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Student-run COVID-19 Relief Fund Concert MVHS students organize a concert to fundraise for Feeding America

By Vivian Jiang and Anjali Singh

On Saturday, July 11th, at 3 p.m., rising seniors Isak Westelius and Arjan Madan held a COVID-19 relief fundraiser concert via Youtube livestream that featured six performers, including MVHS artists such as Casey Bogdan, Kailey Daugherty, OVATVN, as well as 52Prime, a Homestead HS production duo. Westelius and Madan were able to raise $630 in donations, with all proceeds going to Feeding America, a national network of food banks. Explore the in-depth process from the origin of the idea to post-concert down below.

A promotional photo for the concert posted on the concert's Instagram page. Photo from @studentcovidreliefconcert on Instagram

PRE-CONCERT:

During the second semester of the 2019-20 school year, Westelius and Madan came up with an idea to hold a musical concert at MVHS so students can have a place to showcase their talents. As a musician, Westelius notes that this idea stemmed from both of their opinions on the culture of MVHS.

“[MVHS is] very STEM [focused],” Westelius said. “There aren't a lot of places to see what [student artists] are doing [musically]. Both me and [Madan] … often feel like we don't really have an audience for our [music]. It's always fun to see people's reactions to music [because] it gets a bit boring [playing] in isolation.”

Madan explains that they wanted to use this concert as a way for students to express themselves creatively, which is why they tried to find musicians with strong individuality in their music. For example, even if performers aimed to cover prior songs, Madan emphasizes that the performers would “have to take a really strong power over the cover” for the concert.

The initial plan was to hold the concert, called “The Matador Music Concert,” similar to a school-run event like MV Saturday Night Live. Westelius and Madan were able to communicate with the administration, getthe event passed during Legislative Council, book the auditorium, contact some performers to join the concert setlist and even set a date for April 24th. However, after the school closure in mid-March due to COVID-19, Westelius and Madan knew that they wouldn’t be able to continue with the concert in person and instead would have to consider holding it virtually.

Madan specifically emphasizes how, due to the several issues concerning COVID-19, he and Westelius wanted to transform the concert into a fundraiser for Feeding America and changed the name of their concert to Student COVID Relief Fundraiser.

“We decided on Feeding America as the charity for [our concert] because of two things: COVID is a huge problem that everyone is collectively facing … and for a lot of minority neighborhoods and underprivileged areas, it hits them especially hard,” Madan said. “Especially with the emphasis, more recently, on inequality in America [along] the lines of race, it became so clear that [Feeding America] was the charity and the direction we had to go in.”

A promotional post explaining why the fundraiser is for Feeding America posted on the concert's Instagram. Photo from @studentcovidreliefconcert on Instagram

Madan also noted how Feeding America has directed their efforts toward COVID relief, from setting up mobile pickups to appointment-based meetings for safe food pickup. Another factor in their decision in choosing Feeding America was the growth in unemployment and the increase in the number of people who rely on food banks. Madan emphasizes that donating to Feeding America for these factors is what gives the concert its true importance.

“It really comes down to the cause at the end of the day,” Madan said. “The concert is necessary because ... we want to do our part to help in the effort.”

PLANNING:

Madan and Westelius reached out to many of their original performers and asked if they would be interested in performing in a virtual concert, setting a date for July 11th at 3 p.m. through a Youtube livestream. These artists included rising senior Casey Bogdan, rising sophomore Kailey Daugherty, Westelius himself (who performs under the name Teskah) and OVTAVN (a trio composed of rising seniors Daniel Kao, Bryan Zhu and Eric Zheng). 52prime, a production duo from Homestead High School, was added later on.

Daugherty explains music has been a huge part of her life ever since she “started singing seriously in fifth grade.” She says that while her style is usually in line with bedroom-pop, similar to that of artist Clairo, for this concert, she decided to branch out to softer styles like piano ballad. Since she was set to perform with rising sophomore Sara Johnson, Daugherty went through multiple songs with Johnson to decide which style best fit their voices best.

“I decided to hop on board just because I thought it'd be really good to get my music recognized more and just a good opportunity to put myself out there,” said Daugherty. “Honestly, I may have turned [the concert] down if it wasn't for charity because I was so nervous, but I remember[ed] that it's for a good cause and that it would be worth it.”

For Kao, practicing virtually with his team has been particularly challenging due to technical issues on Zoom, but the trio has been preparing for the concert independently, using recordings of each other to sync their parts together. Even with these difficulties of a virtual concert, Kao notes that having a fundraiser along with this particular concert makes it important and appealing as a performer.

“For us, just sharing our music [is] cool,” Kao said. “But [with the fundraiser], there's more of an impact on people that actually need help … I feel like anything that we as students can do is better than just sitting around practicing our music for no other reason outside of ourselves.”

Daugherty also expresses that a virtual concert is a good learning opportunity for artists to gain confidence and exposure while avoiding the risks and nerves that often come with performing live. Madan agrees that virtual concerts have some advantages compared to live performances, as he and Westelius no longer have to deal with doing the event through MVHS, allowing them more freedom over planning. In addition, there are fewer potential complications, such as the sound not working during a live performance.

“The idea of doing it virtually allows us to set up many things in advance so if anything, it's more comforting doing it virtually than it [would be] doing it [in-person],” Madan said. “In real life … there's so many different circumstances that could play out that would make it harder. But as far as virtually goes, it allows us to plan ahead very well so that we can [provide] the best experience possible.”

A photo of the editing software Madan used to sync up video and audio and piece together all the performances. Photo used with permission from Arjan Madan

Madan edited the clips sent in by performers to add in camera angle changes. Photo used with permission from Arjan Madan

Madan and Westelius were able to pre-record the concert and edit the vocals in order to draw out the best quality of the performers’ vocals. This process started with some of the performers taking part in editing their own performances, such as OVTAVN syncing up their recordings. Next, Westelius edited the performers’ audio in order to add in effects such as compression and reverb. Madan then synced the video and audio together and also combined the performances in order. Finally, he sent it over one final time to Westelius, who added transitions and labels for each performer’s name.

Westelius prepares the concert video, using platforms HITFILM for video, Inkscape for graphics and Google Drive for organization and communication. Photos used with permission from Isak Westelius

In anticipation of the livestream, Madan expected that the livestream would gain more viewers due to their potential connection with the student artists. To promote these performers, Madan and Westelius have been posting regularly on the Instagram account @studentcovidreliefconcert in order to give more detail into their performers’ backgrounds and styles of music.

THE CONCERT:

Watch the full concert video below.

Bogdan(top right), Daugherty and Sara Johnson (top middle), Westelius or "Teskah" (top right and bottom left), OVTAVN (bottom middle) and 52Prime (bottom right) performing on the Youtube livestream. Photo from YouTube livestream

POST-CONCERT:

During its premiere, the Student COVID Relief Concert amassed a total of 156 live viewers and currently has 408 views, reaching a peak of 60 live viewers at once. Westelius believes this was especially noteworthy considering that viewers came out of their own interest to watch a concert through a nontraditional format.

“If there's an orchestra, or a choir concert at school, 90% of people there are parents, and most of the students that are there are sort of [not interested],” Westelius said. “So I think, to get people to actually watch music performances for an extended period of time with their own free will, because [they] can leave at any time [is] an achievement in itself. Because it's hard to get people to get excited about sitting down and watching music, because I don't think that's how most people consume it.”

Madan expresses his satisfaction with the concert setlist and that the performers themselves were able to attract viewers and gain recognition from the concert.

“What was cool [was] that people were impressed with the talent [of our performers] and we can't even take credit for that — that's them,” said Madan. “It was just cool seeing that these people were really interested in other people's music because I'm glad it could help the artists that were performing to get more exposure.”

Viewers were able to donate during the livestream through a GoFundMe link provided in the description below the video, and the amount and names of people who donated were regularly posted in the live chat, with the fundraising total amassing to $630.

Viewers were able to comment through the live chat option on Youtube. Photo from YouTube livestream

Overall, Madan and Westelius agree that the virtual concert was a success because of both the number of viewers and the amount of money raised, which surpassed their expectations.

“I’m really happy with how it turned out because … a lot of people tuned in and enjoyed it and we raised a lot of money for a good cause,” said Madan. “There's nothing else I could really ask for.”

A thank-you message posted three days after the concert. Photo from @studentcovidreliefconcert on Instagram

Additional photos from @studentcovidreliefconcert on Instagram, Isak Westelius and Arjan Madan