On March 12, musician and producer Mark de Clive-Lowe was heading to San Francisco with Hailey Niswanger of the band Mae Sun, where the two were set to play SF Jazz. The following night, he was set to bring his long-running party Church to Oakland. But a few hours into the drive from Southern to Northern California, they pulled over to the side of the road and watched as emails arrived one after the next with news that their upcoming gigs were canceled.
“[Musicians] were amongst the first to lose work,” de Clive-Lowe says via phone call from his home in Echo Park. He had a realization that touring wasn’t going to return, at least not in the way it existed before the pandemic. “I feel like this is a turning point, in history, really,” he says. While de Clive-Lowe admits that’s a pessimistic response, it also led to his more optimistic recent project.
With Love from L.A., which launches on August 12, is a new online series that brings live performances and interviews with Los Angeles-area musicians to viewers across the globe. Each month will host two episodes dedicated to a featured artists. On the second Wednesday of the month, the series will broadcast a live interview session. The following Wednesday is reserved for the concert. In August, the guests are drummer Jamire Williams and guitarist Jeff Parker, who will be performing as a duo. “They are both some of the best jazz-adjacent creative improvisers I’ve ever heard,” says de Clive-Lowe. Other guests will be announced over the course of the series and range from jazz to experimental to electronic artists.
The project is being funded through the City of Glendale Arts and Culture Commission’s “Art Happens Anywhere” program and, because of that, the musicians will be paid. For de Clive-Lowe, part of the goal is to build a model where live streaming is considered paid work for artists as well as opportunity to connect with fans and new audiences.
Raised between New Zealand and Japan, de Clive-Lowe learned classical piano as a child and gravitated toward hip-hop and late ’80s/early ’90s scenes like New Jack Swing as he hit adolescence. “I grew up straddling these worlds between wanting to be a jazz piano player and wanting to make cool beats,” he says. “Over my life, that’s been the theme. It’s taken me a lot of places.”
He moved to Los Angeles in 2008, after spending a decade in London, and has been active in both the jazz and electronic music scenes as a pianist, DJ, and producer. In addition to releasing numerous solo albums and organizing his own events, de Clive-Lowe has worked steadily as a touring musician. “My life is usually in a suitcase, on a plane, in a hotel, taking gear around the world,” he says. The great gig cancelation of 2020 forced him to rethink how he approached his work.
In the midst of the pandemic, de Clive-Lowe became a founding artist-in-residence for La Ceiba Fest, where he remixed musicians live from his home. “I pretty much moved from going 3,000 miles to play a gig to going to my bedroom to play a gig, which is amazing,” he says. “I’ve never had that experience before.”
The loss of live work in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic shines a light on a major fault within the 21st century music industry. For years, musicians have been reliant on tours to make ends meet, with recorded music serving as a means to keep the artists on the road, rather than a primary source of revenue. That fraction of a cent that Spotify pays out per stream isn’t cutting it. “That’s a broken industry,” says de Clive-Lowe. “We got to this point where touring was the primary income.”
“That’s a broken industry. We got to this point where touring was the primary income.”
With live streaming, de Clive-Lowe says, “The question has always been, how do you make money?” In the case of With Love From L.A., the grant has taken care of that part for the first six months.
But there’s also a secondary question that might be just as important: How do you approach a live performance when the audience isn’t with you in the same room? “For any musician who has played on live TV, that’s the closest, I think,” says de Clive-Lowe, “but on live TV you’re guaranteed that there’s an audience. With streaming, you don’t even know if there’s an audience.”
That can be a challenge for musicians live streaming for the first time. “As musicians, if we’re streaming, I think it’s important to remember that you can’t see the audience, you can’t hear the audience,” he says, “but you’ve got to trust they’re there and they’ve tuned in because they want to hear what you’re doing.”
It won’t be the same as the club or the concert hall or the festival field, but that doesn’t mean that live streaming won’t become its own special experience with a future.
“Nothing is the same. Everything is different now,” says de Clive-Lowe. “I think it’s exciting to explore as a technology and platform. In five years, ten years time, live streaming is going to be a different beast.”