Live music was one of the first cultural casualties of COVID back in early 2020.

Before the United States was a hotbed for anti-mask, anti-lockdown disinformation — and the surge of cases and deaths that have come along with that — before we had registered any notable outbreak at all, concerts and music festivals were already being canceled. And with the slow pace of vaccine rollout, a date for their return is still a long way off.

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YouTube

Director Christopher Nolan, (The Prestige, The Dark Knight, Inception) Is known for his stunning visuals, heavy use of practical effects, and mind-bending plots.

The new trailer for Tenet makes it clear that his newest film—scheduled for a July 17th release date—is no exception. A spiritual successor to Inception, the film plays with time and physics using the concept of time inversion (i.e. reversing cause and effect to move backward in time) to orchestrate elaborate, bewildering action sequences. It's basically the music video for Coldplay's The Scientistconverted into a shoot 'em up movie where guns catch bullets. "Tenet," being a palindrome, serves as the codeword for the secretive organization that uses inversion as part of an elaborate plan to "prevent World War III" and save the future from a terrible and mysterious fate.

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Culture Feature

Feel the Burn: Did Britney Spears Really "Burn Down" Her Gym?

The singers latest workout post raises some confusing questions

Britney Spears

Photo by Pariente Jean-Philippe/Shutterstock

On Wednesday Britney Spears revealed that she hadn't been in her home gym in six months because she had previously "burnt it down."

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TV News

Why Isn't Ellen Stepping Up for Her Crew During Quarantine?

She makes more than enough money to take care of them

Ellen Degeneres

Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/Shutterstock

In an report from Variety on Thursday, Crew members from The Ellen Degeneres Show spoke out about their treatment during the quarantine.

Their biggest complaint seemed to be with the lack of communication they had received from the show's producers, with little information given on whether they would keep their jobs and what would happen to their pay. For two weeks, from late March through early April, there was seemingly no contact at all, as production company Telepictures sorted out how they were going to resume operations given current restrictions—which included hiring an outside, non-union firm to perform various functions, many of which existing, unionized crew members could have handled from home.
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Music Features

Round Table: How Does Music Survive the Pandemic? (Featuring Amanda Palmer, Adam Doleac, and more)

Amanda Palmer, Adam Doleac, Caroline Romano, Luka Kerecin, and Olivia Castriota share the trials and tribulations of life as a musician in the wake of mass quarantine and social-isolation due to the novel coronavirus

Amanda Palmer, Caroline Romano, Luka Kerecin, Olivia Castriota, Adam Doleac

"I feel like a cross between a minister and a rock star..."

...reports punk singer and activist Amanda Palmer from isolation in New Zealand. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the music community has been in a frenzy of adaptation. Palmer, given her community-focused approach to music, has seen her usual skill-set suddenly become essential for thousands of performers. "So many artists are in need. I want to help them set up Patreon pages, and I want to make sure they feel safe asking for help. It's hard for artists to ask," explains the former Dresden Dolls lead singer and author of The Art of Asking, "I've been collecting people in emotional crisis on the internet since 2002. I'm right in my element. But, boy, does it feel strange."

Pivoting to crowdfunding may now be a saving grace for many acts. The overnight decimation of the live music economy, across all genres, has thrown a question mark over the income of countless performers. "Artists [don't make] money off digital streaming," clarifies Nashville-based country music singer Adam Doleac, "85% of [most artists'] income is live show pay and merchandise sales from those live shows. You're now taking 85% of an income, and it's gone for an undefined period of time."

"A lot of people don't realize how far 'not playing shows' trickles down. I got all these guys in my band that are no longer getting paid. They rely on that money, they've got families," the Sony/ATV signee continues, "It's whole teams that have been shut down. That's been the hardest part, figuring out how to keep those guys comfortable as we work out how to get through this time."

While signed acts and their support systems are all feeling the squeeze in the wake of the COVID crisis, how do smaller up-and-coming acts fare? "I've canceled shows with Sofar Sounds, live recording sessions with LeestaVall, and planning my summer tour has been put on pause," lists Olivia Castriota, a New York-based R&B singer. "As an independent artist I also finance everything myself [through side jobs]. In a matter of days, all of my Airbnb guests for the next eight weeks canceled and all Bars and Restaurants in NYC went to take out only, so... welcome to unemployment."

"Without people working and having any significant income all around the world, art and music will suffer tremendously," adds Luka Kerecin, Croatian lead singer of prog-metal band Wings Denied and lecturer and marketing specialist at the United POP Academy. "I was supposed to be in the U.S. in March to play with Wings Denied at SXSW... but that did not happen due to corona." Whilst the recent broadening of unemployment benefits will hopefully help smaller acts in the US, the long term future is still uncertain, especially given the widely-reported difficulties many have had with signing up for unemployment benefits. Festival season, a crucial time for smaller acts, has been all but snuffed out entirely, with name-brand events across the globe canceling or rescheduling and younger festivals facing possible extinction.

However, social distancing has led to the now near-ubiquity of the Facebook/Instagram/Zoom live show. These formerly niche elements in the artist's promotional toolkit have now become a primary method of audience engagement. "I did a show on Instagram last night, [and] we played for more people than we would have played for at the actual show," enthuses Adam Doleac, "I think 45,000 people signed on to watch."

There are also issues related to the almost entirely digital marketplace we now find ourselves in, as pop-artist Caroline Romano points out. "I don't want people to lose the need for live shows," she cautions, "I'm afraid the number of Instagram and TikTok followers an artist has is going to become more important than ever because social media is the only way artists can get discovered right now." With online engagement already becoming a dominant factor in musician's lives (certain managers, bookers, publications, and labels will refuse to even consider talent without a certain baseline level of social media traction), live music was one of the last true equalizing factors.

These sentiments are echoed by Kerecin. "For my band, Wings Denied, which exists in the more niche genre of prog rock and metal, live shows are the number one way to connect with fans," he details, "Other more commercially friendly genres have it a little easier as they can always pull through with sponsors, radio play, etc. but not being able to play and tour at this moment is a massive challenge for us."

Established artists are also not immune to the toll of the COVID fallout, as Doleac points out. "Bigger acts, Kenny Chesney and the like, they have their [support crew and bands] on salary. They have to continue to pay these guys, but without any money from shows," he explains matter-of-factly, "It's a lot of money going out, and nothing coming in."

Even artists still in high demand, like Amanda Palmer, have struggled with the sudden tectonic shift. "I've been asked to do a billion streams and casts, but I have just barely been able to keep my sh*t together... I feel so overwhelmed," she shares, "I was wrapping up the final week of a year-long global solo piano theater tour when the sh*t hit the fan." Though the singer only had to cancel one show, the timing of the crisis led to her and her family moving into an AirB&B in New Zealand on short notice, a stressful situation for all involved. "The house has a piano. There's internet," she says, reflecting on the positives of the situation, "I'm going to take a few days off for my mental health, and then I'm going to be a streaming machine." In the time since this interview, Palmer has become heavily involved in the Artist Relief Tree, creating the "Art is Alive" artist's resource guide and many more projects.

The digital age being what it is, artists still have it well within their purview to create and release content. "Coronavirus shuts down a lot of things, but new music is not one of them," confirms Doleac, "I've got my EP Famous coming out April 17th, which I'm really excited about."

"I have my biggest project to date scheduled to release early summer," adds Caroline Romano, "It features an artist who I've been a big fan of for such a long time, and it's actually surreal to see my name on the song with him."

Similarly, Wings Denied have an album coming up in the near future. "The final mixes are in the works. Everything was recorded last year," says Kerecin, "Grammy-nominated producer Joel Hamilton (Highly Suspect, Bonobo, Bomba Estereo) is, as you can imagine, an incredibly popular and busy guy, but thanks to the Corona situation, he has managed to find some time to polish the new record and we are incredibly grateful for that."

Olivia Castriota raises an interesting point about the new music cycle in this time. "It just feels like such an inappropriate thing to do [to be overly promotional] at the moment when it feels like America is crumbling. Everyone is losing their jobs and we barely have money to pay rent," she says somberly, "It feels like, why would anyone care about my new release at this moment in time when there are much bigger things at hand?" Though she does go on to add, "I'm hoping to put some makeup and a bra on in the next week and record some new selfie singing videos, but again finding the motivation is hard."

The emotional toll and its effect on productivity is certainly not to be taken lightly, with the pressure on indie artists to be an active online presence now stronger than ever. Romano corroborates: "Every pop artist in the world is trying to promote themselves through social media. But, in a time when the entire world is online more than ever, it's so much easier to get lost."

Palmer sees continued output, coupled with compassionate outreach, as the only way forward. "This has always been our job as artists. Connect, connect, connect. And when things get hard and dark, connect harder," she declares with candor, "I've got a whole list of projects in my head: leading meditations and sharing sessions, teaching some yoga, doing collaborative songwriting sessions, chatting to people who are sick…"

Congruously, Kerecin sees the moment as one to seize and reaffirm public appreciation for the arts. "What is everyone doing right now when quarantined? Watching shows, movies, listening to music, watching live-stream concerts," he points out, "I think we all should lobby and push this narrative aggressively in the public space. Otherwise, people will start taking these live stream shows for granted, and none of us want that. There are years of blood, sweat and tears and ton of money and equipment behind every one of those."

So what does the path forward look like? There is a general consensus that many artists will be using this time to write and build up a reserve of materials for the future. Philanthropy is also on the cards, with megastar acts such as Lady Gaga partnering with the WHO to raise funds for much-needed resources for frontline healthcare workers. Smaller groups looking to bring affirming music concerts to essential workers have also started to crop up online, but, as Doleac points out, the few net positives of the situation are not strictly COVID related.

"I was at home for one weekend the entirety of last year," he explains, "This situation allows artists, or even just like a traveling parent who's always working time, to spend time with loved ones and work on relationships. I've gotten to talk to my family, and see my girlfriend a lot more than I anticipated. It's been a good reset button in that world." Amanda Palmer's social media feed reflects this too, which currently heavily features time spent with her husband, Neil, and son, Ash. "It's a really surreal paradox of existence," she admits, reflecting on the transition from touring life to isolation.

Artist solidarity is also widespread at this point in time. "Most of [my friends] work in the music business, and I know a lot of [them] are struggling at the moment. I'm doing whatever I can to be there through all of this," Caroline Romano says compassionately. Olivia Castriota adds: "I hope this will bring us all closer as a collective. It is really beautiful to see people and companies come together supporting artists."

In typically optimistic fashion, Adam Doleac shares his prediction for the industry's long-term COVID outcome. "I bet we'll all be more busy than we would have been when this starts getting back up," he says, upbeat, "People will be excited to get out to concerts, see shows they've been wanting to see for three or four months. I think in the end it will be a victory for everybody."

When all else fails, come back to what you know, as Luka Kerecin imparts. "Music has been giving me hope," he says, "When the music stops giving you hope in difficult times, that's when you know the world has really gone to hell. I hope I never find myself in such a place."

Support and Follow these artists online!


Olivia Castriota is an independent soul and R&B artist. Her most recent release "Can't Wait to See You" will appear on her EP "I Need a Minute" coming out later this year. Since interviewing for this article she has begun releasing video content via her social media.

Follow her online: Web | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Spotify

Adam Doleac is a country music artist signed with Sony/ATV. His upcoming EP "Famous" will feature several well-known tracks, including his hit single "Famous", as well as new previously unheard material such as "I Choose Lonely." It is set for release April 17th.

Follow him online: Web | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Spotify

Luka Kerecin is lead singer and founding member of prog-metal band Wings Denied. Their new album is due out later in the year. He is also a lecturer and marketing specialist at the United POP Academy.

Follow him (and Wings Denied) online: Web | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Spotify

Amanda Palmer is the former lead singer of the Dresden Dolls, long-time touring punk musician and activist, and author of the bestseller "The Art of Asking". She recently closed her "There Will Be No Intermission" tour, a four-hour-long piece discussing music, abortion, and radical compassion.

Follow her online: Web | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Patreon | Spotify

Caroline Romano is solo pop-singer. She has been played on Radio Disney, collaborated with Jacob Whitesides, and shared the stage with the likes of Kelsea Ballerini and Shawn Mendes. Her latest project is due for release in the Summer, and her most recent release "Stream of Consciousness" is available from all music outlets.

Follow her online: Web | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Spotify
CULTURE

Hinge's "Date From Home" Feature Doesn't Solve the Problem of Virtual Dating

The Date From Home feature is nice, but video chats are always going to be an awful way to date.

You probably know Hinge as the app that repeatedly kills its furry little mascot in its commercials.

Marketing itself as "The Relationship App" that's "designed to be deleted," the joke is that Hinge is so good that you'll soon end up in a committed relationship and won't need it anymore. Whether or not that's true, it's certainly a big claim, and now Hinge has set its sights on an even loftier goal—to make virtual dating less awkward.

People are understandably bored and lonely right now—holed up at home with no parties or bars or restaurants to go to. Even going back to work is starting to sound appealing. In that environment, trying to make a connection with strangers through an app is an increasingly tempting prospect. But what do you do when you hit it off? You want to actually hear someone's voice, see the way their face crinkles up when they laugh, have a conversation that flows naturally.

Hinge, the Dating App Designed to Be Deletedwww.youtube.com

Chatting over text is fine, but there is always something a little rehearsed and stilted about the way people talk when they have a chance to pause and reword and delete their messages. You need to have that face-to-face organic flow to really get to know someone. So how do you do that in April of 2020?

Social distancing obviously precludes a proper date. You can set up a virtual date with a video chat, but seemingly no one wants to actually do that, which is why Hinge just added a new feature to their app. Now, with Hinge's new Date From Home feature, instead of one person needing to break the ice and suggest that first virtual date, the app will give you the option of secretly indicating that you're ready, and only when the other person is also ready do you both find out that the other person is in and the video date is on. The idea is to make taking the virtual next step less uncomfortable, and thus reduce the tendency toward ghosting.

It's a nice feature, and Hinge might really be onto something. It certainly seems like a lot more people will end up on virtual dates this way, but it still does nothing to address the reason why people were so hesitant to set up video chats in the first place. Video chatting is always uncomfortable. Even with someone you're close with, video chatting adds a layer of strangeness that disrupts familiar rapport.

The Problems with "Virtual Dating"

For a start, there's the lag. Even if you both have great connections, there will always be that fraction-of-a-second delay that leads to people accidentally talking over each other, then going silent, then trying to talk again at the same time. But even when you aren't interrupting each other, the audio quality through anything shy of a professional-grade microphone is going to lead to a lot of "What was that last part?" and, "Sorry, I didn't catch that," which then leads everyone to slow down and raise their volume and over-enunciate until you feel less like you're hanging out and a lot more like you're putting on a formal presentation.

On top of all that, the amount you can do with body language is severely limited, and there is no shared context to form the basis of small talk. There are no other people around for you to make fun of, there's no food to share or weather to comment on. You're both just alone with your phones (or worse, you're not alone and liable to be interrupted by nosy roommates). Short of giving each other tours of your homes, there's not much to comment on that could spark a conversation.

These are the issues that have made video calls awkward and unpleasant for as long as they've been around, but with all the pressure and uncertainty of a first date at the best of times, it's hard to imagine the virtual version surviving all these pitfalls. If Hinge wants to make "virtual dating" a viable option, then they'll have to do something to address some of these problems. For a start, they could try making it live up to its name.

A Better Way

A "virtual date" should be way more than a video chat. It should give young love a shared environment in which to bloom. Zoom has quickly risen—despite security concerns—to be the new go-to video chat platform, and at least a part of that is based on the draw of a silly add-on feature that lets you swap your background for an image of your choosing. Hinge should give daters similar options—virtual settings where they can go on their virtual dates.

Zoom backgrounds

Rather than both being at home, set the background to a restaurant, a coffee shop, an escape room—with some light background noise, some characters, and events to comment on, and maybe some space to explore. Give people something to do. And maybe some prompts to take turns speaking. Turn the date into a game. It's a much bigger task than just letting people secretly sign up for a video chat, but it would scratch a very potent itch that people are feeling right now—let them feel like they're getting out and doing something.

Of course, this wouldn't solve all the problems of virtual dating—the first kiss is going to remain an issue for the foreseeable future—but even if the experience is silly, it could at least make the situation a little less tense and awkward. So...get to it, Hinge.