The Day the Music Died

Featuring tales from people across the music industry sharing how the pandemic has affected them, their art and their life’s work.

Published September 4, 2020

In Part 6 of our series, April Burney Shafer, The Burney Sisters’ mom and manager, is our teller of tales of music and pandemia.

Her narrative chronicles the order and mayhem that is the day-to-day life of striving to maintain the momentum of a young, rising act, at the very time the Universe is calling a timeout. 

~ NWM

John Shafer and April Burney Shafer

John Shafer and April Burney Shafer | Photographs courtesy of The Burney Sisters

Life with COVID and The Burney Sisters

Thank you for being curious about our life during these strange times. I’m April Burney Shafer, mom and manager of The Burney Sisters. The girls are homeschooled so I am involved in the educational decisions and lessons, and I’m the wife to our amazing sound engineer and producer, John Shafer. This year has been one for the books, and it’s certainly been a whirlwind of decision making and emotional stretching over the past months, but in all the uncertainty and disheartening stories, we believe that this moment of pause has challenged us all to think in different ways about education, music, and business. 

In the beginning of the quarantining process in March, there were fears and unknowns present, but our greatest sense of urgency was to find a way to stream music live where the listener could have a good experience and stay connected to our music. We used our phones, but the quality wasn’t where we wanted it to be. John Shafer, step-dad to the girls, had his work cut out for him. He has worked in sound engineering for almost 30 years. Currently, he runs sound for the girls’ shows, and he produced their latest EP.

The Burney Sisters | Photo by Colin LaVaute

The Burney Sisters | Photo by Colin LaVaute

Sound Decisions 

John wanted to incorporate different camera angles for the online show and find systems that would increase the quality of production. The first phone videos were decent and then things took a nose dive as we introduced more cameras. After reading manuals and trouble-shooting for days upon days, he found that once he synchronized the bit rates on the cameras, that everything began to run smoothly. We owe all of that to John and his tenacity to troubleshoot and create beautiful live stream productions.

Meanwhile, the donations were very generous in the beginning and we began to believe that we could stay afloat if we put out a full weekly show for fans. The girls learn two new covers a week that they share online, and in addition to learning those songs, they write their own tunes so that they can stay fresh in each show with new and different content.

They write their own tunes so that they can stay fresh in each show with new and different content.

Fast forward a few weeks into the quarantine and they began losing steam because there were no live faces beyond Mom and Dad to cheer them on. Their energy began to take a bit of a nose dive and we decided to address that by creating a Zoom experience that would face the girls during their performance. That way, they could see a semi-live audience to cheer for them. When we introduced the Zoom, the computer got bogged down and we ran into a major issue that warranted an entirely new computer. So as good as the donations were in the beginning, we had to use them to purchase another computer to continue the show quality that fans had become accustomed to seeing.

Once those issues were remedied, we were able to enjoy a few weeks of decent attendance each week and plenty of grateful fans that said the girls lifted their spirits through this quarantine. They relied upon the show each week. At some point, the donations stopped to a tiny trickle. We began, for the first time in years, to see our weekly contribution drop to $60 or less for the entire week. We’ve since seen weekends of online shows result in no contribution at all. The work on our end involves a minimum of 14 hours of purposeful practice a week, a good day of set up for John for the show, and hours/dollars of promotion or paid ads to try and get new people to watch. It was time to reinvent or make some hard decisions about in-person shows.

John Shafer and April Burney Shafer

Stayin’ Live

While we still try to stream live when possible, the most profitable for the work we put in is outdoor live shows. Unfortunately (and also fortunately with regards to safety), most of these shows are now limited in attendance as well. We find that our online audience reaches far and wide globally and we don’t want to lose those relationships. So although we do not make a lot (and sometimes zero) for broadcasted shows, we do feel it necessary to foster those connections to people that would otherwise not have access to a live show in their area. We still have hopes that we will join them someday in person.

Our typical week will consist of school in the morning, which in this climate, is heavily touching upon the social issues that are happening around us. A lot of it, hard to swallow, but essential for learning about our world, and the issues causing so much unrest and disparity. Artist development, personal work, group/rehearsal, follow up with fans and social media posts, merchandise, promotions, and collaborations are also very much a part of our day. We record new originals every Wednesday evening.

… we will move past this moment in history, and we want to be ready to share our passion …

Currently, we are taking safer social distanced outdoor shows right now as well as joining our 2nd band, The Kay Brothers for outdoor gigs. We are also open to House Concert and Listening room situations that are outdoors or have the space to spread out and protocols for a safe experience. We’ve recently aligned with charitable telethons as well to help the community and organizations that we believe in. We watch our shows every week after performance, improve upon mistakes, reinvent ourselves to stay relevant and connected, and continue to provide online shows when we are not working away from home. It’s a work in progress, and we just try to keep moving forward and providing a product that will mean something to others. We believe that we will move past this moment in history, and we want to be ready to share our passion when it’s safe for larger groups to assemble.

The Burney Sisters | Photo by Amber Nicole Theissen

The Burney Sisters | Photo by Amber Nicole Theissen

Looking Forward

On a personal note, we have rough moments like anyone else. Our mentors, close friends, routine, music, books, art, and exercise has helped us manage it, but we definitely feel the hurt of so many and the sting of a year of booked shows being taken away and the separation from so many people we love. We want everyone to know how much their presence and energy means to us. Their simple encouragement on a post or showing up to an online show is good for our hearts and we are so grateful for them.

The girls have a growing list of songs that are being recorded during this time. They have released some as singles in the past few months, but will have a full album completed in about five more songs that are already scheduled to be recorded. Keep an eye out on Spotify and their social media outlets to be notified of release!

The Burney Sisters with their original “Desk Job”
April Burney Shafer

April Burney Shafer

is mom and manager of The Burney Sisters, a seismic sister trio with an ever-evolving folk/rock/Indie sound. The traditional childhood music repertoire just wasn’t their jam. Instead, the girls steeped themselves in pop music and daily family singalongs. Under the guidance of April, the musical phenoms are now a heady force. The Burney Sisters have played stages big and small, opening for Wynonna Judd, Lonestar, and Jo Dee Messina.

To learn more about The Burney Sisters and to buy stuff, visit https://theburneysisters.com/.

Enjoy our 20:20 with The Burney Sisters.

Be sure to read 20:20 with Molly Healey.

You may also enjoy our previous entries in The Day the Music Died.

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