By Jay Clark
When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, artists like Ben Gibbard and Jason Isbell began performing stripped-back shows from their bedrooms and favorite venues for their virtual fans, who were also stuck inside and looking for things to do.
And as the pandemic has gone on, artists looking to make up for the loss of touring income have started performing ticketed live streams. Dua Lipa recently streamed a show for 5 million fans and invested $1.5 million into production costs, a new record. Just this week, Justin Bieber announced that he would live stream a New Year's Eve concert, his first performance in three years.
There's a vaccine on the horizon, but it's still going to be awhile before artists and fans will be in the same room together again. We asked some experts for advice on virtual performances, so if you've been thinking about doing a live stream but aren't sure where to start, keep reading.
Think about how to Stand Out
Riley Vasquez has spent the last 10 years working as a tour manager and live sound engineer, and has recently helped artists in Nashville live stream their shows. His first piece of advice is to think visually and come up with a way to stand out.
"There are so many streaming apps right now that allow you to stream for free and with your personal phone. But fans are starting to experience 'streaming fatigue,' so it's important that we start to think more about the production value on a live stream," he says. "You need to think about lighting, shot framing and set up, audio quality and, of course, putting out killer content."
Consider your space
If you make stripped-back, intimate singer-songwriter music, it might make sense to stream from your living room with just you and your guitar. But Vasquez says that "if your music is supposed to be played loudly, then go rent a studio space, mic up all your gear, get great sounds, and plug that audio output into your streaming device and make it sound phenomenal." Just remember that if you are getting the band back together, have everyone in your band and crew quarantine first and get tested first.
Take it Seriously
Just because it's not a "regular" show doesn't mean it's not a "real" gig, so treat it with the exact amount of preparation and care as you normally would. Bob Hansan is the Managing Partner of Bobby McKey’s, Washington, DC’s popular dueling piano bar, and the owner of the public-service web site, Congress.org. Bobby McKey’s has hosted over 50 free virtual, all-request shows to lift the spirits of the local community.
"Treat as many aspects as possible like it’s a live show," he says. "Dress well, test all your equipment, warm up your voice."
Get your Gear in Gear
There's plenty of easy-to-use devices that will make your live stream look professional.
- For professional-looking lighting, Vasquez recommends these LED bulbs, which will fit in any household lamp you already have.
- Canon Powershot G7X Mark II or Mark III cameras are extremely versatile, and deals are available all across the internet. Pair it with your laptop with a HDMI cable.
- While you're going to have to pay a little bit of money for top-quality camera, you can download the open-source Open Broadcaster Software. for free. "You can add graphics, videos, and make a beautiful live production all from this one app," says Vasquez. "There are so many YouTube videos about OBS, and you'll be able to find out anything you want to know about how to use it."
Get your Tickets
Some artists like to perform for free and will set-up a digital tip jar, such as the application JamJar. But if you're looking to make a return on your investment, Vasquez says to reach out to Mandolin to use their platform to sell tickets.
Any touring artist will tell you that they make just as much money from the merchandise as ticket sales, so Vasquez advises, "don't be afraid to ask for a sale on merchandise or a VIP upgrade...especially if you're doing the stream for free. If you don't have a web store already set up, you can easily set one up on Shopify using the 'buy button' or via Square. I've seen artists who have never made much on a merch store generate over six figures for the first time during Covid."
It's always good to kick the tires before you head out, so Hansan suggests you make sure the internet upload speed is sufficient to handle your feed and produce test videos to check audio, video and stream quality on different devices (phones, tablets, computers).
Live streams are a great way to connect with your fans when you can't see them on the road. But once you've got them tuning in, the next step is to make sure you stay in touch.
"Build an e-mail list. Marketing gurus have been telling businesses for years, but artists somehow missed the mark. Capture e-mails, and continue to bring value to your fanbase," Vasquez says. "Maybe record one cover song or one demo a week, and send a video out to your fanbase every week. That brings them value, keeps them engaged, and allows them to form a better relationship with you."
Total Request Live?
You can stick to a setlist if you like. But part of the beauty of the internet is that you can interact with your fans and, if you like, take requests.
"Whether it’s Zoom, YouTube, Facebook, or something else, the audience interaction with the piano players through the comment stream is what gives us a connection to our audience, when that in-person connection is missing," says Hansan.
"All the song requests come through as comments. It helps to have someone monitoring the comments section. That person can then relay the song requests to us. Sometimes I will try to keep an eye on the comment stream while I’m on stage as well. Sometimes you can even find some stage humor by referring to something funny that was typed into the comment section. Just like a live show, we encourage our audience to participate as much as possible."
And Don't Forget
This year has been hard on everyone, but Vasquez advises that you use the live stream as a way to remind yourself why you play music in the first place.
"People are dying for creativity right now," he says. "So be creative, put out good looking and sounding content, and keep making good art. Art exists for times like these."