Five tips on live streaming from Chamber Music Scotland

Live streaming has seen a massive increase since lockdown, with all those who find themselves without a stage considering how they can still perform for their audiences.

Chamber Music Scotland hit the ground running when it came to their digital concerts, and their Chief Executive, Paul Tracey, and Haley Barclay, Network Coordinator told us what's been working for them as an organisation.

Live Streaming with Chamber Music Scotland

Paul Tracey, Chief Executive of Chamber Music Scotland, on pivoting to live streaming

"As venues closed and projects and performances were cancelled, it became clear that these were going to be worrying times for us all.

It was particularly apparent that artists were going to be hit hard. We wanted to move quickly to get support to them and on 17th March released the first five of our Streaming Home Concerts series, which began two days later. The Streaming Home Concerts are free to watch with the option of making a donation, 100% of which goes to the performers involved.

Live streaming (the performances are not pre-recorded) was something we had never ventured into before, so we had to move and learn quickly and invest in equipment – mics, stands, digital recorders, camera, etc. - putting together a streaming box with the necessary equipment and “how to” users guide.

The box has since made its way to Fraserburgh and Moray as well as the central belt. As I write this, we have live-streamed 13 Home Concerts, supporting 20 musicians, reaching an audience of just under 25k people. The home concerts are relaxed, informal, and intimate, and offer interaction with the artists and viewers via YouTube’s live chat, creating an online community and allowing us to feel part of a collective experience.

The first concert alone was viewed live by audiences in Finland, Indiana, France, Germany, Netherlands, Benbecula, Pathhead, Cromarty, Ontario, Michigan, Northumberland, Rochester, Italy, Oregon, and Kintyre. The concerts have also offered audiences comfort, and sometimes just a welcome distraction, during troubling times.

Importantly, it also means that musicians were paid at least as well as they would be in a “normal” concert setting with an average fee of over £500 per performance. So, through our investment in time and resources we were able to leverage far more support for artists.

Whilst the majority of us would consider in-person live performance a far better experience, I don’t believe that this diminishes the value of the home concerts. They offer a different experience and should not be compared like-for-like, and the home concerts can offer something different to a “regular” concert.

Of course, not all live streams will be a success, from technical issues to low viewing figures, and audio/visual limitations. But if we look at one of our more successful live streams, it was watched by over 400 people live and is now at nearly 10,000 views. Donations from the audience meant that the performers were paid a far higher fee than would have typically been possible.

If we transfer this to the “real world” context, we have a chamber music concert in rural Scotland reaching nearly 10k people across the world and paying fees which would exceed what would normally be possible. I am not suggesting that we should all forget live performance and switch to streaming, but I think we perhaps should not be too dismissive of it either.

I think it can co-exist with traditional live music experiences and offer a different way of experiencing classical music for those who want to also enjoy this due to accessibility issues or owing simply to preference. I view this as adding value and alternatives to activity, not necessarily replacing it.

There are also some interesting thoughts on how it negates the potential barriers to access live classical music in terms of venue, cost, and perceptual issues as well as the potential for reaching new audiences."

Five tips for live streaming success

And now, over to Haley with tips for getting the most out of your live stream!

1. Consider the platform you're using

There are a multitude of platforms that you can stream live videos on (Vimeo, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, etc.), so it’s important to consider aspects like cost, the ability to customise your content, ease of use, and accessibility.

For us, YouTube ended up being the best option – it’s free, you can stream from a computer without needing a certain number of subscribers, and it’s easy to set up the streams and add our branding.

In addition, we recognised that many of the people in our audience might not have access to social media. YouTube provided a way to reach those audience members, as you don’t need to have an account to access the video.

2. Ask for help if you need it

No one in our office had ever really ventured into the world of live streams, so we realised that it might be best for us to ask for a bit of help. We hired someone to be our tech support, and his experience has been vital to the success of our live streams.

He’s provided us with equipment recommendations, does pre-concert testing, and helps to tailor the equipment setup to the needs of the musicians. He also remotely controls the live stream on the night of the concert so he can solve any issues if they arise - which allows the musicians to focus solely on performing rather than sorting out tech problems.

3. The right equipment makes all the difference

With the guidance of our tech support we decided to invest in equipment, which really does make a huge difference in the quality of the live streams. Higher sound and video quality means that viewers are much more likely to stay tuned in to the concert the entire time, which typically translates into more donations for the musicians, and more return-viewers for us.

Of course, due to internet speeds, we sometimes can’t control the strength of the video, but using high-quality mics versus just a laptop ensures the sound is more true-to-life.

4. Consider the pros and cons of live versus pre-recorded

We ultimately decided upon live streaming versus pre-recorded videos because we felt this more closely emulated a live concert experience, with the performance happening in real-time and the audience members being able to interact with each other and the musicians in the live chat feature that YouTube provides.

Live streaming comes with its difficulties, though – the musicians only have one take, so what you see is what you get. We also have to be able to quickly react to any problems that arise, from equipment failure, to dips in bandwidth and video quality, to trolls popping up in the live chat. Never a dull moment!

5. Marketing is everything

Anyone who has put on a live concert knows the importance of good marketing, but it’s even more crucial when promoting a streamed concert. You’ll be hard pressed to find a music organisation that isn’t providing some sort of online content at the moment, so there’s quite a lot of competition, making it difficult for your event to stand out. Our most successful streams are the ones where the musicians take an active role in promoting the concert with us.

For example, Su-a Lee and Hamish Napier were fantastic in terms of helping to promote the event on their social media channels. Their concert had over 500 people watching it live, and the video has since had almost 10,000 views. We received 70 new subscribers to our YouTube channel the night of their concert, and we saw a marked uptick in the amount of donations collected.

Chamber Music Scotland celebrates chamber music's tradition and explores its future.

All of the Chamber Music Scotland live streamed concerts can be viewed on their YouTube channel.

Find out more about the work of Chamber Music Scotland

Chamber Music Scotland is a Regularly Funded Organisation.

Regularly Funded Organisations make a significant contribution to the current health and future development of the arts, screen and creative industries in Scotland and play a key role in helping us deliver against our overall ambitions.

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This article was published on 24 Jun 2020