Times of crisis are challenging for our local live music community and the ability to connect with fans is more important now than ever before. For musicians, the stay-at-home orders translated to no more gigging, touring, cowriting, book signing, etc. But these same times can be transformative, offering options and opportunities that we might never have considered before. Necessity requires us to reinvent ourselves. The pandemic has forced us to rethink what we’ve done in the past and, more significantly, figure out new ways to do things in the future, including how to get live music out there and how to make money doing it.
FACT: Music doesn’t stop in times of crisis. If anything, it becomes even more of a necessity, both as distraction and as inspiration. Every musician knows that they don’t stop playing when they don’t have a gig. As musicians, we make music because we can’t not make music. And we need to share it. We will find a way to get our music out there, even if stuck at home. At times like these, we will rally and make musical lemonade from medical lemons.
Stores and restaurants may be closed, but the audience is still there. And they are bored. They still need music — now more than ever. They need to feel a sense of connection to their favorite artists and to new artists that can inspire them. We just have to be more creative about finding them. (Being creative? That’s what we do every day, isn’t it?) Live streaming is the option that many have turned to right now when people can’t assemble anywhere except for online. Whether you’re a singer, songwriter, player, orchestra musicians, or full band, you can still reach your audience and fanbase even if you can’t play public concerts. And it’s important to keep your fans engaged, not just the ones who had tickets to that show that was canceled, but more so future fans that don’t know your music yet.
As Thomas Paine said in 1776, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” But, instead, I would change that to “These are the times that prove our souls.” Who has the creativity to overcome these circumstances? The big question is: Who will step up and be the musical hero of 2020? Will it be you?
1. Pick a Quiet Space There are all sorts of sounds that our minds filter out, but microphones are not so forgiving. Extraneous noises from pets, traffic, kids, telephones, refrigerators, heaters/air conditioners, and the like can be very distracting to a listener. Find a place where those noises are minimized. Don’t pick a big reverberant space that might distract from your message. It may look cool, but sometimes it makes it hard to hear the vocal or the instruments clearly.
2. Make It Sound Good
Here are some tips that are easy to implement that will help make your live stream sound best:
- Use an external mic. Many USB mics, including the AT2020USB+, Apogee HypeMic, or AKG Lyra, will plug directly into your cell phone (with an adapter), so you can produce studio-quality sound even just using your phone.
- Use a pop filter to keep from popping the mic.
- Use headphones, such as the Sennheiser HD 280 Pros, so you can hear what the mic is hearing — what your listeners are hearing.
- Use a wind shield if you’re outside to keep the wind noise down.
- Use a microphone, an audio interface, and a mixer, not just your phone microphone. Some mobile interfaces can connect to your smartphone or tablet and give you direct sound from your vocal mic, keyboard, guitar, etc.
- Use production software, such as iZotope Nectar, if you are working on a laptop to enhance the sound with high pass filtering, gating, compression, and EQ. It may not be studio quality, but it will make you stand out in a crowded field of content providers.
3. Make It Look Good
Have you ever seen a video where the background was so messy that it was distracting from the content? Think about what your audience will see before you start. Tidy up the on-camera space — it may make a great song, but nobody wants to see your dirty laundry. Some apps, such as Zoom, even offer virtual backgrounds, so you can appear to be anywhere, not just sitting in your bedroom. You can tape up some light-green poster board on the wall behind you and make your own green screen; and at under $1 per board, it’s very economical. Also, don’t just lean your phone against a Kleenex box or prop it up on the table under your face. Get a stand for your smartphone or tablet — some even connect to mic stands for lots of flexibility with angles.
4. Lighting Is Important
Make sure that people can see your face — that’s how they connect with you. Pull out those Christmas lights and string them around. Turn down the background lights. Put a soft light in front of you and maybe a halo light above and behind you.
5. Check Your Internet Connection If you are wired to your internet router, then you should be fine. If wireless (either Wi-Fi or cell service), double-check your connection speed before you start. Find the place that offers the most robust connection (ie: the most bars showing on your phone). We recently live streamed a wedding from the middle of an empty field and the 4G connection was too weak to maintain a good signal. Fortunately, we had a mobile hotspot which was available and we made it work. If the internet connection is too slow or inadequate for streaming, it will not only frustrate you but annoy your viewers to the point where they stop watching.
6. Choose a Streaming Platform
There are lots of platforms for live streaming with advantages to each. Review these before committing: Facebook Live, YouTube Live, Periscope via Twitter, Twitch.tv, Instagram Live, YouNow, IRIS, Ustream (now IBM Cloud Video), Dacast, Livestream, Brightcove and more gaining popularity every day. Social media networks are usually free but paid services may have further advantages depending on what your goals and budget might be.
7. Test It Before You Start
Have a friend watch and listen to a test stream before you go live. Don’t be the artist who goes live and says, “I don’t know if you guys can see me or hear me yet…” Think of the test run like you would a recorded rehearsal. Look at it objectively and make sure you are represented the way you want to appear — look, sound, demeanor, banter, background. Review it yourself and fix anything you don’t like about it before you go live.
TURN OFF NOTIFICATIONS! If you are using your phone to stream, turn sound and vibrations off or to set your phone to Do Not Disturb mode. You won’t want your listeners to hear “Rrrrrrr, rrrrrr” every time your friend messages you.
8. Promote It Ahead of Time
Let people know what time you’ll be doing your live show. Determine when your viewers will be available and pick a time during that window. On the weekends, people flip through their feeds most hours of the day. During a normal work week, most people will check their social networks around lunch time between Noon–2PM and after dinner around 6:30PM to bedtime. Give friends and fans ample time to put your show on their calendars and reserve the time. Even the best stream will underperform if people don’t know about it.
TIME ZONES! Remember to consider time zones when scheduling and include that in your promotions. Understand that starting after dinner on the West Coast may mean that your East Coast audience is already asleep.
9. Take Requests from the Audience
Interact with your viewers. Treat your live stream like an actual gig. You can’t see them, but they’ll be right there with you. Talk to your audience and acknowledge the people you see watching and commenting. If your performance is top-notch and you engage your audience, you’ll keep them on your stream longer. With Facebook Live, you can see comments right on the screen, but that may be distracting while you are performing. If you want, you can ask viewers to send in requests before you start.
If it’s an option, get a friend to help you by fielding comments and requests during your stream. They can also help you preview your content before you go live to the world.
People pay to hear music and to go to concerts all the time. Think of your viewers as your patrons, your supporters. They care about your art and your welfare. Many people genuinely want to help out, and especially to help struggling artists, during a time of distress. Platforms such as Venmo, Twitch, Patreon, Bandcamp, and others allow viewers to contribute to your livelihood. Remind people where they can buy your recordings or your merch online. Have links posted on your stream — graphic overlays or scrolling text are a continual reminder for viewers to contribute or buy. Mention your contribution options often, especially if you are doing a lengthy stream, realizing that viewers may come and go. Expect new viewers to show and some to drop off during every song.
Charitize: If you don’t need the money, then pick a charity to link to your stream. Streaming sites like Facebook and YouTube allow this. You can even create a fund yourself and allow the proceeds to go to your favorite charity. This will help you build an audience and support a noble cause at the same time.
11. Think like a Producer
Don’t just turn on the camera and vamp. You’re the sound engineer, the lighting director, quality control — it’s all you. This is your career. Artists are reinventing themselves every day. There will be artists who make their mark and launch their careers at this time by being creative and innovative. Be one of them.
Sure, we’ve all seen pro musicians who just turn on their phones and start recording. As celebrities, they will get views regardless. But higher production values will set you apart. For example, streaming apps (many have free trials) allow you to run your live stream like a real production with transitions/split screen, multiple camera angles, title cards/graphics, test streams that are only visible to you, and more. If your app allows for multiple smart devices to be used as cameras, mess around with different angles. A singer/keyboardist with two cameras could do a close-up of the keys and a wide angle showing the room, for example.
12. Remember — This Is the Big Time
Understand that this is your career. It’s not a momentary diversion. Treat this like the big time, not like just a rehearsal. If you are successful, people will be introduced to your talent for the first time. Do it right. As the old saying goes, “You only have one chance to make a first impression.” Make it a good one.
Special thanks to Doug Kaplan of Live Stream Entertainment for submitting these valuable tips from his many years of experience streaming live events worldwide. Feel free to contact him via his Facebook page or website with any questions or help live streaming your next event.
More Resources for Serious Live Streaming
- StreamYard – live streaming dashboard in your browser
- OBS Studio – Free and open source software for video recording and live streaming
- Facebook Live Producer – Links your encoding software and hardware to your Facebook page
- Crowdcast – the closest you’ll come to hosting a real conference but online
- Restream – lets you stream simultaneously to 30 different social platforms
- Castr.io – Powerful and Easy-to-use Streaming Platform (7 day free trial)
- PTZ cameras – remote controlled robotic video cameras that can pan, tilt and zoom
- StageIt – Earn money while streaming performances via a website built for live music