TikTok craze propels Albany Shantymen to online stardom
The Albany Shantymen have been riding a wave of popularity this year thanks to a surprising global obsession with sea shanties that took off online during the coronavirus crisis.
The viral phenomenon started in December after Scottish musician Nathan Evans posted his cover of a sea shanty called Wellerman to the social media app, TikTok.
The post triggered the “ShantyTok” trend, generating a swell of interest around the world that drove the success of the Albany Shantymen’s version of Wellerman on Spotify.
Wellerman is a shanty that dates back to the mid-1800s in New Zealand, when it was sung on whaling ships.
Albany Shantymen founder Gary Greenwald said views of their version on Spotify had skyrocketed from several thousand to half a million.
And while the audience ages had previously been spread, the new listeners were mostly from a younger demographic.
Sea shanties were historically sung by sailing crews as they worked in unison and Mr Greenwald thinks they might have a unique capacity to connect people.
“I definitely think that people have sought social connectivity (through the coronavirus crisis),” Mr Greenwald said.
“People live in groups — we wouldn’t survive on our own and these kinds of activities reaffirm the social bonds.
“It’s a really accessible way of getting into music. You are part of a group, you don’t have to be trained and you don’t have to have the confidence to sing on your own.
“It’s a communal thing. It’s a way of reaffirming social bonds. You feel like you’re a part of something.”
The increased Spotify interest has resulted in a revenue spike for the group of about $1000, which has been reinvested into growing shanty singing in the community.
Mr Greenwald said he wanted to prioritise long-term growth and sustainability over the rise and fall of TikTok trends.
“It has basically paid for our recent tour of the South West where we helped a new shanty group get started in Walpole and then did a fundraiser for the fireys out at Dunsborough,” he said.
Despite the sudden rise in popularity of sea shanties, Mr Greenwald is keeping a lid on his expectations for the turnout at the International Folk’n’Shanty Festival in July.
“I’m hoping that we get a couple of thousand people, but I’m not sure,” he said.
Mr Greenwald said anyone interested in starting a group could be reassured that “big bellies and beards are optional”.
For more information, visit the Albany Shantymen on Facebook.
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