Well. Here we are. What an extraordinary time we find ourselves in. I’ve wanted to blog about so many fascinating facets of what’s been going on as a result of the coronavirus – with me, with my loved ones, with the world around me – but I wasn’t sure I was going to be adding anything of any incremental value to the tsunami of emotional outpouring and intellectual surmising that was already being spewed forth by blogs and news sites around the world.

So I stayed quiet. I read a lot. I talked to as many friends and family as I could. I walked my dog (2m apart from everyone, of course). I cooked. I enjoyed Pose on Netflix.

But I didn’t want to look back on this time and realised I had done nothing to lighten the load and mood of others. So when a friend posted that he was a musician who had just had all his concerts cancelled, and wanted help finding virtual channels for his performances, I jumped up and volunteered to help.

And as usual, I went a little overboard.

In a week, I had set up Cogig.live – a service to help musicians and comedians whose livelihoods were affected by coronavirus. Ostensibly, it was just a matter of finding an appropriate livestreaming platform and offering to help performers use it. But I realised something critical, which brings me to why I am writing my first COVID-19 post.

So many event companies, musicians, conferences, talks, etc, are moving to virtual streaming. In fact, many may even conclude that they may like to continue offering their content virtually going forward. Why not? Cheaper costs, wider audience potential, more resilient to future pandemics.

The problem is: the reason people go to events is only partly because of the content. They go for the connections too. Otherwise, everyone would just watch TED talks and music videos on YouTube all the time. They go because they hope to meet a potential business partner, a potential customer, a potential new friend, and more often than not, even if not articulated, a potential lover. People that come together because of a shared interest in a type of music or a topic of discussion have a greater likelihood to have other shared values, and connections in many forms are more likely. And as this virus is showing us – humans *need* humans. Isolation and loneliness are killers too.

So what I aimed to do with Cogig.live was replicate not only the musical experience, but the social one. I picked a platform to run the service on, not just for its livestreaming and billing capabilities, but for its mingling and serendipitous capabilities. The way it works is that at any time before, during or after a performance, audience members can choose to ‘mingle’, and they then get randomly assigned to another audience member to video chat one-to-one for a few minutes. They can jump out at any time if they don’t like the person, and they can mutually agree to swap contact details if they *do* like the person.

What I love about this is that you not only are watching a musical or comedy performance in a one-way one-to-many broadcast, but you also have two-way many-to-many one-to-ones.

In this terrifying uncertain times, being able to have pockets of connection with someone somewhere in the world, who has a shared interest in music or ideas, is as soothing as… well, I guess as soft-ply toilet paper.

So my challenge to all you event planners and conference organisers and gig managers: when looking for ways to continue to operate during isolation – or even afterwards when our lives return to some normality – remember it isn’t just about the music. You have to give your audience ways to form intimate connections, to be delighted by serendipity, to get the thrill of a real conversation and authentic shared laugh. Livestreams don’t offer that. Use a platform that does. So far, I’ve found Zoom (they have “Breakout rooms” functionality) and Hopin.to (what I’m using for Cogig.live, they have “Networking” functionality). Neither of these are perfectly suited for this use case of showcasing a musical or comedic performance: Zoom is optimised for voice not for music; Hopin.to is very geared towards virtual conferences in terms of its functionality and nomenclature. If there are others out there, let me know!

In the meantime, sign-up for alerts at Cogig.live so I can message you when we have a concert ready to livestream (with mingling!). Or if you know musicians or artists who would want to make use of my free service, put us in touch or get them to sign up at Cogig.live.

And in the meantime, stay safe and stay sane. We’ll get through it.