UT, Austin musicians create collective to raise money for struggling artists during COVID-19 pandemic

Avery Wohleb

In early March, many students and local musicians had all of their scheduled performances canceled and were left functionally unemployed after the city of Austin restricted large gatherings due to the coronavirus.

After having several of his own concerts canceled, James Tabata said he wanted to find a way to bring musicians together.

“I came to the realization of how bleak things were starting to look with performances canceling and jobs being lost,” said Tabata, a composition graduate student and the assistant director of UT’s New Music Ensemble. “My immediate reaction was that we needed to stick together.”

Shortly after, Tabata created Less Than <10, an artist collective that streams prerecorded performances every Thursday evening to raise funds for local musicians affected by the pandemic. The name Less Than <10 comes from an earlier social distancing rule that prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people, Tabata said. 

Tabata said he recruited people who were eager to make a positive impact through connections to musicians in the UT and Austin communities.

“It’s a scary time for a lot of people,” Tabata said. “The biggest purpose of the collective for me is providing hope.”

Nathan Nokes, a composition graduate student and the collective’s technical director and media editor, said Less Than <10 records pieces throughout the week so they can be mixed and edited before being streamed to a live audience on Twitch. Each musician records their part individually to either be streamed as a solo performance or put together with other instrumental voices for an ensemble piece. In between songs, the nine core members and featured guests appear live and answer questions submitted by the audience through a chat function. 

Nokes said it’s a “magical” thing for him when he finally hears all the separate recordings come together.

“It’s a very scary process, but it’s really exciting because even though it’s not live when you mesh it up, it gives you that feeling of responding to other musicians,” Nokes said. 

Less than <10 links to their PayPal during each stream for audience members to make donations. So far, Tabata said the collective has raised just under $1,000. After the performances are over, Tabata said the money is donated to organizations that help struggling local musicians, such as Austin Creative Alliance and Health Alliance for Austin Musicians.

Sean Riley, UT alumnus and arts liaison in the collective, said each stream averages 70 viewers and continues to grow every week.

“This has been a true collaboration of artists, which is hard enough to find when you’re just out there,” Riley said. “It’s a community that has grown from this odd time. It’s original. You’re not (going to) find much else out there like it.”

When large gatherings are permitted, Tabata said the collective will begin hosting live performances while remaining on digital platforms in order to raise awareness for the potential of online content for artists.

“These limitations have helped us make something really cool, (and we are) able to explore things we’ve always wanted to explore in our art but didn’t have the chance to do,” Tabata said. “The artists put themselves in a box, and they have these new things to work with to make something new and unique. It’s the box of limitations that helps you make something.”