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Local Musicians Move Upstream With Online Performances

Tuesday June 23rd, 2020, 9:00am


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Crissi Cochrane by Danielle Tremblay

As musicians around the world face uncertain times, two local artists have come inside and gone online.

Crissi Cochrane and Soul Brother Mike are showing that Covid-19 can’t stop the music. Streaming live concerts on the Soul City Music Co Op’s website, the husband and wife are adapting to life in lockdown.

With eight members, Mike’s band The Family Soul isn’t active and Cochrane’s plans have changed as well.

“The last show I played was my [Heirloom] album release at Meteor with an 11-person backing band on February 28th,” she said. “Less than two weeks later, our self-isolation began. I wasn’t planning to tour Heirloom, but I was expecting a busy year with more gigs, in-person interviews, applying to festivals, filming music videos and generally saying ‘yes’ to everything that comes my way. While a lot of things have been put on hold, I’ve been able to adapt some parts of my marketing plans.”

Those include filming video segments from home for regional TV programs, regular podcast recording, interviews over Zoom and e-mail, artist collaborations, preparation for producing music videos from home and concert streams.

On Mike’s end, The Family Soul has cancelled several spring and summer performances already. Work on their next album has continued, but recording it remotely has slowed down the process. Still, he remains grateful to maintain his career as soloists, accompanying musicians, technicians and serving staff are hit harder by recent venue closures.

Despite the pandemic though, Mike and Cochrane were already prepared to jump online. Towards the end of 2019, the former began collecting equipment for high quality live streams under an entirely different reason.

“Touring was a big part of my life in my 20s but it came with a lot of guilt around consumption,” he said. “Touring bands have a large carbon footprint between the gas, hotels, flights, etc. The internet allows you to be everywhere at once and so I knew it would be the future of my career. When the pandemic hit we were able to live stream our first concert the same night as our first cancelled performance.”

Although obstacles usually arise with technology, Mike’s experience as an executive-producer/technician at CBC Windsor gave him the confidence to handle it. While the crowd wasn’t there to give instant feedback, the singer didn’t feel it was too different from performing on-stage.

In fact, he admits there have even been some advantages to the studio setting.

“Sometimes a stage can be isolating, when lights are shining in your face and you can’t see the audience and you have to keep up a type of one-sided conversation,” saidMike. “With live streamed concerts, our audio is better than most shows, more clarity and richness as we are able to set everything to our liking and have no ambient noise to contend with.”

Still, both artists are getting adjusted to the experience and admit there are some limits.

“Playing online works very well for solo performances, with structured songs and lyrical story lines to follow,” said Mike. “With in-person concerts and with a band, I feel the freedom to extend a section of a song if the dance floor is busy and people are enjoying themselves. There is so much interplay that can happen between an audience and a flexible group of live musicians and that seems to be missing from my life and my art form in isolation.”

It’s something Cochrane agrees with, but the musician finds the experience also has other trade-offs.

“The energy of a live performance comes from the artist first, whether that’s in-person or online, and then it creates a sort of feedback loop,” she said. “It’s easier to see the results of your energy and enthusiasm in person but the comment sections are really helpful for receiving that feedback in a live-stream. It’s a bit more nerve-wracking to do these shows because you know they’ll be posted online, anyone might see them and all of your mistakes will be preserved there, but I think it’s a fair trade-off to pull back the curtain and let people see us as human beings who occasionally make tiny slip-ups, because that unvarnished realness is really good for the soul right now.”

Cochrane is also grateful that live streams help them overcome obstacles, allowing both to play for people who are too far away, can’t afford a night out or those with a disability unable to enter an inaccessible venue.

It’s also given the musician a reason to shuffle up some songs. Having a three hour setlist she’s stuck to for background music performances, playing more frequently pushed Cochrane to make some changes.

“I had wanted to change it up for a while but as a mother and homeowner, I don’t have a lot of time for things that aren’t immediately necessary,” she said. “Live-streaming and not wanting to just play the same songs over and over finally urged me to expand my repertoire. I’ve been learning new songs, re-visiting old ones and sharing some of the 70+ custom love songs I’ve written over the years. I love that I’m reconnecting with the songs of my past while also reaching out into the future.”

While each show’s format stays consistent, a lot still goes into every performance: Cochrane rehearses two-to-three hours for every live stream alone. Beyond that, visuals have evolved since the broadcasts started. The home studio now has a double-wide backdrop with some LED lights to add an extra touch.

Even though the two play for many fans each week however, things have remained relaxed and intimate.

“As far as collaborating with Mike, I love that he’s at the sound-board and chatting with me throughout all the live-streams and that I get to do the same for him during his streams,”, said Cochrane. “It makes everything feel relaxed and fun. Between songs we’ll talk about whatever’s going on in our lives; one night, we were actually soliciting for advice on how to get a raisin out of our two-year-old daughter’s nose.”

As a result of their efforts, both artists have heard their streams are some of the best looking and sounding online.

All live streams can be viewed on the Soul City Music Co op’s facebook page, which is also embedded into the group’s website. Viewers who visit the stream through the latter can also support artists by donating through a virtual tip jar. With last Saturday’s show, Cochrane rewarded those who did with a special access code to be a part of her live stream after show. Other performers in the co op such as Brendan Scott and Madeline Doornaert have recently started live streaming from their homes as well.

Moving forward, Soul City Music Co op plans to host live streams far beyond the pandemic.

“I’m very excited for the role that live streaming will play once the lockdown is lifted,” said Mike. “All of our equipment for live streaming has been built around the use of our phones so that we can produce our shows remotely in time. We hope to stream performances with The Family Soul once the eight of us can safely get together and to stream from our in-person concerts when all lockdown measures are lifted.

Outside of live streams, Cochrane has a remix by Producer and emcee Rel McCoy of her song Only You And Me coming out on June 26. Although a new single called Can We Go Back was originally scheduled for July 17 as well, recent events influenced the artist to postpone its release.

Citing recent protests and the Black Lives Matter movement, Cochrane explained herself in a blog entry and social media.

“I’ve been especially worried about Can We Go Back sending the wrong message,” she explained in her post. “I wrote this song about longing for an end to the stresses of pandemic life, and feeling nostalgia for an easier, earlier time, but I have consulted with my activist friends, and feel that there is unfortunately plenty of room for this song to be misinterpreted. I would never want to go back to the time before the BLM movement gained this awesome momentum, and I would be devastated if anyone took that message from the song.”

Cochrane hopes to release the single in September and may re-write some lyrics to avoid confusion.

Soul Brother Mike by Dan Boshart

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