Most of the United States, and indeed much of the world, is sheltering in place due to the Coronavirus. Live music gigs from club dates to national tours have been canceled globally. Musicians all over the world are turning to streaming as a means to express themselves creatively, stay in touch with their fan bases, and often as a source of income. After a month of sheltering in place I’ve watched many musicians take to live streaming. In all likelihood, music fans aren’t going to feel comfortable standing elbow-to-elbow with strangers, enjoying live performances for quite some time. Since it’s going to be awhile before we can get back to playing onstage, I’m publishing tips and insights for musicians who are new to live-streaming.
Giving some thought to how, why, and what you will stream can help you keep your brand represented in the light you desire, and possibly create a revenue stream to replace all or part of your gig earnings.
The Big Picture:
Once you decide to enter the world of streaming, you are now wearing three hats: Producer, Technical Director, and Artist. Understanding streaming through the lens of these three roles is fundamentally useful to achieving online success. Taken together they help you answer:
• Why you stream – Thinking through your goals and the strategic decisions of how best to represent your brand and reach your audience.
• How you stream – Implementing all of the technical decisions involved with getting the stream out. Cameraman, Lighting Director, Set Designer, Internet Engineer, Streaming tools expert, Analytics, Motion graphics expert. The tech role can be as simple as pressing “Go Live”, or as complicated as producing a multi-shot multimedia extravaganza.
• What you stream – The fun part, the actual performance.
You are likely already thinking in terms of these roles now without knowing it. Let’s take a deeper look at each function.
In your role as producer you will be thinking about the strategic and business considerations of streaming and how taking your craft in front of the camera can best represent your brand and achieve your goals.
The first question to ask yourself is, “Why do I want to stream?” Some musicians are online busking to try and replace gig revenue, relying on tips in exchange for performance. Others are doing online benefits for venues that they have relationships with as an expression of goodwill, and, frankly, self-preservation in the hopes that the venues will still be in business once the distancing requirements are relaxed. Other musicians are trying to find an audience for their material. Many are just trying to grow their fan base and will figure out how to monetize the audience later.
Once you are clear on why you want to stream, you can dive into a host of decisions to support your goals. Some things to consider with your Producer hat on (I’ll revisit and amend this list often):
- Frequency: How many times a week is optimal to stream. Some goals support every day, others once a week, or once a month.
- Logistics: What day of the week is best? What time of day?
- Platform: What service is best? Facebook Live!, YouTube, Instagram, Twitch and other services offer streaming content that you can be a part of. Where (what service) are your current fans? Where are your target fans?
- Duration: How long should your show be? It seems like 1-hour shows are a sweet spot right now. People are tuning in to music streaming events and putting them up on their TVs. Are you good enough to keep their attention for more than an hour?
- Presence: How does your onstage charm translate to a streaming event. What can you do to interact with your audience in a live streaming format, and what can you do with your content to make the viewing experience stand out.
- Aesthetics: What should your “set” look like to best facilitate your music. Decor and Lighting are all a part of this.
The idea here is to be clear about what you want to accomplish by streaming and then do things that support that decision.
Cover Band Central’s Steve Witschel joined us on Gig Gab 251 where we talked quite a bit about the production element.
The technical part of your streaming approach deals with the actual tools to get your stream seen. The options are many and can range from simple (hitting “Go Live” on your mobile phone or computer) to very complex (managing multi-camera, multi-source productions with beautiful graphics). Understanding the options and choosing the best ones that help you achieve your goals is the new essential toolkit for DIY musicians.
In your as technical director you will be considering:
- Streaming platforms: How they work, the media formats they support, and how other tools you may want to use integrate with them.
- Camera: How do you look and fit in the frame when videoing? A smartphone or a webcam can get it done, but DSLRs offer quality and framing options.
- Lights: Which lighting setup is best for you? Lighting is an art, but the basic skill of making sure you are illuminated clearly when seen on camera can be learned easily. Lighting can be the difference between a polished or amateur look.
- Set Design: What else does your viewer see when viewing your stream? How does that support what you are performing?
- Streaming Gear: What other tools will help you create the look, feel, and sound you need for a great show? There are a plethora of free and paid tools that can help you operate a virtual TV studio. These tools allow you to have—and select between—multiple cameras and camera angles, or put graphics and scrolling information on the screen over you or behind you. Some of these tools can send your stream to multiple sites (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitch) simultaneously to get you greater exposure.
- Video Editing: Do you want to incorporate pre-produced video? Being competent with tools like iMovie, Final Cut Pro, or Premier will help produce videos ready to stream.
For more of the technical specifics, check out Gig Gab Podcast episode 250 where we talked about OBS, mimoLive, and others.
Finally – the performing. The thing that you love to do most. The craft that you’ve spent so many hours perfecting. Streaming in a time of social distancing is a unique experience. There’s no audience to draw energy from. There’s usually not even a camera person that you can get feedback from. It’s often just you and then camera. Personally, I find streaming to be a very unforgiving medium. While you are performing – you have in the back of your mind that your mistakes are being recorded for all of history. Your ability to focus on emoting your music is key to communicating your art.
A few tips and lessons I have learned and observed from my own early attempts at streaming:
- Be Rehearsed. I can’t stress this enough – know your material cold. The best streaming performances are the ones where the music and emotion just flow and your vibe is communicated via the stream to your listeners. This is hard to do in this sterile environment of just you and the camera. It is hard enough to have one eye on the livestream tech stuff and still get into your zone to perform at a high level. Take as many variables out of the equation as possible and make sure the music you are performing just flows and you’re not guessing at the changes or form or lyrics. I have some friends who are taking the unique approach of doing request formats as a way to differentiate their streaming presence and drive tips or donations. If you are the type of performer who can do that with low stress and have fun with the requests—and you feel like the inevitable stumbles that will come if reading charts off an iPad in real-time are fine for your brand—vaya con Dios. Just be real about what performing unrehearsed, unperfected material might mean for your brand and think about how it will be perceived when there are 200 pro, polished, rehearsed performers streaming at the same time. You know your audience and what they can tolerate. It might be useful to think about how a new audience will perceive spontaneous content. The “realness” and intimacy of these early days of streaming may be a little more forgiving today, but as time goes on and streams are a constant and pervasive form of entertainment, the scrutiny on everything – production – tech – performance – will be more intense. As you compete for people’s time, eyeballs, and tip money, the focus on quality entertainment will be increasingly important
- Set up your vibe. Decorate your “set” so you feel comfortable, and create the environment that will support your musical message. Dark drape background with candles? Couch or chair? Use a green screen to project the backdrop of a pro recording studio, forest, ocean scene? Remember – this is a visual medium as much as it is an aural medium. You are creating a “world” and inviting listeners/viewers in. A world that facilitates your best performance is worth designing.
- Work at it. No matter how good you are at this when you start, you will get better at this the more you do it. Some of your onstage chops will translate – do you tell stories to introduce songs? Do you do interludes in your songs to set up sections of the songs lyrically? You actually do have some immediate feedback and interaction in the comments that come in in real-time as you perform that you can address in between songs. I find that acknowledging the people I see entering the stream makes me feel connected to my viewers and they certainly get a kick out of a shout out in this format. Using the platform to make announcements of things going on in your life (professional or private as you see appropriate), things going on in your community, causes that you support are great bridges between songs. Finally, accept that the art form of performing music for a streaming audience is a skillset that you need to develop. You will get better at making.
I’ll dive deeper into each of these roles in future articles. For now, if you understand the big picture of what getting in to live streaming entails, you’ll make better – and more cohesive – decisions that can help you achieve your goals. This is a new medium and we are all learning as we go along. Join me in this series where I’ll explore these roles in my own new live-streaming practice share more tips and techniques that I observe as effective.
The quality of streaming endeavors is all over the map right now. The longer we are sheltered in place, and the more artists take to streaming, the more competition there will be for viewers. I’m definitely not advocating that big, multi-camera, highly produced productions are the only way to go. Casual, informal vibes can be intimate and compelling. You need to be honest with yourself whether choosing to wear sweat pants and streaming from your kitchen is the best thing for your brand. Thinking hard about all the ways to make your stream a great “product” that represents and communicates your brand as effectively as possible will be a differentiator when competing for viewers.
Until next time, especially when streaming, “Always Be Performing”.