Let’s get the bad (and obvious) news out of the way first: it’s not easy being a gigging musician these days…
by Jeff Klopmeyer aka Zak Claxton
Those of us in working bands are finding fewer and fewer gigs, for seemingly less and less money. And singer-songwriters? With bookstores closing left and right, and coffeehouses wanting you to pay for the pleasure of performing, it can seem like a pretty bleak world out there for people who “Play2Live and Live2Play.”
Fortunately, the same technology that has been a bane to the existence of the music industry can be a boon for performing musicians. The Internet can be used for much more than checking football scores and illegally downloading songs. Smart gigging musicians can make the Internet work for them, not against them.
The big caveat is that much like your ability to promote and perform at traditional live shows, there’s no guarantee that you can make decent money—or any money—using the new virtual and remote Internet-based gigging platforms. However, for musicians looking for exposure and another route to gain new fans and sell music, it’s definitely worth a look.
Second Life: Virtual Shows in a Virtual World
In 2003, a San Francisco-based company called Linden Lab launched what’s since become the most well-known 3D virtual world platform, Second Life (“SL” for short). While other online platforms that are more game-oriented may have more regular users (think “World of Warcraft”), Second Life is quite a bit different in that its entire digital world has been created by the users of the platform. Along with all the content consisting of virtual 3D buildings, clothing, and much more, the users also create the activities in this virtual world, and one of the most popular events in SL is live music.
It’s an easier process to see for yourself than attempt to describe in writing, but in short, you create an avatar—basically an online representation of yourself that can walk, talk, and (in my case) strum a guitar and stand in front of a mic. Meanwhile, back in the land of reality, I’m sending my audio through a stream that can be accessed in SL, and rocking out in front of appreciative live audiences without ever leaving the comfort of home.
Virtual Gig… Real Money
Second Life has its own economy based on the Linden Dollar. While it is indeed a virtual economy, you don’t have to spend all your gig pay in virtual items. Instead, you can accumulate the dough, and then cash it out for real world currency, with an exchange rate that runs about $275 virtual dollars to one real-world US dollar. How do you get paid by playing virtually? There are at least two ways. First, just like real life, Second Life has dedicated live music venues that pay performers for their efforts. How much you get paid is dependent on a few factors; established artists who bring lots of fans to a venue are more likely to command higher pay.
It’s pretty typical for artists to get between $3000-$5000 Linden Dollars for a one-hour show. Sure, that’s only $10-$20 back in reality, but keep in mind that you don’t have to physically travel to the venue, and there are no PA and drum kits to setup and tear down. The other way to get paid is good old-fashioned tipping from your audience. Again, the numbers will vary wildly depending on the size of crowd you get, but between fees and tips, many SL performers end up with $30-$40 for a decent show, and there are some that play several times a day, every day. You do the math.
Beyond the immediate compensation for performing, if you’re a songwriter or recording artist who’s trying to promote their own music for sale, Second Life represents a vehicle to get exposure to people all over the world. Since 2006, I’ve performed in SL under my stage name of Zak Claxton, and have accumulated fans worldwide who’ve bought my CDs and downloads from Australia, Europe, Asia, and even Canada. In fact, it’s probably been the single best source of music sales I’ve found in recent years.
A basic membership to Second life is free, and only requires a subscription fee if you intend on owning virtual land. Get all the info you need at www.secondlife.com.
Should Virtual/Remote Gigs Replace Real Life Shows?
No, not at all. The thrill for both the performer and the audience of having live music happen right in front of you simply can’t be replicated by the virtual versions. But the fact of the matter is that less people are going out these days, fewer venues are opting for live music as their main entertainment, and a lot of folks seem too tied to their computers and mobile devices to spend time seeking out cool new music.
As opposed to throwing up your hands and forgetting about playing live, services like Second Life, Ustream, and StreamJam provide an alternate way of reaching fans that ideally should supplement, rather than replace, your other live performance activities. If the worst thing that happens is that you spend a few hours per week honing your live performance skills, there are many worse uses of your time.
Jeff Klopmeyer is a veteran live performer and singer-songwriter who plays live in many worlds under his nom de stage, Zak Claxton. Get more info on his music and live shows at www.zakclaxton.com.