Online Concert Sat Nov. 13 at 8PM Eastern-to benefit Hillside School

My daughter’s elementary school took on flooding in the basement from Tropical Storm Ida. The basement houses the schools aesthetics classes like gymnastics and dance. The gymnastics mats were ruined in the storm. I’m determined to help replace those mats so my daughter and her classmates can get back to tumbling!

Join me on Saturday night, November 13 at 8PM Eastern-US from wherever you are for a virtual concert on Live Streamer Cafe. I’ll take your requests for our favorite classic rock songs by Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles, Billy Joel, Bon Jovi, Otis Redding and more. I’ll also offer you my latest original songs to enjoy.

All proceeds will go to Hillside Elementary School PTA in Montclair, NJ to help replace resources lost in the flood.

Hillside Elementary School Montclair NJ benefit concert flyer - Jason Didner

New Video: “Run With My Troubles” – watch on Nita Sweeney’s Web Site

My new video “Run With My Troubles” is available today – exclusively on Nita Sweeney’s web site: nitasweeney.com.

“Run With My Troubles” – music video by Jason Didner – see it at nitasweeney.com

I have also released the track today on Bandcamp. You can stream it for free or download it for $1.

Nita is the author of “Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running With My Dog Brought Me Back From the Brink.” She’s also a guest runner in this video.

“Run With My Troubles” combines my passions for rock music and for exercise. In both I find powerful tools for protecting my mental health through times of crisis like the current pandemic.

Starting tomorrow, I will display the video on my own web site and my YouTube channel.

Artist on Artist: Depression Hates a Moving Target by Nita Sweeney

So, what’s up with a musician reviewing a book on his music web site? Funny you should ask! I’ve focused my latest songs on mental health. Subsequently I began engaging on Twitter with people who have something to say on the subject. This led me to one Nita Sweeney, author of the memoir “Depression Hates a Moving Target.

Like me, Nita’s a runner. Like me, she considers running her mental health medicine. (Full disclosure: Nita runs in addition to taking antidepressants. She finds the exercise prevents the necessity to increase dosage. In my case I took up exercise to prevent the need to start on meds).

Seeing Ourselves in the Story

My wife Amy and I downloaded “Depression Hates a Moving Target” in audiobook form and spent several hours listening together at the kitchen table.

Amy chronicles her own experiences with depression and anxiety, along with the benefits she gets from regular exercise, at her own blog site, Sound Mind and Body NJ.

Amy and I each saw ourselves in different facets of Nita’s book. For Amy it was Nita’s harrowing recollections of loss, hopelessness, distorted self-image of body, and suicidal urges from the past.

For my part it was Nita’s account of the baby steps she took into giving running a try when her friend posted an intriguing endorsement of her own new running experience on social media. I followed a similar path into the world of athletic self-care when a stew of life stressors prompted me to consider seeing a psychiatrist for some help with my beleaguered mind. You’ll find more of my exercise/running origin story at Kidney Donor Athlete here.

One Stride at a Time

Since Nita composed this memoir from her journal entries, she frequently takes the reader on her runs with her. We come along for those breathless first forays into walk-run intervals, the kind you’d find in a Couch to 5K training program. We have the best seat in the house for the epic effort of her first marathon.

On these runs, Nita discusses her canine running partner’s antics. She recounts the conversations she has with fellow runners. Nita expounds on the details of correct running form and its effect her aches and pains. The author sheds light on the mental negotiations every runner must navigate, but even more so when depression demands its say. One chapter is aptly titled, “My Mind is Trying to Kill Me.”

Runners like me will more readily take to the detailed accounts of Nita’s training runs than non-runners. However, non-runners take heart. Everything builds to a satisfying and cathartic conclusion even if you’ve never laced up and never intend to.

Overcoming Fears

Nita’s true story frequently winds through fearsome obstacles. The specter of neighbors’ judgment haunts Nita’s first explorations of running. More viscerally, the sight of a high, narrow bridge along a new running route strikes fear in the heart of author and reader alike. Nita shares the experience of negotiating with those fears. She reasonably picks her battles, choosing which ones or how much to confront in a given day. Reading these passages, I’m reminded of the value of psychological flexibility to cope with mental health challenges in real time.

So, Why a Book Review on a Music Web Site?

Nita Sweeney running with her dog Scarlet in Jason Didner's music video Run With My Troubles
An image captured from Nita Sweeney’s clip in the music video “Run With My Troubles” by Jason Didner

Here’s where Nita’s story really intersects with mine: I enlisted her to appear in my upcoming music video “Run With My Troubles.” This video tells my story (combined with my wife’s) of exercise to cope with mental health difficulties. I sought the diverse images of other runners to illustrate that exercise is for everybody who can find a way to do it! I found running to be the most poetic form of exercise to represent in this video. Still, no matter how you get moving, exercise really is powerful, natural medicine for your mind!

Nita’s clip of her running with her yellow lab Scarlet is like a page out of her book, come to life! She actually runs through the same secluded ravine she describes from those tentative first walk-runs – but now with the rock-solid form and self-assured joy of an experienced marathoner.

The video is “coming soon” but you can see it now by signing up below to get my emails!

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New Video Ad for Online Music Platform Live Streamer Cafe

Here’s my 2-minute ad for my shows on Live Streamer Cafe. This new live music online platform brings the feel of the neighborhood coffeehouse to the whole world!

The ad features “Salt and Sand,” the video that shows me recording all the tracks for that recently released single. You’ll see me introduce myself as a person and as a musician. I’ll also share my thoughts on what makes this online live music venue so great.

If you enjoy this video, please share!

To get started as a fan on Live Streamer Cafe, click the Sign Up button below:

See the full video of “Salt and Sand” + lyric sheet here.

Live Streamer Cafe – a Community-Minded Online Concert Platform

Like my fellow performing musicians, I’ve felt the sting of losing in-person concerts to the COVID-19 pandemic, emotionally and financially. I work a full-time job and music supplements my family’s income. We feel the difference when the library and school gigs dry up. Musicians the world over who perform full-time are feeling it far more.

Fortunately, technology provides another option, one you’ve likely encountered in your personal and work life – virtual live concerts. These events offer the opportunity to get wildly creative in interacting with an audience and forming a community. In a streaming concert, an artist can create an alternate version of the night out her audience has been craving since spring 2020.

Jason Didner, singer/songwriter and live, online performer
Jason Didner, singer-songwriter and live, online performer

Making Ends Meet

The ability to perform live online is miraculous, yet it raises a new question: How do we get it to replace the lost income from cancelled in-person gigs? Platforms like StageIt address the question by allowing a performer to sell tickets to his existing fanbase. Then the platform takes a cut of those ticket sales. The now-defunct Concert Window worked similarly. What’s lacking here is the possibility that users of the platform will stumble upon an independent artist and buy a ticket to his show. This only works for artists with a large enough following in the first place.

New platforms have emerged during the pandemic offering other solutions, like making the platform free for the audience, but encouraging tips. Some of these platforms attempt to introduce new artists and audiences to one another, so an artist can grow a fanbase and, with it, a potentially sustainable living.

Introducing Live Streamer Cafe

Most recently, Live Streamer Cafe (livestreamercafe.com) caught my attention. Its founders Martyn Lucas and Kristopher Marentette envisioned a tight-knit online community of artists and audience where fans of one artist can discover other artists they’ll love. Over the past two weeks (as of this writing), Kristopher, the site’s developer, has rapidly evolved features of the site and added compelling interactivity that artists and audience alike will really enjoy.

A screenshot of Live Streamer Cafe
LIve Streamer Cafe artist Marah entertains her virtual audience while a cup of coffee comes up for grabs at the top of the chat window.

Live Streamer Cafe presents the look and feel of the neighborhood coffeehouse. This becomes even more apparent when you engage in a performer’s show. Above the chat window a caramel-colored flag will randomly appear saying “Order Up: ” followed by an item you’d typically order at the coffeehouse. The first audience member to click on that flag and claim the item gets points. This creates fun, friendly competition among audience that plays to the platform’s theme. And I can almost smell and taste those goodies!

I will give my next performance on Live Streamer Cafe on Saturday, 27-Feb at 8PM Eastern-US (UTC-5).

A Different Experience from Sessions

Pandora founder Tim Westergren had established a platform intended for independent artists to to grow their careers as they help the platform grow. I’ve personally had good experiences on it, especially interacting with fellow artists. A few of my existing fans were willing to try it. Some learned to engage with Sessions while others found it confusing and settled for just watching without interacting. A small number of music listeners became friendly with me in other artists’ audiences and then tried out my show. Even fewer stumbled upon my show and interacted with me.

In my experience, Sessions strikes me as though it works best for young adult and teen audiences in the gamer community. The platform actually arose from Next Music, which offered musical mini-games (like Rock Band or Guitar Hero) and allowed live streaming performances as an add-in. The resulting interface expresses a video game aesthetic. If Sessions Live were a brick-and-mortar venue it would be a nightclub with a mega-arcade. Think Dave & Buster’s.

Live Streamer Cafe’s theme wraps around a different experience – a more casual environment that puts the performance and interaction with audience front-and-center, more like that neighborhood coffeehouse.

For the Audience-Getting Started

Before attending your first show at Live Streamer Cafe, you’ll want to sign up. Visit livestreamercafe.com and click the Sign Up button in the upper-right corner of the page.

After you sign up, check your inbox for a confirmation message. Follow the link in that message to confirm you’ve given the correct email address.

On the site’s home page, you’ll see a gallery of member artists. A bright green frame will surround artists who are live “on air” at the moment.

Click the artist’s icon to join the show, interact through chat, request songs and collect virtual treats. You can also become a fan of as many artists as you find interesting. While watching the show, you’ll find Tip Jar buttons for the artist’s PayPal and/or Venmo accounts.

A Different Economic Model

When Sessions caught my attention in January it struck me as a game changer for live online performers because it demonstrated a commitment to paying performers for their time and talents. Soon after I joined Sessions and saw early signs of success, Sessions changed their model, announcing they would slash the performance bonus amounts and number of bonus-eligible shows per week. The platform’s rationale is that the had taken on too many artists to support the bonuses it was paying. The artist relations team placed more emphasis on audience tips, of which the platform takes about 1/3. Also, the standard suggested lightning tip “sticker” is worth about $0.065 US paid to the artist.

Instead of supplementing tips with bonuses and taking a cut of tips, Live Streamer Cafe, as a platform in its infancy, asks artists to subscribe for $6, 10, or 15 US per month. Then the artist keeps 100% of tips, which are sent through Venmo or PayPal via the platform’s interface. The standard tip encouraged is more on the scale of dollars than pennies. I made more yesterday on Live Streamer Cafe from a single donation than I did in Sessions from a dozen donations. I’m usually hesitant to pay for any opportunity to perform, but I’m willing to give this model a genuine shot. I find it encouraging that I keep 100% of tips. I also see that the community coalescing around LSC appears to have legs.

Artists, if you join Live Streamer Cafe as a result of reading this article, please mention me, Jason Didner, as your referrer.

This Platform is a Venue!

The community-minded presence of Live Streamer Cafe shows promise that it will attract music lovers who enjoy and appreciate a live, online performance. These fans can gather virtually with like-minded people from around the globe and help artists grow their fanbases by introducing people to one another.

Calling Live Streamer Cafe a platform doesn’t tell the whole story. I consider it to also be a venue – like the neighborhood coffeehouse. As a touring artist would do, I intend to play in multiple venues to reach multiple communities. So you’ll see me on Sessions, Live Streamer Cafe, Zoom and other platforms as the situation calls for it.

I’m really enjoying Live Streamer Cafe on both sides of the camera. When you try it, let me know in the comments below what your experience with it is like.

Cover Song: (Sittin’ on the) Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding

I spotlight the legacy of Otis Redding for #BlackHistoryMonth with this acoustic version of his hit (Sittin’ on the) Dock of the Bay. Watch until the end for a cool musical surprise!

The laid-back vibe of the song thinly veils a deep longing for connection and belonging (as in the line “This loneliness won’t leave me alone”).

I will perform #DockOfTheBay tonight, 23-Feb on Sessions Live at 10PM Eastern-US.

This is the first song in American music history to go to #1 in the charts following the death of an artist. Otis Redding had co-written this with legendary Memphis guitarist Steve Cropper. He recorded two versions of it just days before his ill-fated final plane flight. The song was released shortly after his untimely death and shot to #1.

Other hits from Otis Redding include Try a Little Tenderness, Hard to Handle (If you’re a rock fan you may be more familiar with The Black Crowes’ version) and Mr. Pitiful.

I give live acoustic performances like this live, online about 3 times a week. Sign up below to receive emails of my new video releases and performance schedules and never miss a show!

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Exclusive-Get My New Song “Run With My Troubles”

Jason Didner's new, unreleased song Run With My Troubles is about how running and other forms of exercise help ease anxiety.

I’m working on a music video for my new song “Run With My Troubles.” This hard rock song carries an uplifting message about the effect of exercise on anxiety and stress. I played all the instruments on it, with special attention paid to guitar solo – a tribute to the late, great Edward Van Halen.

I want you to hear the song before it’s released!

Sign up to get my email notifications and I’ll send this track right to your inbox.

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To learn more about my exercise endeavors for my mental health, see my feature in Kidney Donor Athletes.

Cover Song Video: The Heart of the Matter by Don Henley

I chose to add this song, “The Heart of the Matter” by Don Henley to my repertoire because I felt it carries an important message and a great big melody. Here it is, from my heart to yours.

This song is originally from Don Henley’s 1989 solo album “The End of the Innocence,” 5 years before he reunited with The Eagles. Back in 1980, Henley declared the Eagles would reunite “when Hell freezes over.” Then, in 1994, the legendary band got back together and launched the wildly successful “Hell Freezes Over” tour!

If “Heart of the Matter” moves you, please subscribe to my YouTube channel. You’ll need a gmail/YouTube account to subscribe. Then, kindly share the video where folks can enjoy it!

See my official videos for my original songs on this site’s Video page.

Musically yours,

Jason

A Disappointing Announcement of Change at Sessions Live

A Promising Development for Artists

I had recently sung the praises of new live music streaming platform Sessions Live. I had witnessed the dramatic differences between Sessions and every platform I had tried before. Sessions had begun forging a real online community committed to developing and sustaining the careers of previously unknown artists. Its founders saw live, online performance as a valuable service it could provide customers.

In that spirit, The platform issued a modest bonus to all first-time artists for their first show. I took this as a signal that they took seriously the commitment to establish a sense of worth in live music performance.

Sessions encourages audience to tip artists and makes the experience fun on both sides of the camera. Also, the platform offers the artists bonuses as incentive to schedule shows ahead of time and then keep those appointments. Over the platform’s first 10 months, those bonuses increased for artists who elicited audience engagement and tipping,

A Tone-Deaf Announcement

Over the weekend I received an announcement that Sessions decided to dramatically scale back those bonuses. That decision included making far fewer shows per week bonus-eligible. Sessions had chosen to backpedal on their commitment to getting artists paid. This especially constitutes a blow to full-time online performers. Many of these entertainers invested in upgrades to their computers, audio equipment and video gear. These artists were raising their game to deliver world-class entertainment through Sessions.

Jason Didner, a Sessions Live streaming artist disappointed with the platform’s recent announcement to drastically reduce bonus rates and bonus eligible shows per week

The communications team mostly disappointed me with an announcement disguised as good news for artists. The email from Sessions framed the change as “an exciting makeover to the Rising Artist Leveling program.”

I felt as though the platform’s leaders could have shown more respect for our intelligence. They could have told us prior to announcing a decision that the existing bonus model was no longer working. A larger pool of artists meant that they’d have to make difficult choices. The leaders at Sessions simply argued that artists will make more from tips and need less from bonuses. They could have presented us with their concrete strategy for attracting more tips. They could have even told us what we as artists could do beyond what we’re already doing to help the situation.

Many artists presented a strong backlash. Some modified their streamed images to appear in black-and-white. Some changed their profile picture to a protest message. Sessions responded with a 2nd email essentially doubling down on the initial message. “Bonuses are bonuses,” they wrote, framing the compensation as discretionary pay that should not be counted on as if it were a salary.

What Sessions Could Have Said

The artist relations team at Sessions missed an opportunity to communicate that they get the gravity of the impact artists are feeling. They could have acknowledged the hardship for full-time streamers. These folks had already lost their in-person gigs during the pandemic. Then, they found new hope (and proof) they could earn a living performing in a new way. The bonus system in addition to the tips conveyed a strong assurance that live music performance has value.

A better message would have been “We’re facing some difficult choices and need your understanding. We need to rethink our levels and bonuses. Otherwise, we’d have to go out of business. We’d lose our ability to serve our audience and this special partnership we have with you, the artist. You’ve worked hard to achieve your current level as an artist. We understand the disappointment and frustration you may feel about the reduction in bonuses. However, our success still connects to yours; we still want to see you earn a living at this. So, we’re enhancing our marketing efforts to bring audiences into your shows. We’re using data to drive fans of the songs in your request list to your shows. We expect this to at least double the love you earn in each of your shows.”

How Artists Are Responding

I see this announcement having an effect on artists’ scheduling strategy. Artists who played a dozen bonus-eligible concerts per week plan to scale back in response. They tell me they will only play the few bonus-eligible shows per week on Sessions. They will use those other hours to diversify into performing on other platforms as well.

My performance schedule is essentially 3 shows a week. I am not as profoundly affected as my artist friends who do this full-time. However, I certainly feel their pain. Similarly, feel the sting of having the perceived value of my work decreased. My act faces the increased pressure to elicit tips. I must justify the investments of time and resources I make to supplement my family’s income. I hope the executive team at Sessions can inject some empathy into their current handling of the situation.

I’ve Been Giving Live, Online Performances for 16 Years. This is the Best Platform I’ve Seen (2).

(continued from previous post about the audience experience)

Part 2: The Artist Experience

Every other platform I’ve ever used, whether designed specifically for concerts or not, relied 100% on me to supply my own audience. I’ve given shows where absolutely nobody had shown up. Sessions Live has concentrated on bringing an audience to the online venue. This audience appears large and diverse enough that if you put on a show, even unannounced, over the course of an hour, people will check out your show. If you keep showing up, you will grow an audience.

My Sessions Live artist profile is at https://sessionslive.com/jasondidner

Getting Started

The artist’s Sessions Live journey begins by applying and arranging a brief audition. As an experienced artist, I really appreciate the quality control here. Sessions Live ensures that every artist shows musical proficiency and enough Internet bandwidth to entertain an online audience. I appreciate how this cultivates an audience expecting to have confidence in checking out any performer without having cringeworthy experiences.

I quickly passed my audition with the first verse of an acoustic rendition of “Here Comes the Sun.” After you pass your audition, Sessions emails you the information you need to get started. They also offer (at the time of this writing) a $25 bonus to perform your first show within 72 hours of receipt of the welcome email. You must perform at least 20 minutes to earn the bonus for that first show.

The Learning Process

The welcome email presents an artist with two choices: a one-on-one coaching session or Sessions University – an online collection of documents and videos establishing best practices and guides to get started. I opted for self-service in Sessions University because of a tight schedule. I also got surprisingly good help out of a YouTube search: artist tips by Alex Greif. This video below contains technical pointers that got me off to the races with an application that was entirely new to me.

So, What’s This OBS Thingy?

Unlike Zoom or Facebook Live, Sessions Live depends on artists using Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) to compose and arrange the stream. The artist then connects it to a browser-based Artist Panel through the use of a web address and a special stream code.

I first grumbled about having to get another, unfamiliar application involved. I would soon come to appreciate all that OBS can do in creating a professional, engaging experience for the audience. I’ve gradually enhanced my stream using OBS features as I’ve developed my show over the past 2 weeks. The Sessions University videos have indeed helped me get more out of OBS.

Open Broadcaster Software (OBS), a free, open-sourced app that’s required for streaming of Sessions Live concerts.

It’s Showtime!

For my first show, I fired up OBS, started the stream and launched my first show from the Artist Panel. I played for nobody for the first song or two. Then users began to stumble in. This is the experience no other live performance platform had delivered before. I began to entertain new potential fans. These first users were not particularly chatty when I engaged them. However, I’ve seen them return to subsequent shows I’ve put on. My audience total that night was 7. It’s steadily increased each night I’ve performed. Over the course of 2 weeks, I’ve worked my way up to audience sizes of 20+.

Do You Take Requests?

The song list is quite a valuable tool for an artist. It gives you and your audience common ground for which requests you can accommodate. It’s also a reliable source of Love. And it gives you a good clue about your audience’s musical tastes. If you’re a new artist, take some time to fill your song list with the cover songs and originals that you’re ready to perform on a moment’s notice.

Full disclosure: I was a little over ambitious with my song list and ended up getting requests for songs I haven’t performed or rehearsed in years. This made me sweat, but I still managed to give an entertaining performance.

Artists United

I was also growing as a Sessions Live artist and community member by supporting fellow artists. These musicians astonished me with how quickly they identified me as a fellow “streamer.” How? They observed that my user handle represented my full name. Artists generally identify themselves this way, while audience members tend to choose more informal handles. Rarely have I joined another artist’s concert without the performer asking me “Are you a streamer? When’s your next show?”

Since I started showing up at other artists’ performances, a fellow artist has always attended my show for at least a few minutes, sometimes very late at night or early in the morning in their time zones. All this without ever feeling like I’m shamelessly plugging myself. All this simply as a polite response to thoughtful, generous questions by fellow artists.

I should point out the “friend of a friend” who made me aware of Sessions Live was none other than Kris Pride, who can be found at sessionslive.com/KrisPrideMusic.

Bringing My Existing Following In

I had mentioned that up until I learned of Sessions, I mostly hosted Saturday night Zoom concerts. Zoom’s basic functionality made those concerts fairly heavily heavily gated. This suited the mostly small groups of my extended family and friends in attendance. Only those whom I’ve sent long, complicated Zoom links could even get into these concerts. I experienced plenty of stress at showtime though. Handling frantic text messages, emails and Facebook messages seeking the link sidetracked me a bit from performing.

After giving a few Sessions concerts on weeknights I felt ready to take a leap of faith with my family and friends who followed my music. I sent them my artist link (Good news – that link does not change from show to show!) and instructions to set up an account.

My core group of “regulars” from those Zoom concerts joined me for 80s Night. The logistics struck me as far easier than coordinating a Zoom concert and my nearest and dearest made a pretty smooth transition into Sessions. Some fellow artists attended as well. So did a passionate Sessions fan who leads crews for some top artists, who had shown super support for my past shows. In addition I saw several new and returning audience members who were seeking some Saturday night (or Sunday morning) entertainment.

It’s A Living?

So, has Sessions Live made a real impact on my livelihood in the first two weeks? Yes and no. Yes, compared to every other attempt I’ve made to give online concerts. No, compared to what I’ve earned performing in public libraries, festivals and town bandshells. Early trends suggest my modest earnings are growing exponentially, which is encouraging for the future.

The good-faith effort by Sessions to get artists paid is undeniable, starting with the $25 bonus awarded to every new artist who gives a 20-minute performance within 72 hours of being welcomed aboard. There are also modest bonuses for scheduling your concerts a few days ahead of time in the Artist Panel and then delivering on those scheduled shows.

I’ve noticed my ability to draw a crowd steadily growing over the course of these 2 weeks. Attending other artists’ shows helps. Returning to the same artist’s show again reinforces your presence. A fan of that artist may then find you when browsing for a show to watch. With my uptick in crowd size (still modest) has come an increase in Love earned per show.

The way I see it, I’ll soon be earning per show what I used to earn when I played at the neighborhood coffeehouse. Then I should be able to earn what I did at sports bars (minus the effort of hauling my PA system somewhere). With some well-placed promotional efforts I can envision ultimately earning what that physical library gig used to pay out. And if I can do that 3 times a week, it will make a difference my family can feel.

Tag – You’re It!

Now that you’ve gotten the benefit of my experience with Sessions, try it out. If you think live, online performing is for you, click Apply and set up your audition. I’d appreciate your entering my username jasondidner in the Referral field if you found this post helpful.

Please feel free to comment below on your experience with live, online performing so we can have a conversation about this exciting development in the music industry.