Photo courtesy Bryan G. Malone

Bryan Malone, the long-standing Star Bar promoter and guitar player with Atlanta rockers the Forty-Fives and Bad Spell hosts a weekly live streaming variety show from his home in Pendleton Manor.

Every Thursday night at 8 p.m. Eastern Time, Malone takes a different approach to live streaming performances, ranging from Kinks and Ramones-themed rock ‘n’ roll dance parties to root beer float appreciation nights. On August 13, Malone is hosting a Garden Party—virtually, of course—with the Post-Apocalyptic Malone Show and Pet Showcase. Send in a photo of your favorite pet and receive a post-apocalyptic shout out. This week’s setlist also features Malone performing songs by Ricky Nelson, Buddy Holly, Bobby Darin, the Beatles, and more.

In the meantime, Malone took a few minutes to talk about how the show comes together each week, the state of the Star Bar, and the power of live music—even when it’s pre-recorded.

What prompted you to start hosting your own live streaming performances?

Well, I didn’t really have any money coming in. The Star Bar closed down on New Year’s Eve, and I found myself out of work. I had a feeling it was coming, so I was prepared to take a few months off. But when it happened I didn’t know there was going to be a pandemic. By the time March rolled around and things started getting serious I looked at the calendar and thought, “man, this could go on for a long time.” I had never done anything even remotely like a live stream, much less ever really even played a solo show live. So this was a big step for me. I felt cornered, and I had to do something to make some kind of money. I noticed that other people were doing shows online. I watched several of them and thought maybe I’ll give this a shot and see if I can pull it off.

Do you feel like you’re pulling it off? 

There are varying degrees of success with everybody, but I try to make my shows a little different: I don’t just play music. I have little segments, I tell dumb jokes, show videos, and do all kinds of different stuff. Of course, it’s always based on the music, but I try to make it as close to a variety show as possible.

What kind of a software do you use to toggle between each part?

It’s an OBS—online broadcasting software—and I think it’s originally meant for gamers, so people can play video games online with each other. When I started doing this the sound was terrible. It had this fishbowl sound, and there was no way to control it. You can’t monitor it because you’re live-streaming. There is no playback, so you’re putting yourself out there without a net. It took me two or three shows to realize I’ve got to fix this. So I started working with software and it started sounding better. It’s an ongoing struggle. 

I started watching Kimono My House live streams, and Kenosha Kid, Cicada Rhythm, and Adron did a really well-produced live streaming variety show …

Adron is great anyway, but one of the things that helps her so much is that her performances are quiet. She plays very subtly, and it’s soft, which is conducive to this kind of setup. The louder you get the more problems you run into—at least that’s how it’s been for me.

What have you learned that helps overcome the problems you encounter when presenting loud music? 

Each week is different. I started running my stuff through an 8-track, and I started using microphones and the OBS software, trying to balance it all out. It’s a wild ride. I’ve definitely gotten better at it. At first it was pretty rough, and I didn’t know what was happening.

But using a microphone makes a huge difference. I thought I would be able to do it by just sitting in front of my computer with an acoustic guitar. I was used to playing in clubs, and playing on stage. So I was really going for it and belting it out, and I was overloading the little mic on the computer. There was no way to control it, and even though I kept trying to adjust my personal volume it was just crazy.

Success varies from week to week. I put a lot of work into the show, and try to make each one different—I try to make each one an event. Quickly, I realized that I can’t play the same set every week, or no one’s going to come back. So every week I learn an entirely new set (for the most part). I usually do 10-to-12 songs and I mix it up with a lot of originals, and a lot of covers. I’m learning all this new material, and it’s been really good for me as a musician, regardless of circumstances, because I’m forced to learn new material every week.

I’ll do theme nights: I did a Kinks night where I played all Kinks songs, or I did a Ramones night and played all Ramones stuff. Or I’ll do a night where I play songs by one of my bands, like an all Bad Spell night, or something like that. Some nights it’s just a free-for-all. I’ll play songs by the Who, and I’ll take requests. People will say “I want to hear this song, not that song,” So I’ll write all this stuff down and say “let me learn it,” or  “I already know that one and I’ll play it!” 

I picked Thursdays because I was watching Kimono My House and I noticed a lot of people playing on weekends. So I thought, “Everyone’s just sitting around anyway, so a weeknight might be better.” I picked Thursday. Then I kinda fell into that slot. After a while people were kind of expecting me to come on and play every Thursday night, so I stuck with it.

How has the response been?

I usually get a pretty good response. One of the fun things about it is you have a lot of friends who log on, so it’s kind of like a little chat room. People start talking: “I love this song,” or “Hey, how are you?” People are socializing inside this little bubble. I realized that pretty quickly. So I started making it as interactive as possible, and engaging in conversation with people. That makes it a whole lot of fun.

How do you promote your live streams? Do you put up fliers in Little Five Points or are you relying on Facebook?

I do everything online. I promote it through Facebook, and I’ll promote it on Instagram, and that’s about it so far. Sometimes I’ll make a little promo video—a short thing that I can share. I am doing it mostly on Facebook, but I’m going to start doing a YouTube live stream as well.

I recently did an afternoon pop-up show with Kimono My House. I didn’t really announce that one, I just set up my phone and went live, like, “Hey, I’m going to play a bunch of stuff, whatever comes to mind!” I took requests and whatnot.

Trying to navigate the Facebook algorithm is maddening.

I know! They make it as complicated as possible. And it always seems like once you start figuring it out they change it. You’re constantly chasing that ball, trying to figure out what’s going on.

Are your live streams available afterward, or is it still like you have to be here now kind of set up?

You don’t have to be there; they’re still available on Facebook. After the show, I will put them up on YouTube for my family—my dad doesn’t watch stuff on Facebook. He watches YouTube on his TV. So, I’ll do some of that but it is a lot more fun when you’re watching it live. That’s when you’re getting interaction with all the other people who are watching. That’s one element that you will miss when you’re watching the replay. 

You run the Star Bar’s “Almost Live From Little 5 Points” live streams as well.

Yeah, we do them on some Sunday nights. We can’t book any live shows right now due to social distancing measures, and there aren’t going to be any live shows in a sweaty, windowless bar for quite a while—maybe next year. So people send me tapes—I use the word tapes because I’m an old guy—or videos of them performing a song. Then I put them all together and have Ted Weldon host. Then I transmit that as a live show. Even though it’s prerecorded, I put it all together and broadcast live. That’s why it’s Almost Live From Little Five …

Each song has its introduction and then the song plays. I’ll have like 10 or 12 different videos ready and throughout the program I put them together and transmit them live.

Is this a new skill for you?

Oh yeah, absolutely. This is all brand new for me. I’ve never done anything like this before. I have definitely learned a lot in the way of editing videos, putting stuff together, and live streaming. It’s something that I never thought I would ever do. But it’s like that old saying about necessity goes … I had to do something, and this is a lot of fun! I’m like a lot of people, and a lot of people miss live music. They miss seeing people perform, and so I think this is a pretty good thing for everybody.

I recently attended Gallery 992’s Sunday night jazz session, which they’re now doing outside, in a vacant lot across the street. It was a profound experience; I didn’t realize how much I missed, and needed to engage with live music!

There really is no substitute for watching musicians perform in front of you. That’s something that cannot be replaced. The live stream is the closest that I have been able to come to that. And that’s one of the things I love about the live streams—especially when I do my stream. It is live! I am playing in real time, so you get the bumps and bruises that come with it, man. It’s something that happens when you’re learning 10 new songs every week. You learn that some songs work better than others.

I think that is what people crave—spontaneity.

It’s a lot of fun, and it has allowed me to reconnect with people whom I haven’t seen in a while. I’ll have people watching from all over the country—people from everywhere tuning in, and I’m like, “Hey there’s my buddy from San Francisco, or there’s so and so from New York!” It really has been a lot of fun.

How is the Star Bar coming along?

They’ve done a lot of work on the bar, and it looks really good. The upstairs is closed, but they are open downstairs. They’re doing patio service, so you can get a drink and sit outside. You can go into the lounge downstairs, which has been redone. They moved the bar—you know when you come in through the back door and go around the corner, that bar was right up to the door. They’ve moved that back a little bit, so it doesn’t cause a bottleneck right there anymore. They have a couple of pinball machines in there now, and they have a couple of booths in the back, so it’s starting to look like its own little bar down there, which is nice.

Tune in to the Post-Apocalyptic Malone show via Facebook every Thursday night at 8 p.m. Eastern Time.

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