via live-streaming on his “Tommy Douglas Tuesdays” since April.
“It’s been an opportunity to plug the new record, but early on in the pandemic, I was using it as a means of activism,” says Hawkins. “Directing people who were attempting to send me money via a ‘tip jar’ or PayPal to instead send their money to different causes: from PPE drives at hospitals, to alternative policing methods like the Bear Clan Patrol in Winnipeg, Black Lives Matter, women’s shelters. Many women found themselves isolated, and even trapped, with their abusers due to the pandemic. I would hold up homemade cardboard signs with the causes on them.
“Live-streaming has also been a way to tell stories about the songs and ‘making-of’ stories about albums… I spent the first 11 weeks doing a ‘no repeat’ trip through my entire catalogue. I think it ended up around 220 songs, or so. So not only have I leaned into the weirdness of the live-stream world, but I wonder how I will replace that intimacy once we get back to doing live shows in bars and venues.”
Hannah Georgas: Twitch & Zoom
“Touring is a big part of promoting an album for me, so without that piece of the puzzle in place, things do feel strange,” admits Hannah Georgas, weeks after releasing All That Emotion. “I felt like it had been so long since I put out my own material that it was time, [and] I do think people want to listen to music right now more than ever.”
Georgas has leaned into virtual music-making. on Oct. 20, she collaborated with Amazon on Twitch. She’s live-streamed a show with her band, making it her first proper 2020 concert. She’s also enjoyed Zoom chats with fans. All of this has pushed her creatively. “I’ve gotten savvy, and created a lot of video content on my own,” she says. “It’s felt rewarding to take things into my own hands, and also challenging.”
Dione Taylor: Video snippets, social conscience
On the heels of her latest release Spirits in the Water, Dione Taylor, got creative as well.
“I have never done TikTok,” Taylor says with a chuckle. “Probably the biggest thing we’re doing is live-streaming. We [also] spent last week handing out, and creating, packages of CDs. We’ve created a video for every single track on the record. We couldn’t do the videos that we wanted to because of COVID, so we made really fun, tiny little ‘snippet’ videos. People really seem to dig it, and they love the songs, so it’s another way to connect with people.”
Behind the drive to get Spirits into fans hands is that even though the “energy exchange” that live performances bring is absent, the album’s theme’s addressing Black Lives Matter, Women’s Rights, and equality, are ones Taylor believes people need to hear right now. “Now that we’re all kind of stuck at home and forced to deal with these issues,” she says, “I really feel that the lyrics to a bunch of the songs I’ve written have really, really resonated with people and what’s happening globally. What’s happening personally. And what’s happening collectively.”
Daniela Andrade: YouTube visuals, mirroring the world
“At first I really didn’t think it was a good time to release a project,” says Daniela Andrade, who’s just released Nothing Much Has Changed, I Don’t Feel the Same. “Things got so heavy for everyone and it felt indulgent to promote anything other than useful information to get by. However, I started to feel like I needed to put something out for my own sanity. I always hope my music can be of some respite. Music continues to be a space I come back to, and feel safe in.”
Andrade, who boasts nearly two million YouTube subscribers, says that the visuals remain her most direct route to fans. “Tying my work to visuals has been really important from the start,” she explains. “I try to bring my audience into the world of the project through [the] music videos. And it seems to be working.”
In spite of this social media success, it’s the music she still hopes leaves the biggest impact. “What stands the test of time are things from honest places,” says Andrade. “I think as artists our job is to process and mirror the world around us, and say things that need to be said.”