On Reopening

I had a hard time sleeping last night, which isn’t new for me or for a lot of people I know right now. There have been a handful of times when I’ve ended up tossing and turning during this COVID-19 pandemic. I’m the type of person to make a decision, and then over-analyze it. That’s exactly what happened to me yesterday and last night, because as more and more things reopen, I’ve been talking to venue owners about future shows. I had to make a decision on how we were going to handle that.

That decision (made in consultation with Molly and Charlie, of course) is that we aren’t going to cancel gigs. So if we’re booked to play, and a venue can safely reopen under social distancing protocols, we’ll play. We will practice social distancing and wear masks when we’re not on stage. Now, I only know of one gig in the next month that is definitely taking place, and I feel great about that one. It’s outdoors, and run by awesome people. Several other venues have asked me to keep dates on the calendar, but it isn’t for sure that those shows are happening yet. I know that I’m overthinking this from that end. Many of those dates will probably still get called off or postponed. And we aren’t getting unemployment, so playing the gigs that stand is really the only choice from a financial standpoint.

But what kept me awake was not the risk to us; we’re young, 20-somethings in good health, and I’d bet on us having already been exposed during our West Coast tour in February/March. It’s the impact on others that I worry about. The people that will come to the shows who could potentially be at risk. Friends and family that we’ve been planning to go spend time with, who we may not get to see because we are going back to work. I’d been rooting for things to get cancelled in April and May. But I’d be lying if I said a part of me didn’t want to go back to “work” now that everyone else is, even though I know the danger has not passed. It’s so hard! Two dear friends that own small businesses have reopened or are reopening, and I know they feel the same way that I do. The virus is out there, it hasn’t gone away. We must be careful and take appropriate precautions. Social distancing and mask wearing is important. But at a certain point, if we’re allowed to go back to work…we kind of need to.

Of course, we have been working this whole time in other ways. The livestream concerts will continue, permanently. We love doing them! The new creative projects will continue. And after this year, I’m planning to cut back on touring and gigs to spend more time with family and friends and focus on all of the new stuff we’ve learned during this pandemic. But this summer, we will be playing live shows in conventional venues, and that’s something I couldn’t say a week ago. I hope this post serves to explain why.

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The Future of the Music Business

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It’s been about a month since we got home from our last tour, so it seems like a good time to share my thoughts on the state of the music business. First, let me say that I absolutely care and am concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on the health and well-being of everyone. This is just about our little corner of the world, so bear with me! If you don’t know me, my wife and I make our living from music, and prior to this crisis, we were traveling around the country playing about 200 shows a year.

Ironically, the current debate about when to “open everything back up” likely won’t have much impact on when musicians can get back to playing shows in venues. For one thing, it seems like everyone agrees that large gatherings of people just aren’t a good idea for a while. That pretty well knocks out summer festivals for 2020. For another, most of the venues that independent musicians play are small bars and restaurants, and I fully expect many businesses recovering from a devastating financial loss to take a break from music for a while. And they should, because it costs a lot! I want them to survive, not stress themselves out with more expenditures.

Ultimately, like many other artists who have shared their thoughts, I believe that the music business has permanently changed, and will never be the same again. For years, musicians have heard and seen warning signs. Declining crowds at shows, the shift from physical merch to streaming, and decreased profits from touring to name a few. But, we’re a stubborn bunch! Rather than making changes to adapt to the times, most of us just kept plowing that field of diminishing returns and griping about how things used to be better. It turns out that we were wrong about a lot.

We used to say that people weren’t coming to shows because they didn’t CARE about music anymore. That doesn’t seem to be true now, because we’ve had fantastic “crowds” for our livestreamed concerts. We used to think that people didn’t VALUE music as much as they used to. Again, DEFINITELY not true! People have been overwhelmingly supportive of our Patreon, our digital tip jar, and everything we’re doing online. It’s funny; I’ve seen more shows by friends of mine in the last three weeks than I have in the last three years combined. It’s not because I don’t care about them or appreciate their music, I just never had time before, or if I did, I was exhausted from our work.

America is so unique. It’s a big place, and each state has a distinct personality and culture. There are certain things that bind us together, and I would say that the American work ethic is one. Facts are facts; we all have to work hard to make ends meet. Many of us have more than one job, or a small business in addition to a job, or work in an industry that requires you to do ten jobs at once! (Take it from your friendly neighborhood musician, singer, songwriter, booking agent, PR agent, road manager, audio engineer, producer, videographer, graphic designer, driver, accountant, mechanic, and guitar tech.)

Here’s what I’m getting at. Maybe, just maybe, live music needed an update. I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for live music in a restaurant, bar, or conventional venue. Nor am I saying that the digital realm is the be-all-end-all. But for hard working people who don’t have all the time or money in the world? It’s a whole lot easier to tune into a concert on YouTube or Facebook Live than it is to get in the car, find someone to watch the dogs/kids/house, spend money on concert tickets or $10 cocktails, and get back at Midnight after working all day. The fact that we didn’t stop to consider this before, and automatically assumed that people just didn’t care about music…it’s honestly kind of offensive. There is also the simple fact that people like different styles of music, and there might only be a half-dozen bluegrass or blues fans in a crowd of 80 at a bar. Being able to connect more directly with people who like our hippie brand of music is refreshing, to say the least.

I think normal is going to look a whole lot different after this. We will play shows in physical venues, yes. I believe we will tour again, but not in the same way as before. What if a tour is based around playing a house concert for our Patrons in Arizona, and then broadcasting a live show from our desert campsite, mountains and Saguaro in the background? What if instead of focusing all of my energy on finding the next $150 bar gig to play, I can invest that creative energy into making better music, with the belief that it will be supported by a connected community of music lovers?

The music business was already in transition from BIG to small. Record labels were already pretty much a thing of the past, and I think this crisis will actually level the playing field even more. For the ones willing to put in the time and effort to adapt, this could all end up being a positive thing for independent musicians. We’re headed for a new world; it’s up to us to imagine what it can be.

-Brian Keith Wallen

THANK YOU to all who are so generously supporting us! If you want to follow along, check out the links below. Stay safe, be well.

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/thewallensmusic
Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/thewallensmusic
Website: https://thewallensmusic.com/

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Opening Day

Here in the Midwest, the first really nice day has an almost sacred sort of quality to it. When the thermometer creeps above 60, it compels Midwestern homeowners to journey outside and commune with their little piece of earth. There’s something sacred about all of it; you feel the warmth of the sun as you gather up all of the limbs and brush that fell over the course of the winter. You marvel at the greenish hue returning to the grass as you tidy up the flowerbeds where daffodils poke their colorful heads out. Neighborhood kids knock the cobwebs off of bikes and scooters and spill into the streets. That’s what yesterday was like in my neck of the woods, and I took full advantage. My dog Charlie did as well.

All of this is wonderful, especially during a worldwide pandemic. I forgot about that for a while today, and everything felt almost normal for a minute or two. At least, until I remembered that today was supposed to be Opening Day.

Ordinarily, I’d be making plans to tune in. Preferably on 700 WLW, and ideally in my car, out for a country drive. Or maybe out in my garage, working on a project or two. Baseball really sounds best on AM Radio; it’s the format that offers the sharpest contrast between the steady buzz of the crowd and the telltale crack of the bat. Don’t get me wrong, I love going to baseball games in person, and I’ll tune in on TV as well. But radio will always have the softest spot in my heart.

MLB is going to re-air the Reds 2019 Opening Day game, which was a great performance by Luis Castillo. I haven’t decided if I want to tune in or not. Baseball has been a part of my spring ritual for a decade, since I was a teenager. The fact that it won’t be there today, or tomorrow, or the next month, or maybe not at all this year, makes this COVID-19 crisis hit home as much as anything else I could imagine. I like minor league baseball too, and we were planning to take Charlie to one of the “Bark in the Park” games that the Indianapolis Indians put on. Like so many other things, that is on hold indefinitely.

I know that there are many more important things in life. But today will be a tough one for many of us as we lose another layer of normalcy. If we want any shot of baseball coming back anytime soon, we HAVE to stop the spread of COVID-19. So be kind, stay safe, and STAY HOME. This virus is a strike we can’t afford to take.

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A Musician’s Guide to Livestreaming

Hey y’all! As musicians figure out what to do during a time when our regular venues are shut down, many of us are turning to digital concerts. We’ve been doing this type of thing for a while, and I’ve had a lot of folks reach out and ask about what equipment is needed to get the best possible audio quality for a Facebook Live. The intent of this post is to put all the info you need in one place. If you have some basic tech skills and a couple pieces of gear, you can get a quality video stream going!

Step One: A Computer and a USB Audio Interface

I think most know the basics about streaming from a phone. In order to get pro-quality audio on your live video, you’ll need a decent PC or Mac and a USB audio interface to connect your mics and instruments to that computer. I use a Presonus Audiobox, but there are any number of choices from Focusrite, M-Audio, and other companies around the $100 price range. Don’t worry about the number of inputs on the interface; if you have a mixer, you can just run everything through that and connect the stereo outs on your mixer to the interface.

Step Two: An iPhone, iPad, or a Webcam

For the video portion, you’ll need a device that easily connects to your computer. Any of the devices I mentioned above will do the trick. If you’re using your phone, get a mini-tripod designed for mobile devices. You can pick one up just about anywhere.

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Step Three: OBS Studio Software

To put the video/audio together, you’ll need to use software. Fortunately, there is a FREE software available, and it’s easy to use. Here’s the link! It’s compatible with both PC and Mac, and the help section will teach you how to use it. It’s very intuitive.

OBS Studio

If you’re using an iPhone as your camera, you’ll need to download the OBS Camera app and connect it to your computer via Lightning or Lightning to USB.

Step Four: Facebook Live Producer

Of all the social media platforms, none make it easier to do this than Facebook. If you click the “Live” button from the home screen of your Facebook Business Page, you’ll be taken to their Live Producer studio. From there, you can link up your software, do a test stream to make sure everything is working properly, and even crosspost to multiple pages. This is a huge advantage compared to just broadcasting from your smartphone.

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Voila! You’re streaming live with pro-quality audio.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to reach out if you have any other questions, and if this information was helpful, I have a digital tip jar up on our website! Good luck!

-Brian Keith Wallen

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The Weight: Coping with COVID-19

“I’ve never seen anything like this” is a common refrain I’ve heard over this past week or so. In grocery store aisles, in phone conversations, on social media feeds, the disruption of our day-to-day lives has been the surprise of all surprises. Obviously, we’ve known about COVID-19 for a while, but if we’re being honest, didn’t it always seem like some faraway thing before? Even when the first cases hit the US, I think many of us were in denial. I know that I sure was. And now, we’re here; in the middle of uncertainty. Most of us don’t have any life experiences to guide us on this one. And that sinking feeling of dread that many of us have in the pit of our stomachs is compounded by the fact that there isn’t an end in sight. There isn’t a quick fix, or a magic wand our government can wave. The only comparison point that many of us over a certain age have is 9/11, but with COVID-19, the enemy is ourselves.

If you’ve read any articles about it, you know that the only way we have a shot is to slow the spread of the disease and “flatten the curve” so that our healthcare system doesn’t get overwhelmed. But that means we all have to stay home, and probably for at least a couple of months, according to the experts. And doesn’t that go against every fiber of our being as Americans? We’re not a nation of people that like to stay in one place for very long. If you’ve seen me play a show, than you’ve probably heard me spill out our touring stats. “We play about 200 shows a year, and we drive 40 or 50,000 miles a year on the road!” All of a sudden, we’re not driving anywhere to play shows. I haven’t put gas in the truck since we got home from our last tour a week ago, because I haven’t had anywhere to go besides the grocery store. I’ve had multiple conversations with other musicians who are seeing cancellations into summer, and none of us are optimistic about playing any shows until at least June.

Everyone is stressed to the max about finances, whether you’re a business owner, a bartender, or a bank teller. On the other hand, think of all the people involved with healthcare who have to keep going to work. My dad is in that latter group. But even if you’re still working, we’re not going to church. We’re not hanging out with our friends, playing dominoes or sharing meals and drinks. We’re not visiting Grandparents and going to dog parks. All of the things that used to crowd our calendar to the point of it being too full are just…gone. Overnight.

When I started writing this, I struggled with the tone. I didn’t want it to seem to dark, because I always try to find the positive. And don’t get me wrong, there are positives. This situation is causing many of us to (rightly) examine our priorities and re-adjust our perspective, and it’s also inspiring a lot of creativity from people who suddenly have more time to be creative. But I also don’t want to sugar-coat the negative, or stigmatize the emotions that come with our present situation. We, as a nation and a world, are grieving. And that is perfectly okay! There is no getting around the fact that this is an event that will reverberate throughout our history for years to come, and we shouldn’t expect to just roll out of bed after a week of social distancing and suddenly be okay with it.

The world is going to be different on the other side of this. But what we have to do hasn’t changed; we have to choose kindness, find gratitude for the good things, and love each other. The way we show that love is going to be different for a while, but love we must!

The Weight of Love – The Black Keys

I used to think, darlin’, you never did nothin’
But you were always up to somethin’
Always had a run in, yeah
I got to think those days are comin’ to get ya
Now no body want to protect ya
They only want to forget ya

[Chorus:]
You’ll be on my mind
Don’t give yourself away
To the weight of love
You’ll be on your side
Don’t give yourself away
The weight of, weight of love

Dance all night cause people, they don’t wanna be lonely
Never wanna be lonely
They don’t wanna be an only one
You had a thing no one could ever be sure of
Never ever had a pure love
And never no cure from

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Weary and Wary: A Musician’s Perspective on COVID-19

I think, for me, everything changed in less than an hour. About 9:30 PM (Eastern) on Wednesday, March 11th, we were hit with a ridiculous stream of previously unthinkable events. Our President, addressing the nation about a worldwide pandemic, and banning travel to Europe. Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, sharing that they had contracted COVID-19. And an NBA player testing positive, resulting in the suspension of the NBA season. All within about 30 minutes! It felt like the plot of some bad SciFi channel movie that you watch in a hotel at 2 AM.

Prior to this, I had been following along with the news. I had witnessed the spread of COVID-19 across the globe, and I had certainly taken note of the cancellation of SXSW and Coachella. But it wasn’t until Wednesday night that I realized our lives were really about to change. Look, I’ll admit it; like many other Americans, I did not take the threat of Coronavirus seriously. Maybe it’s American arrogance, or maybe it’s because I’m 27. Perhaps it’s just because I’ve never seen anything like this happen before, but I just didn’t think it would be that big of a deal. Clearly, I was wrong. I know there are lots of folks still arguing about how serious this is or isn’t, but I’m content to leave that to the medical professionals. Both of my parents worked/work in healthcare, and so does my sister-in-law. If they say something is a problem, I believe it.

Setting aside the actual virus itself, the economic impact is immeasurable. My wife and I are touring musicians. Our job is literally to travel thousands of miles and play for large crowds of people! A Rolling Stone article started circulating Wednesday night, and the premise hit home for us and for so many of our artist friends. We suddenly knew it was time to start counting pennies and dimes, because it became pretty clear that we won’t be working very much for a while. Businesses are hurting too, big ones and little ones. School is cancelled. Travel is suspended. Every sporting event you can think of has been postponed. It almost makes our little piece of the puzzle seem insignificant.

It’s such a weird feeling, all of this. We just had our best tour ever, covering 10,000 miles across more than a dozen states. I was planning to write a recap of the final two weeks, but instead, I’m writing about this strange, strange space we’re living in now. We went grocery shopping today, and all of the toilet paper, liquid soap, and chicken were gone. Still plenty of pork, beef, and paper towels, though. We’re not doing any panic shopping, because we aren’t panicked. But I’ll admit, I did buy a 10 pack of Ivory soap.

The tour of Texas we had coming up in less than two weeks is cancelled. We have a couple of local shows through the end of the month, and that’s it. If they even still happen. We’re all in this weird vortex where it seems like time has stopped, and we’re just waiting for it to start again. But when it does, it seems pretty clear that things will have changed in a big way. There will be businesses that can’t make it through this. Venues will close. There will be artists forced to get day jobs. Will live music be the same after this passes? I don’t know.

All I know is that I’m thankful for a lot. For my health, for my family and friends, for my wife and my dog especially. I’m grateful that we have a home to come home to, and a little money to pay the bills with. And I’m so glad that I’ve been able to travel this country, doing what I love, for and with people I love. An extra pack of toilet paper is not going to get us through this; it’s going to take a whole lot of kindness, patience, and love. Be good to yourself and to others, and we’ll figure it out.

The Wallens will perform a Facebook and YouTube Live concert on Monday, March 16th at 8 PM Eastern. Tune in at https://www.facebook.com/thewallensmusic or https://www.youtube.com/thewallensmusic

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Wintertime Tour: Week Five – It’s All About Love

Hey everyone! Once again, Brian here. My wife and I are currently on a two month tour across America, playing music, (we’re The Wallens) camping out, and seeking adventure along the way. Here’s where we’ve been in the last week or so.

Stop #1: Sedona, AZ

In my last post, I talked about the awesome musicians we met at Fiddler’s Dream, Christy Fisher and Tina Reichow. They are such sweet people, and they were kind enough to spread the word about our next show to their friends and fans. So, when we showed up at Vino Di Sedona, there was a great crowd waiting for us! We are really thankful for our new friends. Vino is a pretty special place; it has fantastic views of the Red Rocks from the patio, a cozy indoor space for wintertime shows, and it’s one of just a handful of places that legitimately host music 7 nights a week.

The owner, Rebecca, has been very supportive of us over the years, and we really appreciate that. The staff is a lot of fun too! If you’re ever passing through Sedona, it’s definitely the place to go.

Stop #2: Cave Creek, AZ

Speaking of venues that really support music, Janey’s also sits high atop that list. Tucked into a corner of Cave Creek, a funky little town on the north side of Maricopa County, you’ll find this magical coffeeshop and bodega. And like Vino Di Sedona, you’ll find music seven nights a week!

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Owner/manager Julian has grown something really special here. The crowd is a fun mix of locals, snowbirds, and tourists; we even met a guy from Connersville, Indiana at our show! That’s only 8 miles south of where I grew up. We really love playing Janey’s, and we have to thank our friends Quint and Nancy for turning us onto the place.

Stop #3: Camp Verde+Flagstaff

Up to this point, we’d been staying at our friends house in Scottsdale. But we had to bring Alf the camper back out for a night, as we had two shows up the hill in North-Central AZ. We decided to camp in the Verde Valley and drive from there to our gig in Flagstaff, as it was about 20 degrees warmer at the lower elevation of Camp Verde. (Flagstaff gets over 100 inches of snow a year.) I can’t say enough good things about the Verde River RV Resort, which had a full mini-golf course, a clubhouse, rec room, and even saunas!

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Our Valentine’s Night gig was at Historic Brewing’s Barrel+Bottle House. It was the perfect place for us to play on Valentine’s, a space full of families, couples of all ages, and groups of friends out for a drink or a delicious dinner. Do not miss this place if you’re in Flag! I recommend the Arizona Bowl with a fried egg.

Stop #4: Chino Valley, AZ

The next place is an old friend of ours. I’ve been playing at Granite Creek Vineyards since 2015, and Molly and I have come to love it. The atmosphere, staff, and audience are always top-notch. It’s also a peacock preserve, so there are often colorful spectators in the crowd!

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We had a couple tables full of Indiana people in the crowd, and dozens of music lovers that made our afternoon absolutely magical. What more could you ask for?

Stop #5: Queen Creek, AZ

What a week of shows this was! Had it ended in Chino Valley, that would have been great enough. But we had to cap it off with one of the best shows of the whole dang tour. Outdoors, at the Queen Creek Olive Mill, on a 70 degree day. We set up under a tent in the middle of things, literally between the patio/dining area and an art show.

For four hours, we had a steady stream of dancing kids, picture-takers, clappers, and joyful people to give us energy for our songs. It was the biggest crowd I’ve seen to date at the Olive Mill, and it was a great time had by all, especially us. We even got to finish out our afternoon there with affogato, the delightful Italian combination of espresso and vanilla gelato. It was a perfect day.

Bonus Stop: Fountain Hills, AZ

In between all of these gigs, we spent almost every late morning/early afternoon hanging out in Fountain Hills. I’ve come to love this little town for a few reasons, one being that it has the best dog park we’ve encountered in our travels. It also has a great little hike through a botanical garden, and of course, one of the largest fountains in the world.

I really like the people too, a mix of Midwestern snowbirds and local folks that all seem to love art and music and good food and dogs. And that’s the thing; in all of our travels, we meet great people, wherever we go. There is so much love and goodness and joy in the world, and we just want to spread that around. The portrait of America painted by cable news channels and by Facebook memes and ads is an ugly one, filled with division and conflict and hatred. The actual reality is so far from that! If we can put down our phones for more than five minutes and make some human connections, the contrast becomes apparent.

The next time you start losing hope in the world, or you start feeling like we’re more divided than we’ve ever been, go for a walk or a drive. Find a town square, or a park. Go for a hike. Sit down at a coffeeshop, or find some live music. I honestly believe that what you’ll find the vast majority of the time are good people, trying to do the best they can for the ones they love. And that’s what it’s all about.

Choose love.

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