Music » Music Stories & Interviews

San Antonio Musicians Find Ways to Keep Cash and Gigs Coming Amid Coronavirus Outbreak


Emily Whitehurst of the synth-pop act Survival Guide says she's relying on Patreon to help with her bills. - FACEBOOK / EMILY WHITEHURST
  • Facebook / Emily Whitehurst
  • Emily Whitehurst of the synth-pop act Survival Guide says she's relying on Patreon to help with her bills.
The already troubled music industry has taken a massive blow as people self-isolate to avoid COVID-19.

Since streaming services have decimated record sales, most musicians make money by touring and selling merchandise on the road. But gigs have been decimated by social distancing rules, and the artist payout from online streaming platforms doesn't come close to making up the lost revenue.

Even so, musicians have always been a resourceful bunch, and some in San Antonio are already figuring out ways to keep fans plugged while trying to rebuild their incomes.

The pandemic forced Joseph Devine of Bitforce — an SA band that plays metal versions of video game themes — to scrap Super Bitfest, a March 14 festival he’d assembled to showcase other likeminded “nerdcore” acts.

With multiple cameras and loads of streaming gear on hand for the fest, the guitarist looked for another way to put the gear to use. So, with the help of fellow musician Richard Evans of the rock band Rivers Want, he staged a live-streamed concert.

The band Bitforce had to cancel a festival because of the pandemic, but it's exploring livestreaming options. - INSTAGRAM / @BITFORCEBAND
  • Instagram / @bitforceband
  • The band Bitforce had to cancel a festival because of the pandemic, but it's exploring livestreaming options.

“Richard and I worked together at all the comic cons doing live streaming … so we were like ‘Fuck it, let’s start doing this,’” Devine said.

The pair brought in fellow techie Christopher Craddock to help recreate a show that was supposed to happen at Oak Hills Tavern with Rivers Want and rapper Gross Angel, another performer slated for Super Bitfest.

“The show went great!” Evans said. “While we were putting it together, it felt like MTV — like the MTV that I grew up with.”

The three pulled the furniture out of Evan’s living room and set up a stage in front of a green screen. They project visuals while the artists performed.

“It was good but a little awkward as a performer,” Gross Angel said. “You’re used to the feedback from the audience … and you can’t read a room because there’s not one. But I had Joey bobbin’ his head during my performance to keep me going.”

Although, the team didn’t end up monetizing the show by posting Venmo, Paypal and Cash App links, they were still stoked to connect with their audience. And they’re planning more shows — this time with links for viewers to donate money.

But livestreaming isn’t the only potential answer to the pandemic.

A few years before anyone had heard of COVID-19, Emily Whitehurst of San Antonio synth-pop outfit Survival Guide signed up for Patreon.

The online platform allows artists to give fans and followers exclusive content if they’re willing to sign up for monthly subscriptions. The higher the price tier, the more rewards the subscriber gets.

In Whitehurst’s case, those rewards include anything from downloadable monthly cover tunes to custom-written birthday songs.

“It’s surprising how comforting it feels to have this group of people that are willing to share their income with me in such a unique way,” said Whitehurst, who previously sang for pop-punk outfit Tsunami Bomb.

When Whitehurst first discovered Patreon, it seemed like a fun way to expand the type of projects she worked on. It also offered a way to share behind-the-scenes content for fans wanting insight into her creative process.

Since then, she’s added roughly 100 subscribers. The income doesn’t fully pay her bills, but it's coming in handy with the city on virtual lockdown.

“Everything is so uncertain right now, so I'm extremely thankful that a platform like Patreon exists," she said. "And even more thankful for my patrons."

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