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Best of South Carolina Music artists talk COVID-19 impact

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Stagbriar

COVID-19 shook up the lives of the artists that made this year’s Best of South Carolina Music List, and the way they were able to promote their winning albums.

In-person performances were impossible for much of the year, and are still, at best, a tricky proposition. This forced an emphasis on digital means of reaching an audience — live-stream concerts and social media among them.

We sent out a questionnaire to a few of the acts on this year’s list asking about how the pandemic impacted their releases. The responses have been lightly edited for grammar. Unless noted, the answers were given by the group as a whole.

Stagbriar

The Columbia indie rock band landed at No. 1 with “Suppose You Grow,” its first album in seven years, released in August. The group plays Free Times’ Virtual Music Crawl on Dec. 19. Guitarist. Singer Alex McCollum answered the questionnaire.

How seriously did you consider not releasing your album this year when the pandemic took hold?

We definitely thought about it. After all, after 7 years of silence what’s one more year? I think Emily (McCollum, Alex’s sister and the group’s other singer and songwriter) and I were both over the already long wait and still trying to ride the momentum of a fresh return in 2019. We didn’t want to run the risk of seemingly going into hiding all over again, or losing momentum for the project altogether. “Stay busy,” we’d say, “any way we can.” I remember having a lot of late night Facetimes with Dylan (Dickerson) from Dear Blanca, both of us releasing records this year. Each conversation would come to a similar head where we’d both finally agree that “If 2020’s gonna suck, let’s at least put something meaningful out into the world. Make the best of a s#!tty year.”

How did it impact the way you have been able to promote the album?

In March it became increasingly apparent that the entire promotional phase of the record’s rollout would occur within the timespan of the pandemic. This meant a significantly greater push for online ads, creating socially distanced music videos, and even collaborating with Dear Blanca on a socially safe beer release when an actual release show seemed too dangerous to begin to ponder.

How do you plan to promote the album moving forward?

I think for a lot of 2020 albums and the artists that created them, we’re hoping for a second birth in 2021. We want the opportunity to roll these albums out properly and play them in new towns and on fresh stages. We’re hoping that the excitement that shows itself in “likes” and “online orders” in 2020 translates back into attendance and actual, tangible hype in 2021. We want that for the album we poured our hearts and souls into, but we also want that for our music community, our bars, our venues, and our fellow SC artists.

Looking back financially on 2020, Stagbriar profited more from actual record sales than shows this year which, if you ask any musician on the planet, is an INCREDIBLE irregularity. That’s not to say we raked it in off of merch last year, but rather that we’re hurting for shows. Badly. The energy and atmosphere you can build in one 30-minute set outranks any Facebook or Instagram ad you could ever buy. More so, we just miss the people, the electricity, and the instant gratification of seeing someone listen to your songs and become wrapped up in their own version of it. It is our deepest hope to find a way back to those moments.

Are there any other specific impacts to the album’s release from COVID-19 that you’d like to point out?

It made releasing a first single in June called “The Flu” a little strange. There were record pressing delays, customer service nightmares, and all of Comfort Monk’s collaborative design and advertising efforts were pushed to Facetimes and phone calls. Mostly though, it’s really been a factor of momentum. We were grateful that there was a lot of “at home” listening this year and more time to settle in and give that local release your full attention. The trade off, of course, is lacking the ability to carry over that at-home listening experience into a tangible reality that you can share socially IRL and get excited about with friends. This is what creates local scenes. This is what fuels acts into local, regional, and even national popularity, and this year that fuel was replaced with a simple share button. It’s not enough.

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Gláss

Gláss

The Greenville post-punk trio issued two new releases and reissued another in 2020, landing at No. 4 with the full-length “Wilting in Mauve.”

How seriously did you consider not releasing your album this year when the pandemic took hold?

Not seriously at all. In fact we felt our releases were rather appropriate for the time, and wanted to release more.

How did it impact the way you have been able to promote the album?

The virus prevented us from being able to tour or do a release run for any of the albums. We did manage to play one show for the release of “Wilting” here in Greenville, however. Online promotion has been perhaps better than usual as people can not go to concerts and are spending more time online than before.

How do you plan to promote the album moving forward?

Well, we released three albums during the pandemic so, all we can really do is push them on social media, keep sending them to places for reviews, and hope that things will settle down so we can play again soon. But the people who bought or streamed our stuff have been very supportive in sharing it around, posting on instagram stories etc.

Are there any other specific impacts to the album’s release from COVID-19 that you’d like to point out?

In a sense, we benefited with regards to “Foreign Bastard,” “Wilting in Mauve” and “Soundings in Fathoms & Feet.” Not being able to play granted us more time to focus on the recording tasks at hand and make sure they were done the right way. The negative impact was mainly that we couldn’t play concerts in order to make more money to release our next album, which we also planned to release this year.

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2 Slices

2 Slices

The Charleston dance-rock act released its second album, “Vision of 2,” in February. It clocked in at No. 14 on this year’s list. Singer and guitarist Danny Martin answered the questionnaire.

How did you see listener engagement with the album change as COVID-19 took hold?

We did not know what to expect from listener engagement as COVID took hold. We were more concerned with the health and safety of everybody. There was an uncertainty for artists and musicians, and it was nice to see an outpour of support for the arts and music during this time. We are very appreciative of our listeners tuning into the album and purchasing music and merch on Bandcamp when they waive fees.

How did the pandemic impact the way you have been able to promote the album?

We released our second album “Vision of 2” on Feb. 7 and performed our final show on March 7. We had to cancel all our spring/summer tour plans. It became difficult to promote the album without being able to take it on the road.

We released a music video for the song “Vision of You” we had filmed the previous November 2019 with Dylan Dawkins (Persona La Ave). Also, participated in the Royal American Live Stream playing cuts off the album.

How do you plan to promote the album moving forward?

I’m now in a different mindset creatively. I’ve taken the year to write new songs. Lazercat (the group’s DJ) and I have been sharing files and ideas over the internet. It’s been different collaborating digitally. We’re getting back to basics and using the time to explore home studio life.

Are there any other specific impacts to the album’s release from COVID-19 that you’d like to point out?

We were able to release our record “Vision of 2” before the pandemic turned really bad. COVID-19 will continue to have an impact on our releases in the future. We haven’t been able to collaborate with the full band due to social distancing. We all have been creative in isolation at home.

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Jah Jr.

Jah Jr.

The Charleston rapper released the short album “Here I Go” in April. It came in at No. 20 on this year’s list.

How seriously did you consider not releasing your album this year when the pandemic took hold?

Stalling the release of my album definitely crossed my mind. The pandemic happening along with the reality of not being able to do public shows was discouraging. However, the pandemic also made me realize that this is the best time to release music. Simply because the world came to a halt, and folks were pretty much in the house — at the beginning of the pandemic/quarantine — and had all the time in the world to listen to music and watch visuals.

How did the pandemic impact the way you have been able to promote the album?

The pandemic didn't necessarily impact my promotion plans. It, instead, allowed me to expand my creativity. Which led to me releasing my album, "Here I Go," a week early on Bandcamp — shoutout to Bandcamp — so that listeners could support and have the project before anyone else that was waiting on the official release on streaming platforms. I'm beyond thankful for everyone that purchased my album as it truly showed me that people still purchase music, and it also gave me new ideas when it comes to marketing my next effort along with merch and other potential ventures.

How do you plan to promote the album moving forward?

My good friend, Stan Green, and I are pretty much at a point where we have visuals for every song on the album. That is all I will say, lol.

Are there any other specific impacts to the album’s release from COVID-19 that you’d like to point out?

It definitely stalled the recording process initially. Once my engineer, Jordan Costello, developed and implemented a gameplan to ensure everyone's safety, we got back to work.

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Boomtown Trio

Boomtown Trio

The Columbia chamber folk group released its debut full-length, “Wild Wanderer,” in April. The record landed at No. 23 on this year’s list. The band plays Free Times’ Virtual Music Crawl on Dec. 17.

How seriously did you consider not releasing your album this year when the pandemic took hold?

I don’t think we seriously considered not releasing “Wild Wanderer.” We worked so hard on the album and wanted people to be able to hear it! We pushed back our CD release concert until November when we were able to hold it outdoors, but it was important to us that in the meantime people could buy the album or stream it, especially with no clear end in sight to this pandemic. We have actually been very productive this summer and fall, and by next year we should have a new album’s worth of material to record, which is motivating to us.

How did it impact the way you have been able to promote the album?

We haven’t been able to play concerts with live audiences since February, with the sole exception of our outdoor CD release concert. Live shows are the primary way we promote and sell our music so this has been very challenging. It’s given us the opportunity to use social media instead to promote our music and our new album, but it’s definitely not the same as getting in front of people and playing our music for them.

The album production process took over a year from start to finish, and we really tried to promote it the “right” way. We had the physical CDs in hand well before the lockdown even occurred; we wanted to have time to send it to reviewers, blogs, and radio stations before the official release, but without having played as a band very much outside of the Midlands, it was difficult to get folks’ attention. Our hope had been to play around the Southeast in the spring and summer, and we had hoped to attend AmericanaFest and Folk Alliance to promote the album and gain a wider audience, but obviously those opportunities disappeared with the pandemic.

How do you plan to promote the album moving forward?

We would love to play outside of the Columbia area when venues and festivals are able to open up safely, but for the time being, we are just looking ahead, writing and practicing new material, and thinking about a new album we can focus our efforts on. Honestly, we have spent so much time with this album, and without the option of touring, moving forward seems more exciting and positive right now.

Are there any other specific impacts to the album’s release from COVID-19 that you’d like to point out?

The option of tuning in via live-stream to shows has made it possible for fans to tune in and see us live that otherwise wouldn’t have the chance. We were thankful to be able to have friends and family across the country and outside of the U.S. that were able to tune into our live album release this November because live-streams have become so commonplace and a regular part of many folks’ lives in the evenings. In that sense, perhaps the change in how audiences interact with live music has made it more widely accessible.

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