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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

OP-ED | To My Musician Friends: Be Careful Playing For Free Online

By Liz Parker on June 9, 2020

Liz Parker
Liz Parker (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Like so many affected by COVID-19, my career has taken a diversion. Before I adjusted to this normal, I was hit with one wave of realization after another. I lost my part-time job as a digital content editor and music writer. I’ll be teaching piano online for the foreseeable future. I worry about concerts, and how long it would be before they’re back, and the social distancing required to attend them, let alone present them (what will large ensembles who physically can’t distance, do?).

On a personal level, it hit me that it would be a long time before I heard either of my brothers (both concert pianists), Jon Kimura and Jamie Parker perform again. This particular thought wave is what broke me, and that’s what set off the waterworks. I love seeing them play or turning pages for them — even if it means worrying about repeats.

I’m often on social media, reading people’s thoughts on issues of the day. I noticed one particular issue raised privately in conversation fairly often, but rarely posted about — the fact that a lot of musicians (outside of fundraisers) are performing online for free. On the one hand, musicians want to keep their music out there, and do what they do best: perform. But on the other hand, they may contribute to a problem that already exists for musicians — unintentionally training their fans to obtain content for free. In fact, as I was forming thoughts to write about this, this article was posted recently.

On Facebook, I’ve seen one of my favourite movers and shakers of the Toronto classical community, Rory McLeod, of Pocket Concerts post about this subject, too, and I know they’re coming up with a business model for online concerts.

I get why musicians don’t want to post about it — they don’t want to come across as stingy egomaniacs, i.e., “You must PAY, even during a pandemic, to hear ME play!”. But they’ve got a point. If you keep doing livestreams for free, how will you convert those viewers into concert-goers, when that in itself is already a challenge? And it’s not just a classical music problem. Music with a huge fan base that sell out arenas, will scare off people avoiding large crowds.

What is the best way around this? Because much as I’d like to go to a live concert again, I’m not comfortable with sitting near other people, getting in a distanced line up to use the facilities (and the lineups are already SOOO LOOOOONG). Once I’m fully employed again, I am totally okay with buying a virtual ticket and enjoying a live concert online. I’ve tuned in to some already, and I loved it as much as I could, given the circumstances. And I could get up and use the washroom whenever I wanted, or sip my tea, or just stretch my back.

To my musician friends, I know this is exhausting to talk about, and I apologize. However, as someone who trained rigorously in classical piano and devoted my career to promoting classical music, we, your audience, want to keep the channels open to discuss getting back to enjoying your artistry, whether we’re in the venue with you, or at home.

#LUDWIGVAN

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Liz Parker

Liz Parker is a classical music writer and piano teacher. During non-pandemic times, she styles musicians for photo shoots. Interests outside of music include Asian fusion cooking, fashion, and fitness. She writes about music and administrative issues at lizpr.com and about piano teaching at pianoteacherliz.com. She lives in downtown Toronto and has a tomcat Momo, named after the Tibetan dumpling.
Liz Parker
Follow me
Follow me

Liz Parker

Liz Parker is a classical music writer and piano teacher. During non-pandemic times, she styles musicians for photo shoots. Interests outside of music include Asian fusion cooking, fashion, and fitness. She writes about music and administrative issues at lizpr.com and about piano teaching at pianoteacherliz.com. She lives in downtown Toronto and has a tomcat Momo, named after the Tibetan dumpling.
Liz Parker
Follow me
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