The first in a series of profiles in which musicians, comedians and performers discuss livestreams and the art of interacting with virtual audiences
“It's the Wild West in a lot of ways, and it's really hard to know what to do.”
Like most performers, musician Joe Peppercorn is navigating these strange times, trying to find ways to connect with audiences musically when he can’t connect in a physical space.
Unlike most performers, he’s already pulled off one of the most impressive feats in this new livestream era, recreating his annual Beatles marathon from his living room.
All 12 hours. Performing every Beatles song.Get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter
“That was insane,” Peppercorn said. “I thought I would have the week leading up to prepare for the actual show, because even though I know all the songs, I had no idea how I was going to play all of them by myself.”
But instead of recreating solo arrangements of songs he hasn’t had to perform alone since the original Beatles marathon a decade ago at the Treehouse (now Tree Bar), he was navigating the tech required to broadcast a livestream across multiple channels.
That involved a paid subscription to software that allowed streaming to multiple platforms, which also came with a steep learning curve. Peppercorn even called his cable company to upgrade his home internet to prevent streaming bandwidth issues.
He had existing home studio equipment to get the audio to a quality level, but the video was one aspect where he had to settle.
“Everyone's trying to buy a webcam,” Peppercorn said. “There are no webcams. Target's out. Amazon. Micro Center. ... So I just had to use my computer camera.”
Then came the day of the virtual marathon.
“It was jarring when I first started out,” Peppercorn said. “I just remember doing the Gob Bluth, like, ‘I've made a huge mistake,’ [for] the first three hours.”
Playing every Beatles song is hard enough. Try playing them alone. And with no audience.
“Not only do I not have an audience to feed off of, but it's not even like a rehearsal where I can feed off of the other people I'm playing with, or can lean on them a little bit,” Peppercorn said. “And that was terrifying.”
“It was probably the hardest show I've ever played,” he continued. “I felt so vulnerable and so insecure most of the time.”
After six or seven hours, Peppercorn started to get into that “delirious state” and got through the full marathon… with a little help from his friends. He was joined by a few other musicians who assisted with some songs from a safe distance on his porch.
The end result was a beautiful, unifying moment for anyone who has made the Beatles marathon an annual tradition.
Peppercorn has since done a number of impromptu intimate piano livestreams, as well as a recent three-hour set of Smiths covers to benefit Franklinton’s new recording studio and creative hub, Secret Studio. (He’s doing an upcoming Elliott Smith set to benefit suicide prevention, as well.)
The Smiths livestream allowed him the chance to get more interactive with those viewing from their screens at home.
“With the Smiths show, I tried reading more comments both as I was playing and in between songs, and I think that's super fun,” said Peppercorn.
“It made me feel like what I was doing was worthwhile, because then I felt like I was communicating,” he added. “And that's everything with music is: the communication.”
Peppercorn discussed ways viewers at home can show their support (in addition to sharing financially via a virtual tip jar, if performers have shared a payment app).
“[During The Smiths livestream] I did see ‘likes’ and ‘loves,’ and I did see the little ‘eyeballs’ with 300 people watching at one point,” he said. “So that helps a lot.”
Since it was less daunting than the Beatles marathon (only three hours!), Peppercorn was able to interact more in the moment. And that two-way street makes all the difference to these performers.
“To feel like you're communicating, to hear back from people … it's the difference between doing one of these livestreams and just making a video.”
Viewers at home also get something more than just watching another bit of content from the endless waves of digital distractions with which we’re all medicating ourselves.
“It’s like I’m not alone,” Peppercorn said. “Based on the people I talked to [who watched], that's the feeling I get. That they're not alone. There's hope.”