12 Super Awesome Live Music Session Channels To Watch On Youtube
Alright, sure, nothing beats taking the train in to the city for an intimate acoustic show at your favorite bar or hyping up with thousands of like-minded music fans at an iconic venue with an enormous stage, but if you can’t make it out to swoon in real-time to your favorites, then laying back with a mug of coffee or tea (or hot cocoa!) and pressing play on Youtube is the next best thing.
We’ve got Spotify and Soundcloud and Bandcamp to listen to our hearts’ content, but sometimes you just need to watch the music happen. That’s why we’ve rounded up some of our favorite live music session channels on YouTube (plus our top performances for each) right here so you can get your fix.
1. Jam In The Van: We’ve been following Jam In The Van for years because of their unique approach to showcasing live music. Most of the time, we only get a glimpse at the van’s interior — decked out in a whole lot of bright lights and tie-dye and other goodies you should probably have if you’re gonna set out on an endeavor like this — but what’s so cool about JITV is that it’s a solar-powered recording studio. It’s the real deal. It travels across the United States to record a whole bunch of awesome bands and artists across all genres.
Our favorite performance: Indie outfit Adult Mom performing their song “Sorry I Was Sorry.” Steph’s vocals are a total dream and they’re backed by a pretty guitar line, so much simplicity for a heartbreaker of a song.
2. KEXP: Seattle radio station KEXP has been giving a home to all sorts of amazing artists for years. Their channel threatens to burst with a seemingly unending list of all our most beloved bands. What’s extra cool about KEXP is how hands-off it is — sure, they host and they introduce, but they are there purely for the music, just like we are. They’re a worthy nonprofit doing important work for music and media.
Our favorite performance: Frightened Rabbit performing “Living In Colour.” You probably know by now that Frightened Rabbit is our editor Savannah’s all-time favorite band and that Scott Hutchison is her all-time favorite songwriter, so this was an obvious choice. It’s a dynamic, emotional, high-energy performance, a perfect example of what Scott could, and did, accomplish, time and time again.
3. Sofar Sounds: Ever since its inception a decade ago, Sofar Sounds have been sweeping the world of live music in new, creative ways. Sofar is basically the facilitator of intimate listening — there are over 400 Sofar locations all over the world. What this means is that the company puts on hundreds of secret living-room gigs (seriously! living rooms!) every single month in locations all over the world. Every single performance is as intimate as it gets, a beautiful opportunity for adventurous music lovers to get to know new music in a low-key, special way.
Our favorite performance: Singer-songwriter Shlomo Franklin performing “Don’t Love Anybody” at a Sofar NYC gig. Much like everything Shlomo does, it’s a remarkably poignant performance that finds his gritty vocals delivering an impassioned plea, backed by a whole team of talented instrumentalists.
4. Mahogany Sessions: London-based creative agency Mahogany launched their live music series back in 2010 and it’s since become a go-to for Youtube music consumption. Each video captures an artist (from up-and-comers to household names) in their most intimate delivery, using just one camera. Though each performance is stripped-down acoustic, they’re all wildly different depending on what each artist brings to it.
Our favorite performance: English singer-songwriter Mahalia singing “Marry Me.” Armed with just her trusty acoustic guitar and her pretty, dusky voice, she delivers an impossibly sweet love song. All heart.
5. NPR Tiny Desk: It feels almost silly to include Tiny Desk on here because, come on, we all know and love Tiny Desk already, but they deserve all of the attention and more. When brilliant music host Bob Boilen and his talented team select the artists they invite to the series, they do it thoughtfully. They think long and hard about the emotion, the flavor, the life, the magic each artist will bring. And they’re always right — despite being flanked by a bunch of adoring NPR minds around a desk (it’s really not that tiny), every musician makes magic when they’re called to.
Our favorite performance: Ólafur Arnalds (and a bunch of ridiculously remarkable instrumentalists) performing an absolutely mesmeric set of stunning instrumentals. Some of the songs feel like our stomach is being twisted by our own fists, but others sound like a duel between sunshine and shadows. What other musician can give a voice to that image?
6. The Wild Honey Pie: One of our most favorite music publications, The Wild Honey Pie, conduct a series called Buzzsessions, a concept in which TWHP capture their favorite bands performing alternate studio versions of their own tracks. What’s sick about these is that they’re not doing the whole acoustic thing — these are professional, high-quality recordings that reveal awesome artists in their element, but in new ways.
Our favorite performance: New Orleans-based jam / soul / rhythm band Tank and the Bangas’ wholly unique, smashing version of “Quick.” So much is going on here but every single element takes its time and has its chance in the spotlight. It’s honestly insane how many masterminds are in that room making something as special and mystifying as this song.
7. Songs From The Shed: Somewhere in the lush green landscape of Somerset is a garden shed. Inside are beautifully intimate acoustic sets and the people who sing them. Recorded on a digital compact with just one mic, every video by Songs From The Shed is a vintage-style, wavering take, made with care by music-loving hands.
Our favorite performance: Irish singer-songwriter Gareth Dunlop performing “I Can’t Stand Myself.” Alternating between the strong echo of his own vocals unassisted and the help of staccato strums on his guitar, Dunlop delivers a dark folk song rich with an ache.
8. Audiotree: Similar to Tiny Desk, Audiotree is one of those channels you’re bound to already adore, but they’ve done so much good for live music sessions that we’re stoked to recognize them. They’ve put out hundreds of gorgeous performances by bands we know and love — all live mixes sans any production or editing. There’s something really special about Audiotree that makes their artists feel welcome and excited, battling nervous energy of course, so the results are sweet moments of earnest music magic.
Our favorite performance: Lucy Dacus ft. band performing “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore,” a take that finds Lucy’s vocals at a low croon and a steady indie arrangement growing with urgency. Everything about the performance is A+.
9. Cardinal Sessions: Back in 2010, the Cardinal Sessions channel was founded with the intent to give a new and different view to typical music videos so overwhelmed by perfect production value and money, money, money. Now, every Thursday, they upload a new video or two of amazing artists delivering “unplugged” performances of their songs. Across genres and across the world, the videos capture tender versions often veering from the crisp studio kind.
Our favorite performance: German indie band Giant Rooks performing “Mia & Keira (Days To Come).” The guys gather on a beautiful day with their unplugged instruments, tapping out a sparkling, jangling song steeped in emotion.
10. OurVinyl: A U.S. based media company, OurVinyl film gorgeous, super professional live performances of bands big and small. Each one is totally different in style, tone, genre, even color palettes — some are framed by shimmering gold, some are lost in darkness and lit by fairy lights, some are foggy with bokeh — but every performance is a tender take.
Our favorite performance: Southern funk band Love & The Zealous performing “Happy When I’m Gone.” In this captivating black-and-white performance, the band give their all to deliver a live set dripping in high-powered soul and gentle comedowns.
P.S. OurVinyl have since undergone a rebranding to bring you even higher quality, more intimate performances, so we’re including our most recent favorite of their videos below. In this stripped-back set of Christina Cone (vocalist for Nashville indie outfit Frances Cone), she delivers an emotive performance of “Easy Love”: just her and her guitar alone in the middle of a gorgeous, sun-drenched room.
11. Little Elephant: Not only is Little Elephant a channel that films live sessions right in their own Ohio living room, but they also hand-cut and release vinyl from those performances. It’s a ridiculously cool way to merge the music with the money, allowing artists a chance to both perform special sets and benefit from them, plus each record is like a memory from that one time in Little Elephant’s living room when an amazing artist sung their heart out.
Our favorite performance: TMM editor Savannah’s second favorite band, in case you care, is Listener, so their performance of “Little Folded Fingers” is her obvious choice. The session rocks and wails and howls with searing post-rock rhythms, a dizzying and sometimes discordant gig that captures Listener exactly as the spellbinding group they are.
12. Like A Version: A segment of Australian radio station triple j., this is definitely one of the coolest live session concepts you’ll come across. Here’s the deal: every musician that performs on Like A Version performs two songs… one of their own and one they want to cover. The result is that you get to hear wildly talented artists do what they do best — sing their own tunes — and tackle somebody they love. The studio itself gives plenty of space for each musician to feel comfortable, bring along their musical entourage, and give a one-of-a-kind performance.
Our favorite performance: A$AP Rocky covering “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” by the great Otis Redding. It’s a sweet, almost nervous version. A$AP’s not exactly in his element but he performs a tender rendition and even gets a chance to rock the mic a little.
If you can make it past the insufferable ads, take a listen to our playlist of all-time favorite live music session performances over on Youtube right here. Think we missed a channel that deserves some love? Let us know what your favorite live session is in the comments!
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