At a time when it seems like the whole world has taken to social media to perform, how on earth do we stand out? Well, I reckon it can be summed up in just three words -
It's safe to say that wobbly footage shot at a bad angle that is poorly lit with erratic audio will not get you a big audience! I recently watched a video shot by one of my favourite guitar players which was shared on the Facebook page of his (multi-multi-million selling) band. A page which has 565,171 subscribers by the way.
The shot looked good at first glance - sitting on a high stool in glorious sunshine set against a backdrop of beautiful Tennessee countryside, however the audio was poor thanks to some wind noise, plus he wasn't facing the camera so his singing was muffled and indistinct. Also, whoever was holding the camera must have gotten tired halfway through as the image started to shake!
Of course, with over half a million FB fans he doesn't need to try so hard. Or does he? Personally, I see this pandemic as the 'great leveller' - the chance for innovative grass roots artists to really grab the attention of bigger audiences and how we come across on our broadcasts is the key to that. With more to gain than the big guys in terms of revenues (or is that less to lose?) now really is the time to up our game. Check out this blog for sound and lighting tips.
I've seen a lot of 'tip-jar' streams – artists offering a list of cover songs they're willing to play while relentlessly plugging their PayPal or Ko-Fi links in-between tracks. Now that's all very well and good but it smacks a little of busking for pennies to me. Of course, we all need to make money but, thinking of the bigger picture, these times are tailor-made for increasing our audience engagement and expanding our fan base, not just for collecting a couple of quid, bucks, euros, whatever.
Think for a moment about how you want to be perceived as an artist and let that perception inform how you will go about monetising your streams. For myself, I'm happy to appear on virtual festival bills, playing a 15-20 minute set with a plug for my website and merch links here and there as it's much easier for me to go back through all the likes and comments and reply to each individually than it is to persuade everyone to send me a tip.
That gives me the opportunity to thank each and every person for watching, which converts those audience members into fans by getting them to like my social media pages and sign up for my mailing list. This not only helps me post content that they're more likely to engage with moving forward, but it also gives me the opportunity to invite them to future events behind a paywall where I can promise a longer, higher quality performance, perhaps with additional benefits, as I'll discuss below.
OK so you've built a new audience, or increased engagement with an existing one by streaming your heart out on Facebook, now what? Well there are many routes – getting them to a subscription content delivery service like Patreon, or to an online site like Side Door Access (a platform which matches artists with spaces then sells tickets to the shows). Don't forget to keep it simple. Sometimes that means stick to what you know.
I've had quite a bit of success hosting small house concert or small club type shows using the Zoom digital meeting app. It's free (as long as you keep your performances under 40 minutes) or £15/month to remove that time cap and you can invite up to 100 attendees. Video quality is pretty good and there's a real community vibe that makes the event much more memorable than the scrolling commentary vibe of a Facebook stream. The audio isn't exactly high quality, but it has an interesting grainy quality that reminds me of listening to AM radio in the 80s!
I sell event tickets via my Bandcamp page then email the Zoom meeting link to everyone, along with a link to a YouTube video which gives them a crash course in Zoom tech.
Zoom meeting 'hosts' can mute all the audio ensuring a quiet room while you're playing and then un-mute in-between songs (for the applause and cheers) but it's a bit much to take on solo so it's a good idea to have a friend/roadie/TM/offspring onboard to help run the tech.
As an extra incentive to encourage people to pay for the experience I offer a free 'bootleg' recording of the show. I record all the audio while streaming, then do a quick edit and upload the results to Bandcamp. I then generate free album codes which I distribute to all ticket holders so they can download a 'proper' album. Simple, effective, great value for money and it gives my fans an irreplaceable memory in the form of a bespoke 'artefact'!
I hope this blog has been useful for you. I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have on the subject. These are challenging times for many of us but I take some comfort in recognising that innovation is so often born out of adversity, and that by choosing to find new ways to grow our DIY music careers in these circumstances we are leading a new generation of audience engagement!