Another day, another livestream. Well, probably another thousand of them. A year ago, livestreams were defined by their rarity, now they are defined by their ubiquity. So how to stand out in a market that has suddenly become very busy? We speak to those leading the way here to learn what works, what doesn’t, how you can pick the platform that best suits you, what partnerships can be forged, where technology’s potential can be harnessed, how you can make money and what future livestreams will have when real-world concerts (eventually) return.
It is a mark of the adaptability of human beings in general and music fans in particular that the livestreamed gig has, in the months since the global pandemic hit, gone from being a shiny novelty to simply becoming part of the music industry furniture. So successful has livestreaming become, in fact, that it seems both perverse and wasteful that just six months ago few in the music business were even considering streaming their live gigs to a wider audience, despite the tools to do so being readily available.
Speaking on Music Ally’s recent online TV show, Russ Tannen, the chief revenue officer for mobile ticketing platform Dice, explained that livestreaming is “a brand new format” for live music. “It’s not an hour-long music video and it’s not the same as going and doing Jools Holland or a TV performance – it’s probably somewhere in the middle,” he said. “And that is something that is exciting and that has real value for fans.”
Tannen compared livestreaming gigs to watching football. “If you are a Manchester United fan, the best experience that you can have is to get the ticket for Manchester United and go to Old Trafford,” he said. “The second best experience is probably being in the pub with your mates and watching the game. The third is probably at home, watching it on BT Sports or Sky Sports. You are paying, either way: you are paying for the ticket; your pub is paying for the licence; or you are paying for your subscription to BT Sport. What we do in music is we say, ‘If you can’t get the tickets to Old Trafford, you can’t see the game.’”
Or perhaps more accurately, that is what the music industry used to say, pre-Covid. That’s because the past few months have seen numerous examples of successful livestreamed gigs, from BTS’s Bang Bang Con: The Live concert, which attracted 756,000 paying customers, to Laura Marling’s recent Union Chapel gig, for which she sold around 6,500 tickets at £12 each.
For all this, though, confusion still abounds among artists, labels and managers as to how to make a livestream work. Hence Music Ally today presenting its practical guide to livestreaming.
Platform-ula: knowing which service to choose
The first question for an artist who wants to take the leap into livestreaming is possibly the most complex – namely which platform to use. There is an embarrassment of choice, from the generalists (Instagram Live, Zoom, YouTube Live, Facebook Live, Twitter, TikTok, Twitch, YouNow) to the wealth of bespoke platforms (StageIt, Maestro, Sessions, Moment House, Mixcloud).
It is possible to use this abundance to your advantage, as British artist L Devine did, embarking on a URL Tour at the end of March when her physical tour was cancelled.
“L Devine was days away from joining Fletcher as support on her European/UK tour when Covid-19 lockdowns began in Europe,” her manager Teresa Raeburn of Major Influence explains. “As physically being on tour was now not an option, the idea was to instead tour social platforms, treating each one as a different venue in a different city. We wanted to reach as many fans as possible and, as users differ per platform, create bespoke shows for each of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok.”
Each platform, clearly has its own advantages, with the general rule of thumb being that the wider the potential audience, the lower the engagement.
Dan Mangan, a Canadian musician and co-founder of concert platform Side Door, which in April launched a ticketing platform for livestreamed shows, makes a comparison between broadcast online gigs, with big potential reach and little interaction, and “busking in an airport”.
“I have learned through this process that I would rather play an online version of a dimly lit club that is focused and attentive – everyone’s paid to be there, they’ve made time in their lives to be there – rather than trying to busk for thousands or millions of people who don’t really care,” he says. He adds that on an Instagram Live gig, half the audience typically leaves after three minutes.
Mangan argues in favour of using lockdown favourite Zoom for livestreamed gigs, which caps audiences at 1,000 people and allows for greater interaction. (Side Door, it is worth mentioning, sells tickets for Zoom gigs. But Mangan says the company is also looking to work with other platforms, with Vimeo next in line.)
“Zoom has barriers – it doesn’t sound quite as good as YouTube; it doesn’t look quite as good as YouTube,” Mangan says. “But the slight degradation infidelity is over-compensated tenfold with this whole other thing, which is the interactivity. Being able to see the audience; the audience can see each other; all kinds of crazy behaviours are happening.”
The latter point, he explains, is particularly important. People frequently buy tickets for their friends for livestream gigs and they like to be able to see and interact with them as they watch.
“You can see 25 people’s homes at once in Zoom’s Gallery view,” Mangan says. “It’s like humanity in your face […] The music or the performance is the magnet, the nucleus, the thing drawing people in, the reason why they are buying a ticket. But if we are getting to the core of what you are buying a ticket to do, it is to feel like a part of a community.”
Standing out or missing out
Choosing the right platform is a big task – and it is worth reading journalist Cherie Hu’s 19-page guide to online streaming platforms. But it is far from the only decision to take. After setting a date and time for your livestream, taking into account the demands of a global audience, artists need to decide how to promote it. In many ways, this is the same as promoting any physical show with the (admittedly pretty major) difference that you will be targeting fans all over the world (unless the show is geofenced).
Sometimes, the gig itself can become the story, as happened with L Devine. “Announcing the URL Tour was a press moment for L Devine, with coverage including the Guardian, NME, BBC and BuzzFeed, in addition to top-performing posts/high engagement across her socials,” says Braeburn.
“In this instance, the framework of the tour certainly helped to push the message wide and we worked with all partners to ensure best practice. Also, timing was key. She was Artist Of The Day on the Facebook Music page and the Facebook Live was boosted across the European territories she would’ve played in with Fletcher, reaching 2.6m users.”
Now that livestreaming has become part of the furniture, though, this kind of buzz is considerably less likely to happen. That means picking up the promotional slack yourself. In this, the judicious use of partnerships, either with venues or promoters, can help significantly.
This will most likely involve them taking a share of ticket sales, which might seem wasteful when artists are missing out on live revenue. But it’s worth remembering that venues and promoters are suffering too and, if we want the live industry to return to anything like its pre-Covid state, it is worth extending a helping hand where possible. What’s more, these partners have expertise in arranging and publicising gigs, particularly on a local level, which is helpful when embarking on the new breed of geofenced livestream tours.
British singer-songwriter Roxanne de Bastion took this collaborative approach for her recent virtual tour of the UK, teaming up with local venues and promoters for every date, with the gig streamed through the local partner’s Facebook and Instagram channels. Fans were able to donate via her PayPal and the tour proved a success, with de Bastion telling Music Ally TV that she took about the same amount of money via her virtual tour as she would have done with a physical one.
Mangan stresses the importance of creating scarcity – or the impression of such – around your livestream gig. “You need to think of it like a real show: if you were playing every night in your home town, in some bar, and then you put on a ticketed show at a slightly bigger bar, how many people are going to go to the slightly bigger bar?” he asks.
“What I would not recommend is putting a show on sale then playing every night on Instagram Live. You need to create some scarcity, come to the show with a unique value proposition […] Create some marketing. Create a cool video that promotes the show that people can share, maybe create some visual assets like a poster that you can put online.”
Similarly, he believes artists should not put up a series of livestream gigs for sale at the same time. “People are so tempted to post online, ‘I am doing seven weeks in a row, I am going to play each album of mine.’ And what we find is that when you put a ton of shows online, none of them sells well,” Mangan says.
“You are way better off putting one show on sale that has a really unique value proposition and a cool marketing video and selling that show out, then immediately announcing another show a couple of weeks later.”
Getting the finer details right
The same things that make a livestream show marketable in advance – uniqueness, scarcity and a strong theme – will also make it memorable after the fact. In a recent blog titled ‘20 things we’ve learned about Music Live Streaming’, Dice CEO Phil Hutcheon talked about the importance of making your shows memorable. “Think about something you’ve always wanted to do,” he wrote. “This is the time for creativity, so how can you adapt the medium of video to represent yourself or your artists? That doesn’t mean spending a fortune. Genuine intimacy or a unique performance is the most impactful. Laura Marling’s show at Union Chapel is an example of this.”
Ric Salmon, of Marling’s management company, ATC Management, says that “everything has to be right” to make a success of a livestream.
“The combination of artist, director, venue, sound engineer, DOP [director of photography], each crew member, technology, the marketing and timing – it all has to be perfect,” he says. “We have a large range of artists we’re going on sale with over the coming weeks and every show is completely different, with a totally unique approach to the creative. We have to be adept at working across different genres, different dynamics, incorporating different venues and styles. It’s all about collaboration with the artist and their team to deliver their vision.”
Most importantly, Salmon says that his artists “seem to absolutely love the different performance environment” that a livestream offers.
“Performing a full-production live show, but with no audience, is incredibly liberating,” he says. “What you can do with the space, how you can shoot it, how close you can get – without worrying about sightlines of the audience – the intensity that creates. It’s really exciting.”
Interaction is another key theme, according to Mixcloud co-founder and CEO Nico Perez. “The novelty of the kitchen/ bedroom/living room livestream is wearing off,” he says. “The ones who are winning are doing conversations, making it interactive, adding visual effects.”
Raeburn agrees, explaining how L Devine used tools that were native to each of the platforms she played on during her URL Tour.
“Each show was tailored to the platform, using engagement tools native to each platform, and to L’s fans on each platform,” she says. “Instagram Live is more suited to an intimate show on acoustic guitar, shot in portrait on a phone, whereas for Twitter, we could livestream a fullscreen live show set-up, complete with her L lightbox and keys player. Ensuring each show was different was key.”
Devine also carefully laid the groundwork for the tour in advance. “As the tour dates were announced in advance, fans sent in questions and requests. As she would in a live show, she was able to speak directly to the fans, answer their questions, do birthday shout outs, share jokes and stories, and ensure the intimacy of a live gig,” Raeburn explains.
A two-way stream
Ari Evans, founder and CEO of Maestro, says that artists need to create “a feedback loop with the viewers”.
“Creators need to embrace the fact that the internet is not a one-way broadcast medium,” he says. “Think about how you design your content and storytelling with segments that bring the audience into the experience. Shout out fans by name when you can – it makes their week. Create the intimacy that breeds deeper fan relationships.”
Evans explains how Erykah Badu achieved this in a recent livestream.
“Erykah Badu did a livestream with us where she came up with a setlist but allowed the audience to choose which room in her house she performed it in,” he says. “One room was her bedroom with traditional instrumentation, another was a Bossanova room with a noir look and feel, and the third was an experimental room with beat machines and synthesisers. It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever seen for a concert and something that would be extremely difficult to pull off outside of a livestream context.”
Interaction, too, is key for Mangan. He goes so far as to use a moderator for his livestream shows, to ensure that audience interaction runs smoothly. “When you buy a ticket to one of my shows you get the moderator’s email address and it will say, ‘Hey, feel free to email Mark with a story about a song.’” Mangan explains.
“We have a loose script and he [the moderator] will do a pre-show, we play music from my special surprise guest from the previous show and put their album up […] The show begins, I play some songs and then he will bring up some people. And he’s got a script, people that he has pre-canvassed, pre-vetted.”
At the same time, Mangan acknowledges that this kind of approach may not be right for all artists.
“I’m like a dude with a guitar,” he says. “I’m a songwriter guy. So it makes a lot of sense for me to do an interactive show […] I’ve never been a mysterious person. But some artists aren’t like that; some artists thrive behind the veil and they want to do a heavy-on-the-arts-side projection and smoke and mirrors and turn their studio into a soundstage and that’s great. Figure out what your audience likes and figure out how you represent yourself in this medium.”
VR, AR and the next leaps forward
For showier artists, VR and AR could play a role.
Cypress Hill, for example, recently played a live 360° show via MelodyVR, in which fans could “virtually stand next to Cypress Hill while watching the story of the band told on bespoke video walls”; Travis Scott’s celebrated Fortnite show, while not live in the literal sense, also gained huge acclaim for its virtual staging, which included underwater scenes and rollercoasters.
Evans, however, advises caution about going too far technologically. “Someday VR will be important,” he says. “In 2020, the answer is definitely ‘no’ for the simple fact that there are not enough devices and the user flows are far too complex. The tech just isn’t there yet, but we are bullish on VR for the future.”
Evans adds that there are, at the moment, “so many simpler experiences we have yet to explore that are immediately accessible today”.
“For example, watch together and social experiences using web or phone cameras,” he explains. “Gamification weaved into streams. More ways for fans to interact with each other and with the artist. How can we mirror the experience of making a new friend at a show? These basic concepts don’t require complex technologies, though of course they can assist and unlock new ways to achieve those objectives.”
Dice’s Tannen agrees. “It’s important that we don’t bombard fans with too many brand-new things at once,” he told Music Ally TV. “We’re already asking people to pay for a livestream, which is something they have never done before. We’re already asking them to sit in on a Saturday night and watch a concert instead of Netflix, which is something we’re new to as well. We shouldn’t overcomplicate this. We should try to lean into things that people are already familiar with.”
Another thing that audiences are familiar with is buying tickets and there is widespread agreement that artists should start to charge for their livestream gigs. Artists, of course, have to pay their bills like anyone else and income from livestreams can also be put towards production, allowing artists to stage even better live events, in what should be a virtuous circle.
At the same time, audiences are more likely to pay attention to something they have forked out for. “People are happy to pay,” says Mangan, who started off charging CAD$6 for each virtual show, which he has since increased to CAD$10. “When they do pay a little bit of money for it, even $6, they put it in their calendar, they make time for it in their life,” he says. “Right out of the gate we found that over 90% of our ticketholders were watching 100% of the show.”
Ticketing, of course, is Side Door’s business model, with the company recently launching “completely secure and gated” tickets for Zoom shows. But charging for tickets is only one way to make money from livestream shows. Many artists ask for donations via their PayPal accounts while they play, a subtle nudge that does little to disrupt the flow of the performance, and there have been instances of artists offering VIP packages to their virtual gigs.
For David Guetta’s recent livestreamed DJ set in New York – which raised money for those affected by Covid-19 – fans could buy invites to a “private Zoom” where they could “dance and party with Guetta”, essentially appearing on a Zoom call in front of Guetta as he DJed, while the rest of the world watched a bog-standard livestream.
Merchandise can also play a role. Tannen told Music Ally TV about the idea of the virtual merchandise stand to go with the virtual gig. “The idea [is] of having a private merch store online that gets sent to the fans who attended the stream or who paid for a ticket, just at the end of the show. It’s like an hour window at the end, limited- edition merchandise, based on that event,” he explained.
A hybrid future?
This is just one of the fascinating ideas floating around the livestream gig as the practice becomes ever more mainstream. We don’t, of course, know yet when the world will go back to pre-Covid normality, but most people in the industry agree that livestream gigs will be a part of the equation when we can start attending real-life gigs once more.
Tannen says that Dice is already seeing the advent of hybrid live/livestreamed shows in mainland Europe. “I think we can safely say that is going to be what happens going forward, especially while gigs are going to have to be socially distanced,” he told Music Ally TV. “You won’t be able to get as many people into the room, so it’s helpful to have another revenue stream there. You might not be able to watch the London headline show of an artist or the New York headline show of an artist that you want to see or the hometown show; and we can open that up to fans around the world.”
Indeed, Dice has been encouraging live music spaces to develop their livestreaming capabilities during this period of enforced shutdown, with venues such as the Islington Assembly Hall and the Camden Underworld (both in London) now set up to stream live gigs.
Mangan is equally convinced that livestreaming is here to stay.
“What we are going to find a year from now is that every single successful venue is going to have a built-in, five-camera setup that is turnkey, so that any show that they want to stream they can,” he says. “And you are going to see multiple tiers of ticketing for offline and online. Already the fact that there are people from all over the world who are tuning into these shows week after week, we are scratching an itch. There has been a demand for years and years and years that has never been met.”