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My voice through the pandemic

Updated: Jun 30, 2021

by Stephen Qacung Blanchett

Musicians in Alaska are battling the Covid silence. In order to keep working, we need technology. But as our gigs dried up so did the money Cut off from his world wide live audiences by Covid - 19, Pamyua founder and front man Stephen Blanchett knew he needed music technology in order to reach back out. The choice was hard for the father of 3: Stash away cash for long-haul covid survival or invest in music gear? A mini grant from Spenard Jazz Fest 2020 opened a door. Stephen leveraged this seed money to build his online performance rig.

Stephen Qacung Blanchett on his porch in Juneau with gear purchased with help from Spenard Jazz Fest.

For 25 years I have performed on stage, with teams of people that made us look and sound amazing. For many of us performing artists, we weren’t prepared for what the Covid-19 pandemic dealt us. It was a hard hit losing every single one of our performances over night, and we were by no means prepared to engage and reconnect online with the audience and fan base that we’ve built up over the years.

How do we continue our practice in a virtual space, and how do we monetize this, and continue to eke out a living with our music? These were, and still are, the challenges…

Even as a seasoned performing artist with over two decades of experience, I quickly realized that I was ill-prepared to continue my practice on the virtual stage. Several weeks after the nationwide shutdown began, I found myself staring at a little green dot at the top of my computer performing for a fundraiser for Perseverance Theater in Juneau. They had asked me to help, and I couldn’t say no, but I knew that what I was about to put out there wasn’t anywhere near the level of quality that I would be comfortable with as an artist.

Thankfully the audience was forgiving, very kind, and was hungry to see something. Also, I was just happy to be performing.

I had to make a decision. Do I purchase equipment and resources that will up my game, that will allow me to create music and performance at a quality that I felt was necessary? Or do I save what financial resources I have to ensure that my family will be able to endure what I saw was coming down the road, due to the global pandemic?

I took a chance with the hopes that help would come. So I bought the basic equipment that would allow me to have clean audio and video, especially since I got a call from Spenard Jazz Fest to do a solo concert.

Two things were in play for me:

  1. I didn't have the gear I needed to do a live performance over the internet, and

  2. I had never done a solo performance, ever, in my career.

So I went to my local music store, Alaska Music One, and told Keith Giles that I was about to do a live performance online with the Spenard Jazz Fest. He pointed me the right direction. He showed me the entry-level tech that I needed.

So on the same day of tech rehearsal with the festival crew, I purchased the iRig stream, a small Mackie mixer, Shure Beta 58, and all the necessary cords to connect it all. With this little setup, the devices allowed me to connect both my guitar and microphone to either my phone or my computer. I walked away from the music store with about $500 purchases that day. This equipment was going to allow me to put on the professional level performance I wanted to have on my small back deck.

Stephen's online streaming gear: iRig stream, Mackie mixer, Shure Beta 58.

I was really nervous about putting my little family in a risky situation financially, but I needed the technology to meet these new challenges we now face.

With help from another grant from the Alaska State Council on the Arts, I have since purchased tripods, an HD streaming camera, some awesome lighting, and I upgraded to the DUO iRig Pro.

I will be forever grateful to Spenard Jazz Fest and the Alaska State Council on the Arts for supporting artists in our time of need. My two grants helped cover the equipment that I needed, and helped me to stay relevant on this new digital platform -- especially in a time that I was worried about money for my family.


Stephen Qacung Blanchett is co-founder and front man of high energy AK Native soul/funk outfit

Pamyua. Born and raised in Bethel, Alaska, Stephen spent most of his years in Anchorage or on tours all round the world fronting the award winning indigenous group. He now lives in Juneau with his family, working as Education Director for the Arts and Humanities Council. Stephen is still playing and releasing great music with Pamyua as well as his own solo project.

Watch Stephen's first solo concert EVER! Become a Spenard Jazz Fest a member with access to exclusive video and audio releases!


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