arch 12th... That's the date I remember when the Pandemic shutdown officially became real for me. It was the last day I would truly work in the real world as a musician (up to now at least). That week I was subbing with the New York Phil so my day started off with a morning rehearsal for Rach piano concerto no.3 Gergiev and George Li (Matsuev had cancelled). We were supposed to have a night concert also but I remember receiving an email at lunch that concerts were cancelled for the rest of the season. Shit.
Though I was already bracing myself for what was to come since a lot of my other gigs had already been cancelled,
"Receiving that email really put things into perspective."
So here's a little thing about me: I naturally tend to want to panic by default when "shit hits the fan". However, over the past years I have tried to adapt a mindset of stay cool whenever facing conflict and using my head more to solve problems. Sure the world was going to shit, my future and work was about to be into jeopardy, but what was the point of panicking? Luckily I was fortunate to have done well financially this past year, having worked my ass off.... so I decided that this would be a forced vacations of sorts.
It is important to note that at that time, the influx of online concerts, livestreams etc. had not come into its saturated state as we see it today. Musicians were essentially jobless at that point since there was no way to give any kind of performance. So naturally my first couple weeks of quarantine consisted of just chilling, having the occasional and many spirits throughout the day (or something else ;)), video games, binge TV/movies, anime etc. I felt like I was living my best life back at Northwestern University.
I was also lucky to have had a pod of friends to live this "Bohemian" lifestyle with haha. Looking back, I was super blessed to have this group of friends so close with me, literally and metaphorically, since in hindsight hearing from so many people who stayed in New York at the time, quarantining by themselves just plain sucked. Though I tend to like spouts of isolation, being by myself in the initial months of the Pandemic lockdown for an extended period of time might not have been healthy.
ANYYWAYS.... flash forward about half a month in the quarantine... So by this time different organizations and individuals were starting to do the influx of live-streaming performances on mainlyFB Live, people were posting creative IG projects etc. It was great! This truly spoke to the resiliency of the music industry. Adapt adapt adapt -The show must go on! However there was one thing that was kind of irritating me. For most of these intial livestreams, the quality/user experience would leave much to be desired. Basically video and audio quality seemed amateurish compared to what I knew what was possible. Perhaps I was just being a snob and being more of a "tech-savy" person caused this eliteness attitude. But I knew that super compressed 720p performances on FB Live was truly holding back the user experience. If you really wanted to use a livestreaming platform, at least get some equipment and stream on Twitch or FB live which allows some semblance of 1080p experience and less compressed audio. Isn't the most general job of a musician to be an ultimate curator of user experience? i dont know... for me musicians are the ultimate UX crafters *shrug*.
So this lead to a casual discussion on one fateful weekday afternoon as five of us from our pod were lying like sloths on the couches of my friend Jeremy, Tomomi, and Songhee's (at the time) apartment,. I remember we were talking about different things but got on the subject of the quality of these newly appearing livestreams and what could done to make them better on the presenter/artist end. The topic also kept shifting to how it sucks that the social aspect of the musician community was just going to be non existent as people were bailing from the city by then. This social tight-ness of the music community at the end of day is kind of the engine of how our industry is run.
We ended up throwing an idea that maybe we should take the lead and do a higher quality/production stream. But maybe not in the performance realm since it already seemed to be saturated with our colleagues at that point.
"Perhaps a high quality LIVESTREAM project tackling the social aspect of the community that was taking a hit?"
It would be a place for musicians, including us, to escape.
Check out Basic Pitch Here
So what ended up happening was that three of us that were, Tomomi Sato, Kristin Lee and me decided on a whim to attempt such a project. We wanted it not only to be fun and social but also to be informative. This sounded almost like a "late night show"... but for musicians. The first step had to be to tackle the quality and production issues we were criticizing the other livestreams for having. We decided to go with either Twitch or YT live as a platform because of the limitations of the output of compression levels for audio and video by FB. Ultimately we chose Twitch because Youtube required an established channel in order to do long-term embedding on websites (which was a feature we thought would make the user experience easier for the community). The next step was tackling equipment. We were actually quite lucky in that we almost had everything covered in terms of equipment. Tomomi had some XLR mics, lights, a camcorder. I had a beast of a PC (32 gigs ram, workstation grade CPU, high end RTX video card etc), we had ordered a capture card before they were sold out for all those months during the first quarantine months. Sure we had ended up upgrading a lot of stuff including the camera, mics, interfaces, upload speed for internet etc. but this was a great start!
"But more importantly we had three amazing strong personalities that were all unique but super fun and shared the passion to make this something for the community."
With these three peeps we had one mission:
"Bring together the music community during the pandemic with a platform that not only highlight triumphs that was happening in the music community during these hard times but also provided a platform for discussion of important topics, venting, bantering, laughing and yes trolling."
The name we decided for the show was BasicPitch thought of by Kristin Lee!
So what happened?
Well in my opinion, it was a success! Look, as far as analytics goes, that was never a priority for us. Again our mission was to help an ailing community that we all love and wanted to see persevere through these unprecedented times. But alas, we reached Twitch Affiliate in less than a month, held onto to it, eventually started to near partner level view count requirements. For a Twitch channel that only streamed once a week, having these numbers are quite impressive for a brand new channel, let alone one that is such based in more of a niche community when it comes to Twitch.
But again, for us those measurements were not the priority! What was important was that every week we had community members that would be part of our BP community. They had a good time with us, were taking part in our discussions, laughing at our memes, trolling my dating life etc. Sure everyone couldn't watch every week (some did!) but whenever people did tune in on those Saturdays, they stayed, chatted with us and had fun.
The Special Sauce (aka generosity)
As I said, BP was a hit because of the community. But within the community it was their own generosity that helped make the show as success. They were the special sauce and like all modern day sauces, there are so many layers responsible for that umami you taste when you brilliantly spread it onto the bun.
As stated earlier, we owe so much to the community for being viewers but a lot of them did so much more than that. They were the show, literally. We knew we were going to have a featured guest each show, either a performer or someone informative but we also needed pre-edited segments that usually provided humor akin to the format of shows like SNL or Jimmy Kimme. We decided it would be amazing if we were able to bring the community into our creative processes for these skits. There can only be so many segments that feature Tomomi, Kristin and Henry. We had so many creative and talented community members! Each week when we thought of a skit or a segment we would reach out to different community members to ask them to somehow contribute to the show. This could be an appearance, discussion, playing, writing and even rapping/DJing! All of this was done out of the kindness and generosity of their hearts and was such an essential part of the show.
Here are some examples of segments we did for the show that involved our amazing community members:
The Super Dono-ers
The next layer of the community special sauce that contributed to the success of the show was the people that were donators of the show. As I said before, as Twitch Affiliates we were financially being supported because of our status. This came in the form of ad rev, subscribers but also donations in the form of bits or regular donations from members of the community. For those of you that do not know Twitch, there are built in donatiion features/systems that make it fun to support the streamer in the platform such as showing custom messages, gaining emoticons, having hype trains etc. We obviously are so grateful for all our subscribers but there were some particular members who were not only subscribers but also regular donators of either bits or regular donations.
We are so grateful for these members because they went way beyond what was necessary to help support the show by the fact they were also subscribers themselves. It really helped push the production quality throughout the lifespan of the show allowing us to invest in higher end cameras/lenses/audio interfaces etc.
The last ingredient of our special sauce were two community members who helped every week with the planning and creation of the show. These two people themselves were also community members and donated their time for team meetings, runthroughs, script. Here is the BP team
- Henry (me)
- Kristin (former co-host but had to stop in the capacity because of time constraints0
- Siwoo Kim
- Jeremy Berry
So yeah, Basic Pitch was the creation of Tomomi, Kristin and me but we really had nothing if not for the generosity of all the people above who were the real superstars of the show
So yeah, I guess it is important to mention that this show is not easy! We definitely ran through many struggles and trials throughout these last few months with the show.
When the Pandemic lockdown started for me I decided not to fly back to St. Louis. This mainly because the music industry shut down (which was A LOT later then other fields) and personally I did not want to take the chance with catching something and passing it onto my parents who are older and at higher risk. My brother who is doing his residency in Michigan could drive back home if there was an emergency and I felt that was the best case scenario for me. Again this was a personal choice.
By the time of airing for our first episode Tomomi decided to fly back to Japan to be with her family. This ended up being the right and smart decision considering how long the Pandemic lasted and just how ridicusiouls the entry issues that developed for people on visas in the coming months. As a result from the first show we were presented with a dilemma of having to somehow work with our third co-host being overseas. This would present challenges with video editing (for the pre-edited segments) since that was split between Tomomi and me, the actual hosting of the show and just plain old time zone issues. But through great perseverance by our whole team we were able to make it work.
Anyways, there were an abundance of growing pains and other hurdles that we had to go through but for me the biggest struggle was definitely the amount of time that was needed to dedicate to the show every week on my end. I will say that there were definitely moments I really just wanted to give up on the show. The stress every week of having to put together a full production that was live, spending all days in email chains, editing videos, scheduling etc just made it seem I was always on edge. But at the end the day it was the rush and the goodness I saw what we were doing with Basic Pitch every Saturday that kept me going. It was def worth it.
So yeah its almost December now and Basic Pitch is kind of not what it used to be. What happened? Well around September, Tomomi and I decided that perhaps it was time for the show to take on a different format/role.
"The whole goal of the show from its infancy was to provide a social outlet for musicians during the Pandemic but things were picking up from musicians so maybe it was time for us to take a backseat."
We decided to try out a one show a month format starting October. The show October was a great success however we haven't had a show since then. For me this a good thing. Things are getting better and musicians are now focused on healing their industry and we are becoming busy once again. We are def not closing the door for Basic Pitch but I guess what I am trying to say is that again, we did this show not to go viral, to make fat stacks but provide something for the community when they needed it. If in the next few months things start getting bad again, BP will def be there.
Check out Basic Pitch Here