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'Laptop concerts' can help prolong careers, says Christine Lavin

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Her second “live laptop concert” in the notebooks, Christine Lavin has her sights set on a third, thanks to her take from the second.

"Julie Gold and I played live at concertwindow.com through my laptop set on top of her Steinway piano from 8-9 PM on Monday night,” Lavin reported via email to friends and fellow singer-songwriters. “I don't want to get too excited about this, because it's all so new, but I have very good, promising news.”

The news was that after Concert Window took it’s one-third share of the money paid by online concert patrons, the remaining two-thirds amounted to $550, which Lavin and Gold split (“$275 each--though Julie insisted I take $25 to cover my cab fare!”).

“I know joining forces helped,” said Lavin, “and also going the 'pay what you want' route. Twenty percent of that money was in 'tips' that we got during the broadcast. Since people can pay as low as $1, they have an incentive to tip if they like what they hear.”

Lavin said she recognizes that “sharing this kind of information isn’t typical in this business.” Then again, she has promoted hundreds if not thousands of other artists as enthusiastically as herself throughout her career.

Concert Window, she said, “is run by musicians for musicians. I'm not an official part of it--I just think this is a great idea and I love to share good information with other musicians. We're all trying to figure out how to continue making a living in this new digital era. Everyone I know has taken a sizable hit financially over the past few years, but this could be a way to start earning some of it back. And imagine being able to work on nights where we normally can't!”

But in order to make the laptop concert work, an artist needs at least a week to promote it, Lavin has learned, to be followed by last-minute email blasts and Facebook posts to encourage Concert Window “walk-ups.”

“Up ‘til the night before, we had sold a grand total of $82 worth of tickets--'pay what you want'--so 80 percent of the tickets were sold the day of,” said Lavin. “It’s so important to know that. I had a hunch that's what would happen, but I didn't know for sure. Now I do.”

She submits evidence in a one-minute video of Gold warming up, made at “the very last minute.”

“I couldn't post it ‘til 7:45, but in that 15 minutes it got 46 hits, so I'm sure it got us even more viewers,” she surmised, adding, “You must do all you can to reach your fans before your laptop concert--and if you have a lot of fans in Europe, think about the start time. We had viewers in France, England, Sweden--they complained because it was late for them--but most tuned in from the U.S. They chat back-and-forth as they're listening, becoming friends along the way. I heard from a few who are homebound and so happy to find something like this--happening live, chatting away [and] such a thrifty way to enjoy good music, especially for people who can't get out.”

Chatting, in fact, is “such a big part of the fun” of the laptop concert experience that Lavin is discouraging Concert Window from caving in to requests to tape or archive the shows.

“It's like Instagram--it's here, then it's gone,” she said. “Something special you experience live, or you've missed it. And I feel better about taking musical risks: I sang my song ‘Damaged Goods’ [Monday night]--hadn't done it in more than 20 years. My voice cracked a little bit on it, so I'm glad there was no tape running. I might not have done it otherwise.”

Lavin has now scheduled her third laptop concert on Concert Window for this Monday, with David Ippolito—“that guitar man of Central Park”—in his apartment. She has applied her earnings from the one with Gold in up upgrading her laptop camera and microphone to improve both look and sound.

“I'm on a real learning curve here,” she said, “trying to see how we can make this work for a lot of us. I've had good luck on my first two, but this is a new frontier.”

“Most of these concerts are 30 minutes,” Lavin advised, “but you can play longer, even if you schedule it as 30 minutes. But since right now I'm doing these with a guest I think saying up front it is 60 minutes is best.”

She also cautioned that when singing, “your image is on screen, and our natural inclination as humans is to look at yourself.” So she affixed a pink Post-it note saying “Look here” to her laptop “as a reminder that that is where the camera is and that's where to look.”

“Remember,” Lavin instructed. “If you do one of these, don't freak out if you don't have a lot of ticket sales up to the night before.”

Invoking her late friend Dave Van Ronk, she shared his frequent comment: "`When music of quality sells it's good for all of us.’ So that's why I have sent this [email] to you, knowing if you do well, there's more work for all of us. Ultimately, maybe we'll get more people coming to our live shows in venues.”

Now sans booking agent, Lavin admitted fear--and new hope--about the future.

“Knowing that there is something like this that we can do ourselves,” she concluded, “gives me an optimistic spark I haven't felt for a long time.”

[The Examiner is cited on Page 362 of Christin Lavin's Cold Pizza For Breakfast: A Mem-wha??]

Subscribe to my examiner.com pages and follow me on Twitter @JimBessman!

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