As songwriters and recording artists, we are moved to share our emotions—our love, hope, joy, pain, and fear—through songs. This is how we express ourselves, entertain our fans, and allow our listeners to feel the comfort of knowing that others share their feelings. Despite artists’ tours and major music events such as SXSW, the Country Music Association Music Festival, BMI’s Key West Songwriters’ Festival, the Kerrville Folk Festival, and Coachella being postponed or canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, performers are still sharing their music.
During these challenging days of staying at home, more songwriters and artists than ever are sending their music out into the world via a computer screen instead of a stage. Some performers are presenting virtual concerts, as well as offering online lessons and chat sessions to help offset income lost from canceled engagements in venues such as bars, cafés, and restaurants. Some acts are replacing a portion of the revenue lost from the cancelation of major tours with online performances and in some cases, online “meet-and-greet” sessions. Other artists are broadcasting live online concerts from their homes to raise money and awareness for charitable causes. Many are simply sharing their music without financial compensation, as a form of catharsis, and to lift people up, give them hope, replace fear with joy. In this article we’ll look at livestreaming as a way to share our music—and enjoy and support the work of other performers—online.
Livestreaming refers to broadcasting a performance (or other presentation) that can be viewed in real time—as it happens. These events can be presented for free; with viewers having the option of contributing to a virtual tip jar; with a paywall, meaning attendees pay a set ticket price; or as part of a subscription.
Livestreaming Free Online Concerts
Free livestreamed concerts allow viewers access to online live performances without paying or tipping the artists. Free concerts can help performers to grow their fan bases, keep fans abreast of their latest material, bolster their fan connections, and publicize upcoming shows. While these events do not directly generate income, they can lead viewers to the artists’ websites where merchandise and other services might be purchased.
Some of the most popular platforms for presenting free online concerts include: Zoom, Facebook Live (which includes a way for viewers to make optional contributions), YouTube, Google Hangouts, Instagram Live, and LinkedIn Live.
Free Online Concerts with Tipping
Performers can monetize their performances by presenting livestreamed shows for free, while providing attendees the option to “tip” or make donations. By using an app provided by the hosting platform, viewers can make a one-time payment—a virtual tip. These payments can be made by using a credit card, PayPal, or with virtual currency specific to each platform.
Twitch is among the most popular platforms currently being used by performers to livestream concerts. Additional platforms that broadcast livestreamed events with opportunities for viewers to tip the performers include: Facebook Live, Mixer, Caffeine, Periscope, and YouTube Live.
As the name implies, a paywalled livestream requires viewers to pay an upfront “admission” fee, analogous to purchasing a ticket for a concert, to gain access. In some cases, the hosting company retains a percentage of ticket sales as a commission. In addition to a live performance, admission to paid events might grant guests a chance to chat with the performers, message each other, request songs, and engage in other interactions. Many companies that host paid livestreamed concerts archive the events and offer audience analytics.
Some of the most popular platforms for ticketed/paywalled events are: YouTube (through their “Official Artist Channel”), Run the World, Moment House, StageIt, Key, and Crowdcast. Some of these platforms offer both free and paid events.
Concerts for Subscribers
Performers can create their own YouTube channel allowing fans to subscribe and receive the latest content and information. Some artists who perform or provide other content to their fans on a regular basis offer a paid monthly subscription or membership. Steep Canyon Rangers, GRAMMY-winning bluegrass band, are using Patreon (powered by Crowdcast) to provide behind the scenes videos, chats, and additional exclusive content. Steep Canyon Rangers’ fans can choose from three tiers of membership with each level providing access to different content and interaction that includes song requests; songwriting, instrument, and vocal masterclass sessions; sneak peeks at new songs, and more.
Karen Allen (author of Twitch for Musicians Second Edition: A Step-by-Step Guide to Producing a Livestream, Growing Audience, and Making Money as a Musician on Twitch says “If you want to stream regularly, you really can’t beat a dedicated livestream community like Twitch or YouNow. YouNow has a large teen audience. Twitch has a large adult audience and all genres can find an audience there. The monetization is superior on those platforms and very much tied to the interactivity between the streamer and viewer, which is the most important part of a livestream. Since they are set up for nothing but livestreaming, discovery is better on dedicated livestream communities than on traditional social networks.
If you want to simulcast to more than one platform, I recommend Restream (restream.io), which can stream to 30+ platforms at once and blend the chat posts from the various platforms into one chat viewing window. This means you can watch all the comments coming in from all the platforms you’re streaming to in one place. Responding to chat posts is crucial to building community with your audience, and community is what keeps them coming back.”
Choosing a Location
You can broadcast from any location that has a reliable internet connection. But be aware that the ambience you create will impact your viewers’ experience. You might want to give your fans a sense of personal connection by broadcasting from your bedroom or living room. Another option is to provide a window into your music production and recording environment by streaming from your home studio. Whichever location you choose to broadcast from, remember that your lighting, setting, and overall production quality will significantly contribute to – or detract from – your viewers’ experience.
Maximize Your Audio and Visual Quality
While you can stream from your smartphone, you are likely to achieve the clearest and most reliable connection if you use a hard-wired computer. If your internet connection is via Wi-Fi, consider purchasing a high-speed router which will provide a faster connection. Basic models cost as little as $20, with top of the line routers costing more than $100. If you broadcast from your phone consider using a tripod or other stabilizing device to avoid the video appearing shaky.
To improve your audio and visual quality use an external microphone and an external webcam, as opposed to built-in devices. Basic webcams and microphones can be purchased for as little as $20 each, while more sophisticated models can cost more than $300.
When streaming from a mobile phone or tablet, an app can be used to connect external microphones and cameras to your device. Audio adaptors that send external audio signals from a mixing board directly to your mobile device can also play a big role in boosting your sonic quality.
According to Karen Allen, “You’ll get the best production quality by using a livestream production suite like OBS (obsproject.com, which is free!) and streaming from your computer.”
Do a test run – a virtual soundcheck – prior to your event and be sure to close any unneeded programs and windows when you go live.
To garner an audience, performers need to market and promote their livestreamed events, as they would do for their live shows. Those who have substantial mailing lists and social media followers can send out e-invitations. To expand your reach beyond your fan base consider placing ads or sponsored listings on social media. With a bit of research, you can determine which networks are most popular with your target audience.
List your concert in directories of virtual/livestreamed events, such as the one compiled by NPR. They can be an excellent resource in addition to a listing of events.
While livestreaming does not duplicate the excitement of attending a live concert in a room—or a stadium—full of fans, it is an alternative that can benefit the performers and viewers. In these extraordinary times let’s be grateful that there are still ways to share the joy and the healing power of music.
Jason Blume is the author of 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inside Songwriting (Billboard Books). His songs are on Grammy-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies. He has been a guest lecturer at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (co-founded by Sir Paul McCartney) and at the Berklee School of Music, and has been interviewed as a songwriting expert for CNN, NPR, and the New York Times. For information about his workshops, webinars, additional articles, and more, visit www.jasonblume.com.