Live From the Mermaid's Tavern Part I: Digital Houseconcerts in the Age of #COVID-19


  • This is Part I of a three-part series. It covers real-world example scenarios of why you'd set up a livestream, the roles you will be working with, and considerations for how to get the artist paid without tax headaches. 
  • Part II covers the logistics of scheduling and announcing a livestream on Facebook, and the detailed considerations that make it appear seamless to your audience.
  • Part III covers the studio tech you will need to broadcast the livestream. Please don't start here. You'll miss what it's all about. Spoiler: it's all about an excellent experience for audience and artist, for which the audience happily pays the artist.


Digital houseconcerts are not about the tech. Most people start with "what gear do I need?" The short answer is a newish laptop or desktop with a webcam, an external microphone if you have one, a couple of extra lights if you have them, and some easily downloadable free software that takes under an hour to set up.You also need a really solid internet connection! Speedtest will tell you your download speed (for the audience) and upload speed (for the broadcaster). I cover all this in Part III

Digital houseconcerts, which are both digital workplaces and digital business*, are about creating an excellent online experience for the audience, and an excellent studio experience for the artist. Part II covers the nitty-gritty of making sure you have an audience and that they know what to expect. Part III goes into some detail on how to make the artist comfortable so they can focus on performing. 

I'm an artist, a tech, and a sponsor. I can play any of these roles, but not all at once. If you're going to be the Game Artist, recruit a friend to be the Calm Tech. If you're going to be your own Sponsor/Fiscal Receiver do your advance work to set up your own PayPal and Patreon as well as your merch page and online store. But follow along for awhile as Matthew, FSSGB, and I did this together for the first time. 


It was 9:30 am this morning, and the gig was at noon, an hour away. My sound engineer had cancelled yesterday, with strong recommendations that we not visit a senior center the day after Massachusetts had declared a state of emergency for the novel coronavirus. I called the venue to ask for help unloading my carload of sound gear for 11:00 sound check. The clerk on the phone stopped me mid-ask. "The Board of Health just cancelled the concert. Our Board of Directors is just calling your band now." Sure enough. I took my gear home.

For the last three days, plans had changed hourly. I had been sad to miss a Folk Song Society of Greater Boston houseconcert with Matthew Byrne this week, but when the FSSGB host declined, I had offered our house since we would be in California for my dad's memorial service. NOT. That trip got cancelled on 36 hours notice. Great, we'd be home for the houseconcert! You can guess what happened next.

That cancellation came with a request for my new setup of the Mermaid's Tavern Digital Studio. If Matthew agreed, could I livestream the concert and help FSSGB include a PayPal link to support the artist? You bet. In the time it took me to say yes, I got three more texts for advice on what to do if you have to cancel a houseconcert for an artist who relies on local cash-only gigs to make a living. Just got the text that Matthew's game, so here's the link for you to watch the concert!

This link only works until 6pm on March 13, and Matthew asked us not to make a recording, so after that it will be replaced with a screenshot.

Read on to follow what we're doing and how we did it, in real time.


Digital broadcasting is still new to most folkies, although anyone with radio experience will relax once they realize it's just radio where they can see your face. Matthew Byrne could not have been a better beta tester/guinea pig for the inaugural launch of what we hope will be a digital houseconcert series Live From the Mermaid's Tavern. Matthew's game for anything.

If you want to be the artist, recruit a friend to be the tech. Learn to take turns. The best artists are extroverted artisans who deserve mastery of the tools of our digital trade.


Doesn't have to be a wizard, just someone with basic gear (see Part III) and a calm and confident demeanor. When everyone is in a kerfuffle, reassuring people that there is a solution is the main thing. If that's you, read on. If not, ask your local sound engineer and send them this link.

If you want to be the tech, recruit a friend to be the artist. Learn to take turns. The best techs are introverted musicians who deserve airtime on camera.


Most houseconcerts are cash-only and go straight to the artist. Money sent through PayPal or another funding source is traceable, and you don't want to cause a tax headache for your artist, yourself, or your local host.
  • Does the sponsoring organization have a PayPal link? This is the equivalent of collecting donations, depositing them in the organization's bank account, and cutting the artist a single check. ASK FIRST. Make sure both the sponsor and the artist agree on funds handling.
  • Does the artist have a PayPal link? If the artist agrees, the money goes direct to the artist. However, some artists may not want to publish a personal PayPal link. ASK FIRST. Make sure both the sponsor and the artist agree on funds handling.
  • Be aware that $600 is the limit to issue a 1099-MISC form to the artist as a vendor. Don't try to run anything close to $600 through your personal PayPal account. Don't be surprised if you hit this number from people who wouldn't have attended the live show, but want to support the artist, or do something to support the arts generally during the coronavirus crisis. 
  • If you don't have a sponsoring organization, can you find one ASAP? Many local organizations are gearing up for digital events, and many already have PayPal buttons on their websites. Ask a local business if they will be your emergency fiscal receiver until you get one of your own.
  • Be sure to include a link to the artist's music page like this one for Matthew so that people can buy merch as well as donate. Help support touring artists who get hit by this crisis while they're on the road!
  • Does the artist have a Patreon for membership funding? Matthew Byrne does not (yet?), but many artists do. In fact, I've just set one up for Digital Heritage Consulting where you can join this initiative if you want to support the work I'm doing. I'll be blogging more about Patreon and doing some interviews with artists who are using it like Debra Cowan and Windborne.
This post is (mostly) live in real time. Part II covers the logistics and details of scheduling and announcing a livestream so you will have an audience. Part III covers the gear and logistics we used for the event.

*Not to blow my own horn here, but in January 2020, I completed an executive certificate in digital business strategy from MIT Sloan School of Business. I'm applying it right here, right now as Digital Heritage Consulting. I also have 20 years of hands-on technical and management experience in corporate IT. The mission of Digital Heritage Consulting is to coach and mentor my fellow folkies so you do not need these kinds of credentials to join the digital economy.


Wleyden said…
Thank you so much for sharing this information!