A Little Help From A House

A Little Help From A House

Teching tunes through trying times tips the balance


We’ve all had to become tech experts on the fly! It’s a phrase I’ve heard more times than I can count this year. It’s been uttered both eagerly and warily by curators and educators, promoters and musicians, artists and event planners — and everyone in between.

And while it’s true that so many institutions and even individual creators have been able to make the best of an unprecedented situation through pivoting to digital content, not everyone has possessed the knowledge or the equipment to produce content reflective of their true talent. Bentonville (by way of Austin) nonprofit and artist residency House of Songs identified this gap and stepped in to help.

Evan Alvarado is the Northwest Arkansas manager for House of Songs, as well as a musician — with Fayetteville reggae band the Irie Lions — and videographer and owner of Aenimate Media Productions LLC. Having that history with the Northwest Arkansas artist community uniquely positioned Alvarado to understand exactly his fellow creatives’ circumstances when he came on board over the summer.

“All these new experiences I’m having now are reenforcing in me a great lesson of life,” muses Springdale musician Al “Papa Rap” Lopez. “First of all, I truly believe that artists have a mission and an obligation to entertain their public, through their gifts of art. With all that’s going on right now, we, the artists, can be a temporary release, an escape. When we help others in this way, we feel good, and this goodness fills our heart with love, and this love makes us create more art to gift to others. It’s like a never-ending cycle.”
paparap.productions; @papa_rap1 on Instagram; @PapaRaap1 on Twitter; and Papa Rap on YouTube and SoundCloud.
(Courtesy Photo/House of Songs)

“We’re all experiencing the same thing. I know how you feel. So that’s a good place to start from, is understanding each other’s situation,” he posits.

One of Alvarado’s main directives in joining House of Songs was furthering artist connections and relations. Since the organization’s co-writing program #Player2Player had already transitioned to virtual when Alvarado arrived, that digital sphere is where he started.

Begun in 2019 at the Austin house, the Player-2-Player program served as a collaborative songwriting session, connecting local artists and providing the space and the environment to co-write. When the program moved online — #Player2Player — it presented the opportunity for House of Songs alumni from across the globe to connect with each other and continue to expand their craft across genres. In facilitating these virtual meetings, staff quickly learned that not every artist was equally equipped to capture their art or to share it properly, Alvarado reveals.

“Be it the gear that they’re using to capture video, the audio, the lighting that they have at home, and even their internet, because obviously that’s a big component,” Alvarado enumerates the various perceived needs. “Now that that’s how everybody’s kind of viewing things — not getting out very much — we were like, ‘What can we do to help our local artists?’”

Thanks to a grant from CACHE (Creative Arkansas Community Hub & Exchange), which is part of the Northwest Arkansas Council, House of Songs could put that question into action. Alvarado and other staff began conducting one-on-one assessments through video calls to evaluate the needs of those artists who expressed interest.

“We did get a diverse range of answers to reaching out to different artists,” Alvarado shares. “Some artists wanted to take a break with their art, so they weren’t quite as interested. Some are not excited to do livestreaming. So it was really kind of a good study to see what the landscape is [among] musicians and what they’re experiencing, what their lives are like right now and how everybody’s trying to think outside the box a little bit to try to stay relevant or stay motivated.”

Even the smallest things have made a noticeable difference in the attitude of the artists they’re helping, Alvarado admits. A ring light for proper on-camera lighting, a new cable to replace a broken or bent one — the organization’s ability to provide even a seemingly modest tool has galvanized musicians who maybe haven’t had the opportunity to connect with others in a creative way for months.

“When Evan from the House of Songs asked what they could do to help me continue my musical work, I couldn’t believe it,” remembers Al “Papa Rap” Lopez, an award-winning musician and motivational speaker beloved in Northwest Arkansas. Lopez is one of nearly 70 artists the organization has been able to provide with resources during this transition.

Singer/songwriter Sierra Carson has released three singles this year, with the most recent, “The Calling,” dropping Nov. 13. “It was recorded locally in downtown Fayetteville with LensAudio. It’s an outpouring of thoughts from the perspective of an 18-year-old taking in the issues of social injustice and equality,” Carson shares. “Looking forward, I am in the planning phase for my first EP, which will have a lighter, folk-pop sound. The future will always include music for me, and I’m grateful for Northwest Arkansas and the support I’ve found here that has set me solidly on that path.”
sierracarson.com; @sierracarsonmusic on Facebook and Instagram; @sierracarsonmsc on Twitter; and Sierra Carson Music on Spotify, YouTube and other streaming platforms.
(Courtesy Photo)

“The night before, I had been super worried and even depressed, because of all that’s going on with covid,” Lopez continues. “I constantly wondered, ‘how did this happen?’ and ‘what could I do to make things better?’ But because of my state of mind, being focused on the negative, I came to the conclusion that my music was not going to make a difference, so why bother? To tell you the truth, it was almost like my death sentence, because for me, music was and is an important part of my life. I was ready to hang up the gloves. And by that, I’m not sure what I meant, but it was like a dark shadow was invading my creative space and not letting me do what I loved the most. It was hurting me because I knew my music could be uplifting to others, but I was confused and asking myself if anybody still cared. That is why getting that call from the House of Songs was like my prayers answered, a sign that told me people do care and want to help in doing good things, promoting the arts.”

Lopez reveals that he did have a lot of equipment at his disposal even before Alvarado’s call. What he didn’t have was the knowledge of how to put it together. After their assessment, Alvarado and his team determined Lopez needed a microphone adapter to connect to his phone while he filmed videos. He could also benefit from a green screen. More equipment meant more required know-how, and when Lopez again sought assistance on how to best utilize his new tools, staff were able to teach him via Zoom calls, and provide him with links and videos to learn how to navigate the technical aspects at his own pace.

“That action from the House of Songs was a wake-up call for me, that the show must go on, and ever since, my creative juices have come back, and the dark cloud dissipated, and I’ve been writing songs like crazy,” Lopez enthuses. “Thanks to all this, I was able to do my first virtual concert for an elementary school in North Little Rock. The feedback I got from the school was very positive, and it has helped me learn to fix the bugs for the next virtual performance.”

“Virtual co-writes with House of Songs gave me an outlet for connecting with other artists and allowed me to work on my music in a new way,” echoes Sierra Carson, an old soul of a singer/songwriter with lyrics wiser than her 18 years.

“They didn’t only connect me with other amazing songwriters, they also supplied me with a backdrop, ring light and upgraded streaming service! Those upgrades have allowed me to connect more effectively and have a better presentation when connecting virtually for co-writes and social media engagement.”

Carson, a senior in high school when the pandemic arrived, reflects on a whirlwind season of worry and uncertainty akin to Lopez’s. After working with House of Songs through a time when her primary source of income, like so many others’, has been completely decimated, Carson has learned to record her own tracks (in a closet), faced her fear of co-writing, and has successfully released three singles since March. Despite the lack of living this year, she says, “I did a lot of learning.”

“I remember being worried that … I wouldn’t be able to find inspiration for writing. In some ways, the isolation would BECOME my inspiration,” she says. “It forced me to reflect on myself and the world around me in ways I hadn’t stopped to do before. My focus shifted to the health crisis and social issues in my country.

“I joined those conversations reluctantly at first as an 18-year-old preparing to vote for the first time, but I found my thoughts and feelings about those things coming out in my songwriting. Artistically, it has challenged me to be vulnerable and to consider my responsibility as an artist, but I’m looking forward to a lighter season in both my life and my songwriting.”

Fayetteville acoustic singer/songwriter Andrew McLaughlin, another musician supported through the program, succinctly distilled the significance of the partnership in a YouTube video sharing the equipment the organization sent his way:

“We had to go from live shows out in the public to being cooped up in our house, and not being able to interact with you guys like we wanted,” he says of his peers affected by the pandemic. “And the equipment for that is totally different from a normal setup, and it also requires money if you don’t have that stuff. They hooked me up.

“House of Songs … thank you so much for supporting the artists. Other artists, musicians, get connected with House of Songs. They are just making sure that you are connected with other artists, being able to write, and they just want to set you up for success.”

“It’s all in the spirit of ‘What can we do to better ourselves in this situation?’” Alvarado concludes. “Educate ourselves a little bit, but definitely keep creating our art.”


Support for House of Songs will further the nonprofit’s efforts in offering resources for local musicians and enable continued international relationships to flourish. Donate at thehouseofsongs.org.

Categories: Music