Music in the age of Covid-19 – Streaming and more

by AlanRowoth on April 16, 2020

When I started heavily promoting live streaming back in 2015, I knew it was going to be an important part of our future. Little did I realize it would become an essential technology for so many people just a few years later. I won’t lie. It’s been a hard sell. Humans instinctively hate and fear change and creative people sometimes have a phobia about technology that can hamstring them when they try to learn about what they wish they didn’t have to know anything about. Streaming took off in Folkworld far more slowly than I ever imagined it could.

But before I get into the meat of todays discussion, lets solve a few problems quickly for you streamers just getting started with your phone.

1. If are streaming on your iphone and you have a tip jar, a logo, or other printed materials that you intend to display during your live stream, they will appear in mirror image if you use the screen side camera for your stream. I prefer the backside camera which doesn’t mirror and is usually a considerably nicer camera than the front side, but if you require access to the stream controls during your broadcast, you can remedy this problem in one of two ways. My old school solution was to print your information flipped on your printer. It is generally very easy to do and if you crash your stream, you don’t have to think about getting everything set up again. But now there is another solution for this, right in the facebook client for iphone itself. Before you start to stream, click the magic wand directly to the left of the big Go Live button. it will bring up a submenu at the bottom of the screen. click on the icon on the very right. It’s a tools icon that looks like a wrench and a screwdriver together. That presents you with 3 options. The leftmost option will reverse the screen for you. I believe this has to be reset every time you start a live stream

2. if you want to stream in landscape versus portrait mode, which I highly recommend, You must START the stream in landscape. you can’t reorient the camera view once you go live. The phone can be a little finicky about this. First check your control panel to make sure view mode is unlocked. Tell the facebook app you want to go live and orient the camera properly, you may have to dip it forward and back a couple of times before the onscreen controls realize you want to broadcast in portrait. If you are using any external microphones or CORE audio compatible sound sources, I suggest you get them connected an levelled up at this time. Then when you are all set, start the stream.

3. For the love of all things holy, USE A TRIPOD and smartphone clip to position your camera.

4. PLEASE monitor your stream with a second device so you can check sound levels and read comments. If at all possible, recruit someone to be your streaming buddy, responding to simple questions and passing on pertinent requests and comments to you. they can also share and promote your stream in real time. (and try to review your streams afterwards to see what you missed.) if you can at all avoid it, don’t spend a lot of time reading all the onscreen comments yourself. That gets boring really fast.

5. Don’t be late! Start your stream a couple of minutes before the official start time. You may have unexpected issues that take you time to work around and people can’t read your mind. If i go to look for an 8pm stream, I might try for 5 minutes or so, but if they aren’t on by 8:05, I’m gone.

6. Don’t pfnutz around. Unless you are absolutely positive that you are not going to archive the stream, don’t sit around picking your teeth for 15 minutes before you start singing. My streams typically garner 80-90% of their views after the fact. Even people who make it to your stream may be late or want to rewatch the stream later again. Putting 15 minutes of dead air on the front of the stream is a sure buzz killer. If you have to “open” for yourself, by all means, play a cover or a song in progress or tell a funny story about your day, but don’t be boring.

I’m going to start by discussing Streaming.

Why stream at all? Who are you trying to reach? What are you trying to accomplish? Understand why you are doing it and what you hope to accomplish before you push the button. Do you just want people to know that you’re still there? Are you simply bored and looking for a little audience love? Are you looking for feedback on the new songs. Are you starving and you need to make money to pay the rent. Are you trying to raise money for charity? Are you mostly concerned about maintaining a connection with your core audience. Are you out LOOKING FOR NEW AUDIENCE?

So many things suck about the lockdown, but one important benefit is that you are not the only one locked down. There has never been a better time to make new friends for your music. A lot of people don’t have the creative outlet that you have. Use this time to meet them.

If you played under the Big Orange Tarp one night and got discovered by the Bieroc Cafe or the Ark or the Folk Project and you got the gig, They are a folk club. They generally draw a folk audience. A warm, wonderful, accepting, singing along folk audience. The same folk audience that has been attending that venue for years. In the whole of the US, I’ll bet that there aren’t more than 10,000 people nationwide who regularly attend small venue folk shows. Their demographic is fairly homogenous. With some exceptions listeners are white, literate, socially aware, politically liberal, greying, and not a slave to drugs or alcohol. The salt of the earth and I love them. But that means that there are approximately 580 million potential audience members in North America that you have a chance to reach out to. Most would probably never come to the Me and Thee to hear you perform, but now they don’t have to. You can go where they are and serenade them. You are going to save a ton of money on transportation and the logistical costs of touring. You are going to recover many hours of time that you would ordinarily spend in travel, soundchecks, and logistics. Life gave you lemons, lets make some really great lemonade.

Where are all these viewers? I couldn’t find an authoritative list of all the streaming platforms on the internet. Dozens to be sure, possibly hundreds, with new companies staking a claim on the space almost weekly. If you are just going live on facebook once a week, you will probably just be fishing the same old pond with all your folkie friends. And that space is rapidly becoming dominated by Elton John and Paul Simon and Joan Baez and… Is it any wonder that your streams don’t draw as much attention as Mary Gauthiers?

This is exacerbated by the fact that there is no feature rich single guide for internet live streams. This has been needed for a while and nobody has stepped up to fill the gap. There are dozens of guides, but none has more than a fraction of the available content listed or the essential feature set. A proper guide would be location aware, platform aware, time zone aware, platform aware, and genre aware at the very least. A proper guide would have relational databases enumerating the artists, presenters, and support resources. It would provide not only real time searching but also user profiles with saved searches, searches where a registered user could save a query like “mail me a list of all the folk, bluegrass, and skiffle concerts airing monday-thursday starting between 5:59 and 10pm Eastern Time for the next two weeks. You should also be able to bring up a standard search each time you log into the database on the web. The artist database should be similar to an EPK with a bio, photos, and a video link or three as well as contact and booking information. When they wanted to add dates they would just have to identify with a single ID and not have to retype all that information each time you add an entry. Ideally it should also offer Google Calendar and Apple iCal synchronization. As it is now, you could waste more time looking for streams than watching them. I don’t bother and I miss a lot of compelling content. I’ve been stumping for this for a while, but I don’t have the funding to create this myself.

I’ve been saying for years that performers needed to get onto the web and stake out their streaming presence, but most artists never really cultivated this audience. Now they are a face in the crowd. Some people like Jonathan Byrd have been creating scheduled quality streams for year and they have a solid audience, but everyone entering now faces a situation not unlike what we have experienced on the club scene for the last several years. I call it “Too many monkeys and not enough bananas” There are only so many hours where people would actually watch available each day. Once you subtract the time slots dominated by established music stars, It can be hard to find a good available time slot. Another important benefit of a strong content calendar would be as a planning tool.

It is for this reason, that I believe artists cannot think of live streaming as a panacea to solve all the problems brought on by the Covid Virus. Any artist trying to replace the revenue of a live touring career is going to have to integrate more than one strategy to recover the lost revenue. There are so many live streams available for free, at a time when many listeners are particularly cash strapped. One approach that some artists are taking is to retask their performances by simultaneously streaming to two or more platforms simultaneously. This is nontrivial, but you can purchase a service which formats the streams for you to as many as 30 platforms concurrently. For more information, visit

I think live streaming and canned video sites like YouTube, TikTok and others are arguably the most powerful audience development tools available to musicians in 2020, but in terms of bringing in cash on a regular basis, I think that we are going to have to look to patronage sites like Patreon, premium web content on their own sites, Merchandise (of all sorts), affiliate marketing, and sponsor alliances (like brand deals, product placement, testimonials, and outright sponsorship). Musicians are going to have to pursue placement in TV, movies, video games, and other content that incorporates music as part of their larger product.

If we accept the premise that our current audience pool has been “overfished”, Then it seems logical that we should seek new audience in the places on the internet which receive at lot of views, but are not already awash with musical content. I think particular opportunities exist in the smartphone apps frequented more often by a younger demographic. I think it is a mistake to ignore these. I’m particularly enamored of TikTok, a canned video site (with 800,000 plus visitors each day.) I have started a Facebook group aimed at using the strengths of the platform to find new fans. If you are willing to step outside of your comfort zone, visit my Facebook discussion group called TikTokTakeover to discuss strategies. I believe this represents a huge opportunity for the right people.

I have two other Facebook discussion groups that you might find interesting. I recently created a facebook group called the Live Music Covid Response Strategic Workgroup. This was meant to foster a discussion of the kind of issues we are facing in this new reality. It hasn’t really fulfilled that goal and has instead become sort of a dumping ground for publicizing artist live streams. I may just delete it, but I am hopefully that group members may eventually grok the true intent of the group and participate in productive discussion of our challenges. Right now only a handful of us actually address the meta issues. I would love some more people with thoughtful content.

There is another group that I started a couple of years ago called Live Music Streamers focused on helping artists with their specific challenges, mostly technical and promotional to stream successfully. It never got a lot of signups, but theres some great questions and answers there. It was ahead of its time. I think now it has the potential for become an essential resource.

I have five prior blog posts discussing this topic. They can all be accessed thru the last one I did on the topic.

I have much more I want to discuss with you, mostly regarding the technical dos and don’ts for live streaming using a smartphone, a computer, and a dedicated piece of streaming hardware. Initially I was going to do this in a single blog post, but I know how you guys hate reading, so I am going to give you a brief respite and come back later in the week with important updated information on the state of the art in live streaming for 2020. Please stay tuned (and if you read my old posts, don’t buy anything until you read the one that’s coming up first.)

Stay safe, stay creative. Use this time to hone your craft and build your audience.

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