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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Social networks need to help struggling performers, says Elvis Costello's keyboard ace Steve Nie

Steve Nieve

Steve Nieve working out an arrangement prior to a concert by Elvis Costello & The Imposters (Pete Thomas in the background)

Since the start of the coronavirus shutdown, musicians from all genres have resorted to social media to stay in touch with their fan base, and in many cases, continue to be heard.

And since concerts have screeched to a halt, many artists are putting up in-home living-room gigs, and have had to ask for online donations in order to make up for lost tour income.

Few musicians have been more active than Steve Nieve, Elvis Costello’s legendary longtime keyboardist. At last count, Nieve has performed over 40 Daily Improvisation simulcasts from his home in France, shared to fans and friends via Facebook and Instagram. Some have centered on the music of specific artists like the late Mark Hollis, whose beloved 1980s band Talk Talk toured with Costello; others have showcased special guests, including Costello himself.

Yesterday, in an open letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg published on the website of the prominent weekly French language news magazine L’Obs, Nieve related how, following Costello & Imposters’ Best Traditional Pop Vocal album Grammy win early this year, a tour of the U.K. was cut short by the pandemic.

“After a brief moment of amazement, all the artists and creators, mainly musicians, began to share their talents, their works, their generosity on your Facebook and Instagram,” Nieve wrote to Zuckerberg. “You may even have been able to appreciate some of our performance on your platforms from home.”

He pointed out that performing on social media platforms helps listeners “endure isolation” and suggested that “live music online is another way to take care of our health today.” And he told Zuckerberg that he’d observed his online conference, where he outlined forthcoming aid in helping “different categories of people [who are] in distress” over Covid-19.

“We have the feeling that you have forgotten us--us artists, creators and other people who work in cultural fields,” said Nieve, asking Zuckerberg to redress this oversight by paying musicians who play on his social networks.

“Artists and musicians in confinement can no longer make concerts or recordings. We are already seeing our revenues melt dramatically,” said Nieve, adding that many musicians are indeed facing economic disaster—one likely to last for many months to come.

“Mark, we all connect people to each other: you, through apps and data, us, through music,” he implored. “We ask that you share some of the money you earn from all of these connections.”

Facebook and other social networks, Nieve noted, “have always been a place of community where we support each other.” He further noted that Zuckerberg had received similar requests from other artists including Laurie Anderson, Marc Ribot and Bill Frisell.

“These voices are the ones that so many people listen to right now to soothe, if only a little, their concern,” Nieve concluded, asking Zuckerberg to share his letter with his counterparts at Google, Alphabet, Microsoft and Apple.

And on his Facebook fan page, Nieve promised to continue with his Daily Improvisation programs, thanks to fan feedback “that this is as important for you as it is for us.”

“We have built together a new kind of relation, a new kind of artistic proposition, too, when you think about it,” he said, noting that a poster featuring the best images of Daily Improvisation announcements will soon be available.

“It will be a great memento of what we have shared all through this crazy spring,” said Nieve, and “soon we hope we will be able to travel again, to visit you [and] sign your poster and hug and shake your hands.”

A 2015 solo piano performance by Steve Nieve



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