Online concerts: how to organize in the best way

The quarantine eventually ends, but online concerts are going to become a long-lasting phenomenon. For this reason, we’ve collected effective tips from those who had wide live stream experience and the ones who did online gigs for the first time facing a bunch of challenges.

The beginning of 2020 was unpredictable due to a whirlwind of events, and now life seems like an anti-utopian novel. The world has changed all of a sudden, and people working in different spheres had to show their flexibility and quickly adapt to new circumstances. Everyone has experienced and keeps on experiencing losses, and the music industry is changing dramatically. Things got tough for live performances in particular. Nevertheless, musicians from all over the world have handled the current situation and started to hold online concerts during the quarantine.

Artists working in different genres make streams daily. KADAVAR was forced to stop touring, but the band members ended up giving a Facebook live stream concert right from their studio in Berlin. David Gilmour made numerous streams that were more alike to home gatherings — the whole family sits at the table, he plays the acoustic guitar and sings, whereas his wife Polly Samson, a writer and songwriter, reads excerpts from her new book, A Theater For Dreamers. Norman Branno, a former Texas Is the Reason guitarist, author, and editor of the 90s zine Anti-Matter anthology, launched a series of Instagram interviews Stay the F*ck Home: The Isolation Interviews. He has already interviewed Geoff Rickly (Thursday), Jeremy Bolm (Touché Amoré), and Dennis Lyxzén (Refused).

Online streams have appeared in Ukraine too, and for now, this is an understudied phenomenon. Today, Ukrainian musicians are just starting to hold their first online concerts, so they may have issues while setting up the sound and video. This article is aimed to help with planning an excellent online concert as well as establish close contact with your audience and attract new viewers.

Why do you need an online concert?

The reasons to hold an online concert can be different: to present your band, to communicate with the audience, to have fun or to make money. It’s important to remember that live streaming is a marketing tool that is sometimes used in the wrong way. This tool can help you attract new audiences, sell merch or music on streaming platforms, and receive donations. However, if your online concert is not engaging, you may only waste time and money.

Online concert promo

To start, you need to choose the right streaming time. Preferably, when Champions League matches aren’t played. Also, take into account if other bands with the same target audience have concerts on this day. After that, you need to promote the upcoming online concert on your social media and relevant public pages. The sooner your audience knows you’re giving a concert, the better. Let’s say, if people are aware that the concert is held in a week at 8 PM, the more likely they find time to watch your stream. It’s also a great idea to involve the media in your online concert promotion. And make sure you remind viewers of the upcoming live stream at least once every few days. For example, you can post teasers to raise interest.

The technical side of streams

There are a few options for organizing online concerts and setting up the sound at your disposal: you can either do it on your own or hire professionals who’ll provide the location and necessary tools.

Max Tovstyi started to host live streams from the first days of quarantine, and now he offers the services of BrokenBricks Studios. He listed the tools needed for the stream: the condenser and dynamic microphone Shure SM58, mixing board, MOTU M2 interface, Mustang Floor guitar processor, Canon 6D camera, and spotlights. He says, "Firstly, you need good equipment, and it’s not cheap. And secondly, it will be hard for inexperienced musicians to set up all these devices".

Andriy Izdryk, a producer and sound director of Tut i zaraz, was concerned about the poor quality of online concerts he watched. That’s why he organized a free webinar for Ukrainian artists. He emphasizes that the raw garage sound doesn’t work for every musician, and such a sound choice must be conscious. He says, "Good sound is a part of good music. The sound matters a lot for those who value the music they play and listeners they have." Andriy has shared tips on how to make your sound great:

  1. Treat your home gig as if it was a live concert at a bar. Think of the show plan, write down comments on songs you perform and conversations between songs, check your rider, prepare equipment, turn on a mixer (even an 8-channel mixer will be fine), set up your stereo, connect it to video, and start streaming.
  2. Besides video, the task is just the same as for a usual live show. Everything you use on the stage except speakers will be needed during the home concert too.
  3. If you want to stream from your smartphone, connect it to an audio interface. You can choose Focusrite or Steinberg, they work well with tablets or smartphones (this mode is called class-compliant).
  4. If you don’t have any audio interface, you can use a mobile analog-to-digital converter, for example, the one made by iRig.
  5. If you want to have a mix in DAW (digital audio workstation for recording and editing digital audio) instead of using a mixer board, feel free to do it. Don’t use the same computer for audio processing and live streaming — streaming may be unstable, and you can easily exceed the processor resource limit. It’s better to use one computer for stereo, and the other one to show a stream. You won’t lose a lot on the digit-analog-digit conversion, but you’ll obviously win on the stream stability.
  6. Think of some camera movement, angle changing, etc. Then, take into consideration the number of cameras and lighting. Lighting matters a lot here. Sometimes you can get a decent video recorded on a cheap web camera. And this is only possible when the lighting is nice.

Why does content matter?

Dmitry Stoylovsky, the music editor who accompanied Andriy Izdryk at the webinar, says, "The offline concert factors like the stage, sound, lighting, and crowd involve the audience into the show. However, these factors are absent in online concerts, and it’s impossible to create the same vibe. You need to attract viewers with something else and keep their attention".

Sasha Boole was one of the first in Ukraine to give online concerts. He advises paying attention to the concert content:

He says, "Performers should understand that the audience won’t be able to enjoy the light show and powerful sound. Your performance should dazzle with other aspects. Playing music is not enough. You need to be amusing. You can alternate songs with something else. It depends on the performer. I tell stories".

After conversations with musicians mentioned above, we’ve composed a list of ideas that will help you draw viewers’ attention:

  1. Write a script or at least note a few points on how the concert should go and what you should tell.
  2. Think of a tracklist.
  3. Communicate with your audience — ask questions and respond to comments.
  4. Do not ask questions like "What should I play?" and "What should I tell you?". It won’t spark any interest.
  5. Prepare a few stories and jokes in advance, recollect any weird cases you had.
  6. Don't make long pauses between songs, interact with other guys from your band.
  7. If you don't know how to fill in pauses, find someone to assist you on your stream.
  8. Don't focus on failures if there are any, keep on playing. If you’ve messed up, and it’s obvious to the audience, try to make a joke out of it — relevant humor smoothes over any awkwardness.
  9. Look for custom solutions. You can experiment and find the new sound of your songs. For example, play songs on an acoustic guitar or ukulele.
  10. If there are any sound issues, make sure that at least your video has excellent quality.

Besides your target audience, a new audience will certainly come to watch your online concert. You need to draw the attention of newcomers and make them want to stay. Dmitry Stoylovsky says, "There are three components of an online concert: the sound, video, and pause fillers. The better is each of them, the more likely your concert will be viewed and shared. Also, this is going to be additional content for your YouTube channel. You can create a tag like #musicandquarantine2020, edit your recorded stream, and make live music videos out of it if the video quality is good".

Check out Dmitry's Facebook page to find detailed tips and ideas on hosting online concerts.

How does it work in practice?

Band members of ShamRocks had the online concert instead of the live performance in Kyiv — it was canceled because of quarantine:

They said, "Everyone already knew about the concert, we only announced the format is going to be different. Since we had quarantine, the celebration of St. Patrick's Day (the holiday of the year!) was significantly limited, and our online concert was a kind of gift to our viewers. We’ve thought of donations at the last moment. Our band appreciates that our viewers actively supported us. Some of them were joking that their donation was a fee for an entry ticket.".

The sound was a priority for Motanka, they spent most of their efforts and time working on it:

Musicians say, "It took us a few days to prepare for the show and learn how streaming equipment works. And we needed 2.5 hours to plug instruments and set up the sound at the studio." They had to cancel more than ten scheduled shows, and this significantly affected their income. The audience’s donations were just in time, however, it wasn't the prime goal. The band commented, "We just wanted to play some music, support and encourage people, talk to them".

Live streams became a new activity for guys working at More Music Club, and they learned everything on their own while hosting shows. Their first gigs were streamed right from an iPhone:

"They say, "On April 8, we combined our efforts to get the sound and video of high quality and air on YouTube. We are lucky that our audience got used to the fact we have 3-4 events a week at the club. So after a 2-week break, we started announcing online concerts, and the audience immediately responded. It’s a great advantage to show our local underground bands both to Ukrainian viewers and viewers from around the world".

Sometimes you have to change plans at the last minute. So the guys from O’Hamsters had to switch from the online concert to the online fan meeting.

Musicians say, "At first, we agreed to have a concert at one location. Then, 2 days before the concert, we discovered that our gig won’t be hosted there. We found another one, and again, everything was canceled one day before the stream. It’s difficult to find the location now, rehearsal studios are mostly locked down. You can only hold a stream at places that specialize in live streams, but there’s a queue of artists who want to rent them. We wanted to find something more like a club than a rehearsal studio. This decision probably played a sick joke." After all, band members made a Zoom meeting and streamed it on YouTube. They edited and showed a 30-minute video of their tour adventures, created the unique merch dedicated to the stream, and made it available for orders (instead of donations) during the online gig and the next day. The band made a contest, gave a T-shirt to the winner, presented new branded hoodies, and showed small pieces of two new songs.

Talking about finances, almost all musicians agreed that the event organization cost equals the cost of a live show in a small club provided that the band doesn’t have its own studio or video equipment.

Since live streams became popular among musicians, some locations offer organization services to performers: Ukrainian Main Stream (launched by H.L.A.M. and RIDER RENT founders, supported by Projection Systems), Kiev Livestream, and many more. HVLV, the bar in Kyiv, was going to host some concerts. However, it reformatted during the quarantine. The organizers decided to avoid canceling the Straytones’ gig and the new drummer presentation and hold it as a live stream in the Music & Talks format.

At this moment, we don’t know how long the quarantine lasts and when the whole situation stabilizes. Also, we can’t tell if online concerts are going to fit in the Ukrainian music industry, and what happens to them in the future. Anyway, information about the usage of online streams will be helpful for every musician.


Translation by Odarka Bilokon ©