Like just about everyone, life has changed dramatically for Pennsylvania singer-songwriter Kendal Conrad. She had a summer packed with plans sining the National Anthems at sports stadiums, gigs at local bars and restaurants and increase her growing fanbase across the country. That summer schedule now hangs almost entirely in a cloud of uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m a full-time gigging musician. I don’t have any other job to supplement my income—I’ve done this my whole life,” Conrad said. “When all the bars and restaurants closed and the concerts [were] canceled I kind of had a meltdown.”
After the initial shock wore off, Conrad looked to find new ways to engage with audiences that she hadn’t delved too deeply into in the past. Before, she said, her heavy gig schedule— sometimes for three hours a night—didn’t really afford her the additional vocal strain to do extra performances over social media.
“This quarantine has forced me to use all of those avenues, and it’s different for me,” Conrad said. “It’s kind of cool and I’m actually kind of loving it.”
The social gigs will probably become a monthly staple of her calendar once traditional venues begin to open back up. The pent-up demand from music fans for new content makes the experience even more worthwhile.
“There’s this huge audience who can’t go out [and] can’t watch sports. We’ve already binged all the shows on Netflix, and are just looking for something new,” Conrad said. “I’ve found that every time I go live I’m picking up a few new people that haven’t heard of me.”
Kendal Conrad has used a virtual tip jar during her performances to help bring in a little extra income while the gig calendar is frozen. While viewers may think they are only contributing a small amount, she’s grateful for every dollar, she said.
“It adds up, people don’t realize that,” she said. “It’s not nearly what I’d be making gigging, but I feel like I’m giving back and kind of still doing my job entertaining people.”
Conrad is in the midst of releasing singles from her debut EP (which doesn’t have a title yet). A new song drops on Friday. Her previous track, “Leader of the Pack,” is a darkly cinematic pop-country anthem. Conrad penned the song to herself as a hopeful message separating herself from those that tried to stand in her way of succeeding as an artist.
“It’s my favorite song that I’ve written so far,” she said. “I’m a big horror fan, so it really feeds my love of horror. It’s dark and edgy.”
One of the career highlights for Conrad came early when she was selected through an application process to join Keith Urban on stage to perform a song at one of his shows in her home state.
“It was funny when I submitted to it,” she said. “I was like, ‘oh my God, I’m going to fangirl.'”
Conrad has also opened for Blake Shelton, Charlie Daniels Band, Trace Adkins and Kane Brown. In playing these high-profile gigs, she said she not only picks up some tips from the superstars on the music side, but finds the behind-the-scenes aspects just as fascinating.
“The really specific catering items I think are really funny,” Conrad said. “Someone in this band must really love Twinkies because there are a bunch on the rider, or there is the really specific root beer; someone must be asking for these really specific items.”
She said she watches and analyzes each artist’s soundcheck—who takes a long time to hone the sound and how they get there.
Conrad recorded her debut in Nashville, which was in itself an eye-opening experience for the singer. Not exclusively influenced by country, Conrad cites her Philadelphia-influenced edge as creating a catalyst for a great songwriting mix in the country capital.
“I feel like I have that edge that is not Nashville, and I kind of bring that down with me when I go down to Nashville,” she said. “It meets that twangy, storytelling aspect of country music.”
Conrad plans to keep releasing songs from her EP over the next several months.
Follow writer Mike DeWald at Twitter.com/mike_dewald.