A few ways to support Madison artists during the pandemic

How local audiences can boost up creative people as social distancing deals a blow to their livelihoods.

 How local audiences can boost up creative people as social distancing deals a blow to their livelihoods.

Illustration by Maggie Denman.

The need for social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic has already started an absolute avalanche of canceled concerts and other public events in Madison. It’ll be a tough few months even for the area’s bigger venues and arts organizations, but downright brutal for independent artists and the scrappy businesses that help to nourish them. People who depend on income from live events are out of work, and creative people who work service-industry jobs and/or teach lessons are taking a double hit. There’s a lot that you can do as an audience member to help them get through it or at least reduce their losses, and a lot of it is simple and inexpensive.


Share info and resources

It might be helpful to pass along some of the resources various people and organizations are putting together to help artists, including:

The Bubbler at Madison Public Library’s page of resources and livestreams

Madison Musician and Artist Tip Jar

Artist Jenie Gao’s guide to SBA disaster loans

Arts Wisconsin’s COVID-19 resource page

Virtual Music Events Directory (Google Doc)

Dane Arts Need Grant program

Live Streaming Local Music in Madison Facebook Group

COVID-19 and Freelance Artists

COVID-19 Mutual Aid Madison Facebook Group

Madison IWW General Defense Committee Quarantine Support Form

Musician and podcaster Tom Ray on how to livestream


Open Broadcaster Software

Madison musician Kenneth Tarek Sabbar has this rundown of advice for getting livestreams started:


If you are using a laptop camera, there is only so much you can do. You might as well actually shoot the video on your iPhone and go from there. Jump ahead to the audio section.

However, if you have a few bucks to spare, a WEBCAM will do wonders as well. Logitech has the C920 which has been around forever and works well. Important thing is being able to set the exposure so it doesn’t adjust itself if you’re wearing a black shirt or if you are near a window. If you have more money, next step up would be any Canon DSLR that has HDMI out.

The iPhone/Webcam solution requires no interface. However, if you want to use a device (or multiple devices) with HDMI out, then you can get a capture box. Blackmagic makes them, a billion people make them.


Long and short of it is this: Get a mixer, even a cheap Behringer one. Run all your mics through it. Get some cheap, decent mics and put them close to the person speaking. There are USB mics that work as well. Blue Yetis are kind of an industry standard.

For capturing audio from iOS, there’s a number of lightning audio interfaces. For Mac/PC, a Focusrite Scarlett will do. Mix everything on the mixer, send it to the interface with plenty of volume, just don’t let it clip.


There’s a number of software platforms. Use whichever you can afford and works with the streaming service you want to use. All of them will have bitrate adjustment for quality, etc.

Buy stuff on Bandcamp and elsewhere

Bandcamp is not the only place to buy or stream music from local artists and labels. But it is very user- and artist-friendly, taking only a reasonable cut of each purchase—and for all sales this Friday, Bandcamp won’t be taking even that. And artists on Bandcamp often give fans the option to pay what they want for a release, sometimes with a “[minimum/suggested price] or more” setup. It’s an easy way to get some extra money to people who are missing out on paid gigs. Many artists also sell T-shirts and other merch through their Bandcamp pages. The Madison tag on Bandcamp is an easy way to start exploring. Of course, it’s also worth looking up if an artist you want to support takes donations or has other outlets for buying their work. 

Several local retailers that support the arts and employ lots of creative folk also have online shopping options, including: A Room Of One’s Own (which has announced free curbside book delivery for purchases in the Madison area), JiggyJamz, MadCity Music, Strictly Discs, Guitar Shop of Wisconsin. MC Audio has also announced free local delivery. B-Side takes order requests via email. Spruce Tree Music takes orders via phone and email. Also, most places will let you order a gift certificate via phone, providing them some revenue in the short term and giving you some future shopping to look forward to. (This isn’t comprehensive, but you can send us suggestions and we’ll add them as time allows.) Plus, a lot of musicians sell records through Discogs or gear through Reverb.com or other outlets, so keep an eye out for excuses to support people that way. 

Eat the cost of those now-useless tickets

You’re totally entitled to a refund if you bought tickets to an event that ended up getting canceled. If you have the option to decline the refund, though, it can help provide at least a little extra cash flow for the event’s organizers, and sometimes will help provide a cancellation fee for the performer. 

Donate to relief funds

Including the Tip Top Tavern Employee Relief Fund, Café Coda’s GoFundMe, and Madison Virtual Tip Jar.

Take a remote lesson

Teaching is a crucial source of income for all sorts of artists and musicians. There’s nothing new about people taking lessons remotely via Skype, FaceTime, etc. and paying for it electronically, but consider this a very good reason to finally learn something new or bolster your skills. If you offer remote lessons please email me and I’ll do my best to add your info to this piece in a timely manner. Right now I know that guitarist Louka Patenaude and saxophone/bass clarinet player Tony Barba are offering remote lessons. Sean Michael Dargan is offering them for “guitar, bass, vocals, songwriting, studio production, and of course, highland bagpipes!”

Commission something

Many artists, especially visual artists, take commissions for various kinds of custom work, whether that’s a portrait or (if you’re willing to do an in-person thing in a very sanitary environment) a tattoo. Most people are easy to reach through their websites or Instagram, but do a little research first and try to have specific ideas about what you want.

Ask what people need

Very little in the arts is one-size-fits-all. People will have different needs based on what kind of creative work they do and the specifics of their economic situation. If you want to help an artist you care about, it might be worth reaching out to ask how. There might be something that wasn’t immediately obvious. They might also be stressed out or buried in correspondence, so be patient.

Stream local media

Musicians and artists have been talking a bunch about having more live-streamed events in lieu of in-person live shows; some are pairing those with platforms that allow you to pay for the streams, or just putting out information about how to tip them via PayPal or Venmo. We’re working on rounding up information about that and will be figuring out a way to share that through Tone Madison. Again, you can email me your info; a little advanced notice and a link that can be publicly shared ahead of time are very helpful.

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