“Encore!” “Encore!” the crowd demanded as the musicians on stage closed out the last tune of their set. Luckily, the five student performers, who referred to themselves only as “The House Band,” had come prepared, and they launched into a rendition of the chart-topping Good 4 U by Olivia Rodrigo. It was a fitting end to a warm May evening filled with classics and sing-alongs at The Arbor, Stanford’s student bar.
For the enthusiastic crowd, live music was a breath of fresh air after more than a year of pandemic restrictions. For the musicians, it was catharsis.
“I spent a lot of fall trying to get live music to happen,” said senior Bradley Immel, who played bass and electric keyboard at the show. “We were really trying to get live music up, but [Stanford] kept saying ‘no no no,’ so we just couldn’t.”
The pandemic proved to be extremely disruptive for Immel and so many other Stanford musicians. With the Santa Clara County restrictions essentially imposing a moratorium on live shows, and the near-impossibility of meeting in person, musicians had to radically adapt.
For some, like senior Jacob Eisenach, the new reality seemed appealing at first. “For a while it felt like this was the best thing that could ever happen to a musician,” said the singer-songwriter, who performs under the name eisenach. “You kind of have this romanticized vision of going into solitude and creating art.”
But eisenach soon found that his expectations for the pandemic were misconstrued. “It decimated the live music scene and made collaboration really difficult, which has been really frustrating as a musician,” he said. “It gets lonely after a while.”
Even for solo artists like eisenach, collaboration is crucial to the creative process as a means of developing ideas and finding inspiration. For those who play in a band, rehearsals and songwriting were difficult over Zoom, and the inability to play in-person left many unsatisfied with virtual concerts. Live shows are a major source of revenue for musicians, as well as very important in building a dedicated following. And while virtual shows can reach a wider audience and are often easier to produce, they can’t compare to the atmosphere of a live performance.
Add in technical considerations like overcoming latency and wrestling with poor sound quality, and it’s easy to see why many became frustrated.
However, the dislike of virtual collaboration isn’t universal, at least as far as songwriting and production are concerned. Audrey Proulx, performing under the name Audriix, is a professional pop artist who graduated from Stanford with bachelor’s and dual master’s degrees in 2017. She prefers Zoom sessions to the alternative. “In-person sessions come with a lot more pressure, because it’s like, okay we’ve booked this time where you’re writing with a producer or a top-liner, we better make sure we finish this and get it recorded,” she said. “I’m more comfortable at home. I have a whole studio setup here that’s just as good, if not better, than what a lot of people in LA have.”
Audrixx (pronounced Audrey), who released her debut studio album Status Change in 2019, used the pandemic to take the next step for her career. After signing with a new manager who’d previously worked with big names like Avril Lavigne and Rachel Platte, the budding pop star is optimistic about her future. “It is nice to have a female manager. I’ve dealt with a lot of male bullies in the industry. As I think many people know, that’s kind of the reputation in the entertainment industry,” she said.
While initially branding herself as an anthemic, arena-pop singer, Audriix has taken the past year to change her sound into something more aligned with today’s musical landscape, taking a stylistic lead from artists like Dua Lipa and Ava Max. “We’ve decided it’s time to sign to a label,” Audriix said. “You’ve just got to follow what the labels are signing these days.”
“You’re always trying to write a hit,” she continued. “If you aren’t seeking a hit, then you’re doing music as a hobby.”
For those in the infancy of their career, music can still be a hobby. “A lot of people will sort of jump right into the first offer, and that can trap you or limit what you do,” said freshman Anthony Arya, who remains skeptical of record labels. Arya’s just beginning his time at Stanford, but is already well established in the music industry after appearing on season 15 of the popular NBC show The Voice in 2018.
Arya recently finished recording an EP of cover songs he played while on The Voice, with plans to release this summer. “A lot of fans have been asking about the songs that I played, so I recorded them over quarantine,” he said.
The Santa Cruz-based singer-songwriter was hoping to tour last summer after releasing The Road, his second studio album, but had to change plans. “There’s a lot of press and marketing that goes into an album,” Arya said. “Without these live shows where you can sell a lot of CDs and interact with the people that are going to be listening to the new album, you have to find new ways to promote.”
These new ways have taken shape in a variety of forms, though a common thread is their virtual nature. Audriix remarked that she was “doing Instagram Live every day for a while,” at the beginning of the pandemic. Similarly, eisenach turned to Instagram to promote his EP Thoughts In Motion, recording short Instagram music videos for each track. “If I could do it again, I would probably try to be more on TikTok,” he said, highlighting how important social media has become to the music industry.
However, as things begin to return to some semblance of normal, live performances once again take center stage for Stanford musicians. Immel has been making the most of the juniors and seniors’ return to campus this spring, playing three straight Fridays at The Arbor with several different groups, including a gig with eisenach.
“The feelings of return and catharsis and just all those great feelings you get when you perform really started at the rehearsals for me,” eisenach said. “By the time Friday rolled around I was nervous because it was my first gig in a while, but we just got up there and tried to have fun. For me, the goal is always to have fun.”
Unlike most artists, Arya has been able to play live shows regularly throughout the pandemic, albeit outside and at a reduced capacity. “When a venue’s at 25% capacity, you can really feel the space in-between the cracks of people,” he said, noting that as more people are allowed to come to shows “you can feel it becoming more and more dynamic, and that affects how we perform. It affects our energy.”
When Arya comes to campus for the first time this fall, he’ll walk into a radically changed environment from the one students left in March 2020. With the restructuring of Stanford’s housing system, there are uncertainties as to which venues will host live music on campus.
“A lot of that knowledge and a lot of those institutions have just kind of disappeared, so I’m a little bit worried,” said eisenach. “But people are going to throw events. It just takes a little initiative.”