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Western’s music department tries to play on with virtual performances

WWU music department wants to livestream at home student performances — meets resistance

Students from Western’s music department are hoping to set up a live stream so they can play music from home. Featured here is Emma Simmons playing the violin during Western’s Symphony Orchestra performance on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. // Photo by Claire Ott

By Phoenix Skye

With the closure of venues and music festivals across the country, countless artists have started reaching out to their fans by live streaming their performances at home, and Western music students are no exception.

The music department has a student-led live stream system on their website. Quin Wilder coordinates the live stream, overseeing technicians and keeping the system operable and updated. Wilder is a fourth-year music major, and has been working in the music department as a student employee for three years. 

“In winter 2018, I was assigned to put together a functioning live-stream system for the department with a new technology grant the department had just received,” Wilder said, “I spent the rest of the year organizing and planning the system to launch in fall 2019 to provide high-quality live footage of our concerts to family and friends of students that cannot visit.”

Normally Wilder was responsible for streaming concerts, and then posting the recordings on the website after, but now that the concert hall is closed, the game has changed. Student musicians can no longer meet to play concerts together. 

Several students, including third-year trumpet player Duncan Lang, said they have come to Wilder asking if their music could be live streamed on the music department’s website. Lang and his band, Analog Brass, said they see that there is still an opportunity to bring Western’s music to the people.

“We asked Quin back in early April to see about live-streaming ourselves from home,” Lang said. “He was onboard, but had to check in with Pat first and we are still waiting on the okay. I get it though, music copyright law is a rat’s nest to say the least.”

Patrick Roulet, the music department chair at Western, said that the laws surrounding what music can and can’t be streamed are complicated. Music not written by a Western student or professor must be performed or recorded on campus to be streamed legally.

 “We don’t have a license to the ‘mechanical rights’ to the music the ensembles perform, which means we may not have the rights to use the recordings for live-streams,” Roulet said.

“Mechanical rights” means that the university pays for the right to record a licensed song, and “performance rights” refers to the right to do a live performance of a published work. The university doesn’t have the rights to record licensed songs. Because students would be recording from home during the live stream, it would fall under the “mechanical right.”

 Roulet did leave the possibility of live streams open. It all depends on if the live-stream will make the music department liable for any fines from the music licensing companies, he said. 

“We are still investigating the agreements and guidelines with the licensing companies before we broadcast any live performances,” Roulet said. 

While the live streaming is still being figured out, Lang and others said they stay vigilant with their practices.

“I’ve been practicing a lot more now that I have so much time on my hands,” Lang said. “There’s nothing to do but call up the boys and jam.”

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