Music

Dear musicians: here's how to successfully host a live music event from home

From Facebook Live to Twitch, these are the platforms you should become familiar with now as live music makes its move online.

From Facebook Live to Twitch, these are the platforms you should become familiar with now

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many musicians are turning to online platforms to live stream performances for fans. (Arkells photo from Getty Images, graphic by CBC)

The COVID-19 pandemic has halted a number of businesses over the last couple of weeks. In the music industry, artists and many accompanying staff have been hit hard with the cancellation of music festivals and tours. 

Live Nation, one of the biggest live music companies in the world, saw its shares drop as much as 33 per cent this week alone, and that financial collapse is trickling down to local music venues that have been forced to close down temporarily, tour managers who are out of work and, again, the musicians who must now explore new ways of providing live music to their fans. 

One of the most immediate ways for musicians to continue performing is through live streaming, and we've seen a sharp rise in artists offering up daily, weekly or just one-time concerts for fans watching from home. 

But not everyone knows how to navigate the vast online world of streaming. Which platform should you use? Can you monetize these performances? 

Below, we've outlined some options.

In response to the early cancellation of Austin's South by Southwest, Brooklyn writer Cherie Hu has compiled a comprehensive Virtual Music Events Directory that aims to help others navigate the various ways to approach live streaming for musicians. For more information, we recommend reading the linked document. 


Social media platforms

Platforms that we already use on a regular basis such as Facebook and Instagram offer live streaming options and have quickly become the most popular way for musicians to host at-home concerts for fans to watch. John Legend, Coldplay, Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard, as well as Canadian musicians including Jenn Grant, Ria Mae and Lights, have all turned to Facebook and/or Instagram to entertain viewers during everyone's time of self-quarantine. 

While artists can't make money from Instagram lives, Facebook gives people the option to add a donation button to their live videos by using the iOS app or Android app. (You can only do that if you host your live from a Facebook profile or verified page.)

On March 19, the National Arts Centre teamed up with Facebook Canada to launch a new concert series called #CanadaPerforms, which includes a $100,000 fund that will provide short-term relief for artists whose jobs were affected by COVID-19. The performances will be streamed on the NAC's Facebook page, and Canadian artists can apply by e-mailing CanadaPerforms@nac-cna.ca to a part of this series.  

Side Door, an initiative started by Dan Mangan and Laura Simpson, is also lending a helping hand to artists looking to create virtual events. "Our booking manager has great experience in hosting live streaming events," their website states. If you go through them to help host your event, Side Door will also waive their 10 per cent split until the end of March. Mangan himself will be hosting a weekly series called #Quarantunes, and will be charging fans $6 per ticket to tune in. All proceeds from their upcoming March 21 show will go to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank.

YouTube, the world's biggest streaming service 

YouTube is another popular route, and has partnered with big events in the past, such as Coachella, to host performances. There are two ways to stream live from YouTube: directly through a webcam or mobile app (although the latter requires a channel with at least 1,000 subscribers in order to enable live streaming), or in a more customized manner using an encoder. The latter allows for you to capture content using your desktop, multiple cameras, microphone and more, and then send it to YouTube Live. Within YouTube's structure, you are able to promote channel memberships and merchandise to drive revenue. There is also Super Chat, an added function in your live chat box that allows viewers to donate money in return for a temporarily pinned comment.

Twitch and other 'free-to-play' options

Most people may know Twitch as the video game and eSports live streaming platform, but musicians are also welcome to use it to host live performances. Its "free-to-play" model means that streams are available for anyone to access and viewers can choose to engage in in-app tipping or pay to subscribe to your channel, if you create one. 

The website www.twitchformusicians.com gives newcomers a thorough guide to getting started. (For an added price, you can access a more comprehensive online course on building a musical career on Twitch.) "I've seen artists start their music careers from scratch on Twitch and end up streaming either as a full-time job or as a solid, part-time side hustle," Twitch for Musicians founder Karen Allen assures. 

Last year, frequent Grimes collaborator Hana live streamed her entire album recording process on Twitch. This week, Hana announced that she will be streaming every day on the platform. 

Twitch isn't the only "free-to-play" service. The following also include in-app donation or tipping capabilities: YouNow, Caffeine, Mixer and Periscope. (Caffeine's donation add-on is not available for all channels.) 

What if you want to stream to multiple platforms at once?

Some artists have capitalized on their streams by simulcasting to several places at once. This is possible through services that will connect your stream to Facebook and YouTube at the same, for example. Many of these services are free of charge. 

StreamYard is a popular option and can help musicians send live streams to Facebook, YouTube, Twitch and Periscope. Other ones that will connect you to similar platforms are Hovercast and Switcher Studio. For more advanced interfaces, there is also Streamlabs and Switchboard Live

Make sure your music sounds good via live stream

Sound quality is often sacrificed in virtual settings, but CBC Music's resident recording engineer Ron Skinner has some quick and easy tips on how to optimize your space and equipment. 

"There are a million different technical details and an equal amount of equipment choices available to musicians who want to stream their live performances from home," he says. "But for the best audio, it is important to remember the basics. Any recording engineer will tell you to make sure the sound is good at the source and that no amount of equipment can fix a bad performance."

Acoustics 

  • Make sure the room you are in sounds good to begin with. Check for any echo sounds. If your space is too "live"-sounding, maybe consider picking another room. Many people think they sound great in their bathroom, but that much echo might be too much echo for a live stream.
     
  • When in doubt, soft surfaces and a "dead" sound is always a good choice. Maybe set up on a carpet or go into a room with heavy curtains. Plants and soft furniture can also help eliminate bad sound reflections.

Microphone Placement

  • People often think that the closer the microphone is to the source, the better the sound will be. But generally, this isn't the case. Often when you move a microphone closer to an instrument, the amount of bass in the recording will increase, sometimes so much so that the sound is muffled and inaudible. If you have that problem, experiment with moving the microphone farther away, as opposed to closer.
     
  • If you are only using one microphone or just the microphone on your computer or phone, give some thought to where that microphone is placed. Can you adjust it to be in a place that picks up your instrument and voice at equal levels? A slight move up or down can make all the difference.

Sound Check

  • Experiment offline. Find the best-sounding spot in your home by making test recordings and listening back to them before going live. Once you find that sweet spot, try to find the best microphone placement, record again and listen back.
     
  • The soundcheck will be your time to make sure you sound your best, and, most importantly, it will give you time to feel comfortable performing before you go live. 

In a recent Q&A, Skinner added a few more pointers for those looking to record music at home. (To check out his full Q&As, head over to CBC Music's Twitter and Facebook pages.) 

On recording software for newcomers: 

"Unfortunately most recording software is hard to learn. Studio One is a great place to start. It might involve some training. Get online and watch as many training videos as possible, and crack open the manual. It is a tough slog and steep learning curve for sure. If you are on a Mac you could use GarageBand. It will have the basics and will get you started then you can take what you learn from that and apply it back to Studio One."

On connecting your mixer directly to live streaming platforms: 

"Does your mixer have sound card interface capabilities? Does it have USB or other way of connecting to your computer? If yes, then generally the driver that makes that mixer available to your recording software like Audacity will also make your mixer the main audio feed for Facebook, Zoom, etc. Often your audio interface automatically overrides your computers on-board mic and speakers. They are intended to be plug-and-play. But you will definitely need to do some research. Every mixer is different and I probably can't get in to diagnosis of your exact situation on Facebook. You could start by trying to do a Facetime or Hangouts with a friend, using the mixer as the audio interface."

On purchasing and using a mic shield at home:

"There is nothing better than recording in a good sounding environment, but when you are in a room that doesn't sound great then these can be a big help. I own one and have used it a lot. It will help eliminate any strange echoes you are getting in your vocal recording. But the downside is that your voice will sound a bit dead and close, so it is a trade-off. I can also imagine these could help with other instruments as well but they are mostly designed with vocal in mind."

And on recording a piano performance using your phone: 

"Your smart phone is a great place to start. The weakest link will be the microphone in your phone. They are designed for talk and not music. But starting is the important part. Also be sure to do a lot of experimenting. Record yourself from different positions to find the best placement for the phone's microphone especially if you are singing and playing the piano. I think if you decide to do this on a higher level you will have learned a lot by starting with your phone and will use that to decide where to go next."

Musician Mac DeMarco is also offering recording tips in a new web series called "Advanced Studio Recording Techniques." That can be found on the website, Eternal Family.

Moving meet-and-greets online 

Meet-and-greet VIP packages have been one of many ways artists (particularly bigger stars like Avril Lavigne, Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift) have been able to pocket extra income while on tour. But since tours have been largely postponed or cancelled, in-person interaction with fans have also been sidelined. There are some virtual options, though. 

Sites like Looped and Chatalyze charge people money to spend time with their favourite artists. For example, a one-minute meet-and-greet on Looped will cost you $50. While fans wait, they are able to join an interactive waiting room. Artists who have used Looped include Backstreet Boys' AJ McLean, David Foster and KT Tunstall.

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