Livestreaming your gig – 10 tips for musicians playing online in 2021

Image Credit: Marcos Vinicius

Get more viewers tuning into your livestream gig and take the stress out of performing with these ideas for a successful livestreamed music concert.

Playing to an audience of your own face on a phone will never not be weird. We thought home concerts could be left back in 2020 but, unfortunately, they’re still one of the only options for musicians to play shows in 2021. Just like playing a live gig, there’s some daunting uncertainties involved – will anyone show up? What if the mic’s not turned up?

Livestreaming was a thing before the pandemic but it saw a huge rise in popularity in spring 2020. Everyone was adjusting to being at home and out-of-work musicians from U2 to Lizzo panicked about being forgotten and rushed to go live.

That hype died down as the weeks of quarantine and lockdown went by. However, playing music live online remains a very useful tool for musicians whilst in-person gigs are off the cards. It keeps your profile up and, crucially, stops your performance skills getting rusty. After all, the audience may be little bubbles on a screen, but they’re still an audience.

Here are some ideas to help you get more viewers for your livestream gig and make it a smoother, more exciting event.

Why are you going live?

Think about the purpose of your livestream beforehand. Is it an album launch? A Q&A to connect with your fans? It might be a jam session, to share the new jazz licks you just perfected or simply to show your followers you’re still making music; perhaps you’d like to do a play-along tutorial to teach everyone how to cover your latest single.

Deciding why you’d like to go live will help you to get in the right headspace, give you some direction to promote the stream properly and plan your set.

Don’t worry about the numbers

It’s not easy, but try and forget about the number of people watching. Find that same resilience needed when you’re playing a gig to one half-drunk barfly in an empty pub.

Sometimes you might only get a couple of viewers. There will be a million reasons for why people aren’t tuning in, and it’s highly unlikely that it’s because they hate you. People have other commitments; the algorithm might be against you.

Get your mates and family to tune in for moral support, just like if you were playing in your local bar, and treat it as a trial run. Don’t forget that thousands of musicians are doing the very same thing, and no one starts out with hundreds of views.

Use the fear

There’s always an adrenaline rush performing and livestreaming is no different. It’s just another gig. If you’re worried about technical and internet problems, try and remember that’s nearly always beyond your control. Viewers are quite used by now to the technical glitches and initial awkwardness of going live. The more streams you do, the smoother your reactions to things going wrong will be and the more relaxed you’ll feel.

You don’t need a fancy setup…

Ultimately all you need is a phone, a decently lit space and some peace and quiet. Just make sure you prop your phone up somewhere so you’re not holding it yourself and giving everyone motion sickness.

Be aware though that streaming with a phone has potential sound problems, as phones often process softer sounds as background noise and cut them. Singer-songwriters for example may find that quiet singing or fingerstyle guitar will be lost in the mix. If you’re planning on livestreaming professionally, it will be worth getting a decent mic set up. You can use broadcasting sites like OBS Studio to stream in high quality using your audio interface.

…But at least make your bed

A little effort into the backdrop of your livestream will go a long way. Whether that’s a cool area with fairy-lights and throws or a minimalist home studio, organise your space however you think fits you best as an artist. At the bare minimum have a quick tidy up so viewers aren’t distracted by the detritus of your household.

Don’t just go live on a whim

Even if you’ve got loads of followers, randomly deciding to hit the Live button is a scattergun approach that probably won’t pay off as well as careful planning. Formulate a promotional strategy beforehand, across all social media, to keep reminding your followers that you’ll be going live. You’ll get the attention of more people and get more views if it’s marketed as an organised event.

It does depend on your fans, however. On the flip side, if you thrive off spontaneity, going live lots to jam or just to chat might suit you perfectly as an artist. If your followers see you popping up again and again, they’ll be curious.

Silence isn’t golden

Don’t leave any dead air whilst you decide on the next song to play, try and find some lyrics or hunt for where the comments lurk on the app. Playing a livestreamed gig isn’t just about your established fans. You need to also instantly capture the attention of those bored social media users who are just flicking from live to live, and if they happen upon you silently squinting into your phone they’re unlikely to be enthralled.

However awkward you might find talking into the silence of your own phone screen, try and keep some communication going.

Collab with someone else

On many platforms you can go live with another streamer to encourage each other and boost both your profiles. This works best for a chat rather than a performance – even with the fastest internet in the cosmos there’s always going to be a lag.

Don’t jump right in

Just like at a normal gig, you’ve got to give your audience the chance to show up. No one wants to be the first at a party. Start streaming before the advertised start time to get used to the tech and warm yourself up. Have a little jam. If no one shows up, its okay – you’re just jamming at home like normal!

Communicate with viewers

It’s not like a normal gig where you can sometimes get away with focussing solely on the music; social media users expect more interaction. Ask for questions and put some time aside at the end or in-between songs to scroll the comments and answer them. Have a backup script in your head. If there’s no questions thrown at you, tell them a little bit about yourself and your music, even what you did that day, then roll into the next song.

Livestreaming is a useful tool but isn’t expected of all musicians, so don’t worry if you think it’s not for you. Even if you give it a go and nobody’s watching, it’s all good experience, reminding you of the rush of performing and keeping you supple.

Try not to see it as a numbers game, especially while you’re first getting used to livestreaming your music. It’s just you doing what you love, with the added bonus of allowing hundreds of potential fans join in the fun.

I write about music for RouteNote, sharing fun stuff, news, and tips and tricks for musicians and producers. Also a saxophonist and hater of marmalade.

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