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How to do an online gig

It’s hard to get by in the music industry at the best of times, but especially so during the COVID-19 crisis. The emergency has led to tours being cancelled; album releases shelved; media appearances curtailed. All this has significant economic implications for musicians. However, any crisis brings with it many new ways of looking at the world, and despite the multitude of negatives inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic, there are nonetheless some positives to be unearthed, and innovative ways of working to be explored. In the music industry, the recent rise in the popularity of the online gig is probably the biggest example of a positive, useful new way of working brought about by the current situation. So, in this post, I’m going to discuss the various ways you can run an online concert — either as a gift to your fans or as a way to generate income for your band or project. Running online free gigs If you simply want to broadcast a free show to your following, then it’s hard to argue with using Facebook Live as a means of doing so. You can use a phone or your computer to broadcast — it’s simply a case of choosing the ‘live video’ option when posting a status update. The main advantage of using Facebook Live is that you can get quite a wide reach for your online gig — it’s easy for people watching your show to share it easily with others. Your more engaged followers will usually get an automatic notification that you’re broadcasting too, which also helps from a promo point of view. Another option when it comes to playing a free online gig is to use YouTube Live. As with Facebook Live, you can broadcast straight from your phone or computer, and some of your YouTube following will get notifications of your event. There’s also the option of Instagram Live, which also allows you to stream a gig for free, and works in a similar way to Facebook Live and YouTube Live. Finally, there’s also the now-ubiquitous free Zoom option (but remember that this caps your audience to 100 viewers…and watch out for Zoom bombers!). Which of the above options is best for you probably boils down to where your following lives: if it’s mainly on Facebook, use Facebook live; if most of your followers are YouTube subscribers, use YouTube etc. Zoom’s a good option if you don’t really have a following on either, and rely on a mailing list to engage your listeners. Running paid gigs Free gigs are a great way to keep your audience engaged during the lockdown — but many musicians depend on touring income to make a living, and free gigs are for obvious reasons not going to replace that. But the good news is that it’s very possible to generate income from streamed gigs — and because anyone can tune in, regardless of their geographical location, the income generation possibilities in question can be quite significant. There are a few different ways to go about this. Paypal + a streaming link A lo-fi — but often quite effective — way to host a paid-for online gig is just to charge people a fee via Paypal and then email a link to a live stream of the show to everybody who has paid it. This could be, for example, a Zoom link — but note that the number of people who can watch your show on Zoom will be limited by the plan you’re on. For example, the free Zoom plan caps the participant number to 100 and the length of the stream to 40 minutes. Fine for small-scale events, but a bit limiting for any act with a large following. If you’re a G Suite user, using Google Hangouts is another option — in the light of the COVID-19 crisis, they’ve upped their participant limit to 250. But if you are serious about online streaming, and have a large following, you’re probably going to need to look at a more professional setup — and one which facilitates larger audiences. This brings us on to… Dedicated online gig streaming platforms If you have a large fanbase, online gigs are potentially very lucrative. If, say, you can convince 1000 people to pay £10 each to watch your show, then an hour’s performance could net you...well, you do the maths :) However, in this context, free or low-cost options like Zoom or Google Hangouts are not necessarily going to cut the mustard, and you’re going to have to look at products that let you live stream on a larger scale. One of the better-known choices here is StageIt — a platform that lets you host online shows to large audiences and charge people to view them. On the plus side, this is an established platform that well-known acts use to host shows. On the down side, Stageit takes quite a large percentage of ticket sales and its ‘notes’ system for buying and selling access to your shows is unnecessarily confusing. Another option is Crowdcast — this involves a sizeable monthly fee ($20 per month to $139 depending on plan) plus a small cut of your sales (2%-5%, again depending on plan) — but its higher tier plans allow you to broadcast your show to a large number of people (1000) and its integration with Stripe makes accepting payments for shows really straightforward. It also works with Patreon, which may be helpful for some musicians. The ‘tip jar’ approach If you want to monetize your live online performances, but aren’t 100% comfortable with charging people upfront to view your shows, you could consider the ‘tip jar’ approach. This means hosting your show for free, but encouraging people to donate to an online tip jar or honesty box if they enjoy the performance. So, for example, if you were hosting your show on Facebook Live, you could periodically encourage people to donate to the tip jar — this could simply be a link to Paypal or to a ‘donate’ page on your website. Charging for recorded performances All the approaches discussed above assume your online gig is going to be live — but remember that you could consider making a recorded gig available online too. You could either package up a previous live performance (or performances) into a show that you then make available online, or you could record new versions of your songs. Either of these recorded options might make your online show a bit more interesting because they open up the possibility of a performance involving multiple musicians. Live acoustic streams are all well and good, but full-band performances are usually a bit more exciting for listeners. In the current social distancing context however, if you want to make a ‘new’ show featuring all the members of your band, this is likely to mean everyone in your band filming themselves recording their parts on their own, and stitching it together using some editing software. But done right, it can make for some really valuable new content. Once you’ve got your pre-recorded online show ready to go, you can distribute it for free by uploading it to Facebook or YouTube; or alternatively, make it available to buy in a variety of ways. Online store builders like Wix or Squarespace make it pretty easy to sell digital files / videos online; you could also consider going down the ‘Paypal + link to content’ route (for example, take payment via Paypal and then provide buyers with a link to a downloadable video on Dropbox etc.). Getting the production values right No matter whether you host your show for free or on a paid-for basis, it’s vital that you get the production values as high as possible. So, rather than using a built-in microphone to capture audio, use a decent microphone plugged into an audio interface if you can. Similarly, when it comes to video, consider using an external camera rather than a built-in webcam; and if you do end up broadcasting via a phone, think about using a tripod to get a nicely composed shot rather than just plonking your device on a table at an angle which picks up a double chin or two. If you really want to take things up a notch, you could also think about incorporating some lights; you can pick these up surprisingly cheaply and they can really improve the quality of your broadcast. (Even a well positioned anglepoise table lamp can help quite a bit here). And, depending on how seriously you’re taking online gigging, you might want to think about using dedicated encoder hardware or software to stream your shows. These are, respectively, boxes or applications that help you incorporate and encode multiple sources of audio and video together more effectively and professionally. (To be honest, they’re more suited to larger-scale events requiring lots of camera angles than the sort of ‘bedroom shows’ that are being carried out by musicians during the COVID-19 lockdown — so maybe one to consider down the line). Finally, one thing that can make a HUGE difference to the sound quality of your show is the equipment that your viewers are listening to it on. At the start of your online gig, always encourage them to make use of headphones or decent speakers during the show, rather than listening through tinny smartphone or laptop speakers. Marketing your online gigs “Build it and they will come” only takes you so far in the music business, and online gigs are no exception to that. Without proper promotion, you can end up with the best sounding, fantastically-lit online show — but only a few viewers for it. So, make sure that you promote your show well in advance of it taking place, sending an e-newsletter to your mailing list and posting news on your social media profiles to flag it up to your following. You may wish to consider some boosted Facebook posts or Twitter ads to promote the show to make sure your social following is fully aware of it — by default, their algorithms won’t show news of it to all your followers. (Tip: make sure you read our article on why mailing lists matter so much to bands — a lot of the info it contains is very relevant to doing online gigs). Good luck with your online show, and if you have any tips of your own on how to run an online gig, we’d love you to share them below. On a final note, all of us at Prescription PR would like to send you our best wishes during this strange time. Stay well and safe.

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