No matter how big of a rockstar any musician these days hopes to become, the biggest stage they’ll ever play on is a cell phone. Few local troubadours understand that better than Mike Vitale.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, a video of Vitale performing an hour-long set in his bedroom is garnering views from people across several continents. His breezy, soulful voice croons over an electric guitar and his loop station while thousands of people across the world watch on the live streaming platform Periscope. Staring back at a screen while he plays, he can see the follower count go up during his cover of “Walking On the Moon” by The Police, segued into his popular original song “Latchkey Kid.” Likes and comments flood the margins of the platform that’s given him a pipeline to get his music to the world by bringing people into his.
“I did a show last night and Periscoped it to 14,000 people and it’s been working out good, I’ve been slowly building a fan base doing that,” he says. His personal best so far is around 47,000 viewers–translating into figures that are finally starting to benefit him in the real world. Whether he’s increasing his reach or communicating directly with fans who buy his records or donate money toward his cause, Vitale’s strategy and skill are making his life as a struggling musician a little less of a struggle.
“Trying to do music professionally is kinda like a rat race to be honest with you, I have a lot of friends that have started thinking outside the box,” he says.
Something he learned as the frontman of The Hawkline Monster, his Fullerton-based band of rotating musicians, is that being at the center of a project often means you’re the only person dedicated to seeing it through. After that project dissolved due to lack of time commitment from other members, he started recording material under his own name again.
Fellow singer/songwriter Mike Barnett gave him some advice that stuck. “He said ‘You’re gonna work harder for yourself than you will for anyone else,’” Vitale remembers. “It took me a little while to wake up to that notion and the older I’m getting the more I realize it and the more I wanna work.”
These days, he’s learned to work smarter thanks to social platforms to bring an intimate experience of his solo acoustic shows to as many people as possible whether he’s playing in a small club or his bedroom.
“The show I did last night for example”, he says as he pulls out his phone to pull up Periscope “had 14,000 viewers…I was playing Parkers Lighthouse in Long Beach last night and I just broadcasted it.”
Vitale says he prefers Periscope over Facebook Live and Instagram Live because the videos you create go into an automatic feed where people who follow you or follow certain hash tags will automatically be able to see his show in their feed. “You get a lot more strangers watching you,” he says.
Part of capitalizing on those eyeballs is directing them to an easy way of supporting an artist they like. The crowd funding platform Patreon, launched in 2013, acts like a monthly version of Kickstarter that allows fans of his work to contribute a few bucks towards him on a monthly basis in exchange for exclusive content. The extra patronage is earning him around $300 a month, a godsend that’s helped him to steadily complete video content and pay for recording and mixing albums like his latest, Empty Circle and he most recent full band single “No Vacancy.”
“[Patreon] made all the difference in the world,” he says. Some people can contribute $20 a month and I’m thankful for those people, but the idea I started off with was like contribute a buck a month and if you get a lot of people doing that it adds up.”
Though he still hopes to feel the rush of playing for a stadium of fans, the ability to do so through technology is a life hack that he hopes will get him there one day.
“I remember a time I saw Jay Buchanan [of Rival Sons] at the Gypsy Lounge, he was sad and talking down about his music career, look at him now,” Vitale says, of the Long Beach-bred singer who is currently a rockstar playing to areas and festivals around the world. “I wanna make a living playing music and I know it’s possible to do it. I watch my friends do it and it’s just been about them not giving up.”