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Live Streaming 101: Why Live Stream?

When I jumped into live streaming in 2013, I had no idea what I was doing—and my first stream featured a world-renowned pianist performing in a packed hall. The Gilmore Keyboard Festival, where I am on staff, was presenting a concert to the community featuring Kirill Gerstein. Because the concert was being offered free to the public, someone at a staff meeting asked, “Can we live stream this concert?” And from the silence, I blurted out, “Yes!”

You can watch segments of the 4:3 / 480p video here:

At the time, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra had been live streaming concerts for two years. Today, they are a leader in classical music live streaming, presenting around 30 concerts a year online. At The Gilmore, however, live streaming repeatedly brought up one major concern. This concern resonated throughout the office, though I didn’t believe it to be true:

If we offer the concert for free online, won’t it negatively impact ticket sales?

Despite this resistance, streaming a concert live to the internet became a small obsession of mine. With some help from the local Public Media Network, great audio engineers, and the world-class performances at The Gilmore, I managed to get our concerts online, with high-quality audio and multi-camera shoots.

As I gained experience managing small teams of videographers and audio engineers, I learned the ins and outs of the technology, the philosophy, and the social media impact. I even found ways to live stream my own new music concerts—without breaking the bank.

Building off my presentation at the New Music Gathering in Boston this year, during the month of June, I will explore why to live stream, preparing and advertising a live stream, the technology behind various live streaming set-ups, and how to begin collaborating with individuals or organizations to maximize reach and impact.

Why live stream?

If you somehow missed the memo, video consumption is, and has been, on the rise. In 2017, Facebook Live broadcasts quadrupled and 3.25 billion hours of video are watched on YouTube each month. From a marketing perspective, having video content is a no-brainer. But live streaming is a little different.

Live streaming—the act of broadcasting an event in real-time—gives us the unique opportunity to capitalize on the energy of a live performance, while enabling others outside of our community to participate. With advances in technology, it has also become increasingly easy to broadcast live video to the internet.

By live streaming our music, we gain the following:

  1. Expansion of reach and visibility (marketing, social media, locations, networks)
  2. Accessibly for both our current audience and potential future audience
  3. Increasing trust and loyalty from our fans
  4. Excellent content for later use (YouTube channel, website, grant proposals, sharing)

But what about the impact on ticket sales? This is where you need to trust your audience. I would argue that most people are cognizant of the uniqueness of a live concert experience. Given a choice and with no outside barriers, most people would choose a live event over a video version of it. By offering live streams of your events at no charge, you are trusting that the audience members you have will continue to buy tickets if they can. The benefit of the stream then becomes the ability to engage the dedicated fans who just couldn’t be there (thus allowing them to continue to participate in the experience), while also potentially reaching future audience members who are not fans—yet.

FOMO and concert attendance

Although research is limited, current case studies and surveys point to the same conclusion: after watching a live-streamed concert, viewers are more likely purchase tickets to future concerts. It’s like giving a sample of something delicious at Costco.

It’s important to note that many reports come from service providers like Livestream.com, who are trying to sell their services. Still, according to their 2017 survey, “67% of viewers are more likely to buy a ticket to a similar event after watching a live video.” The idea is simple: viewing a great live stream allows current fans to engage with a concert they would probably not have been able to attend otherwise, and allows potential fans to get a sample of a live event they may want to attend in the future. You are building community.

You’re also working off two sides of FOMO. If you’ve managed to avoid current slang and abbreviations, FOMO is the “fear of missing out.” Regardless of what one thinks about FOMO’s powers of motivation, it is a factor at work that everyone on social media experiences at some level. By live streaming your concerts, you can increase FOMO for those who are on the fence about attending your upcoming programming. On the other hand, you may also be able to dissipate some of those FOMO feelings via the live stream by giving your dedicated fans a way to participate, despite not being there.

Post-Stream Benefits

After the live-stream event (and the real-life concert), the video lives on, and some algorithms, like those on Facebook, perpetuate the views for a short while, reminding people of what they missed the night before. If you captured audience emails at your concert, you could send attendees a thank you email with a link to the video. You can also send the video to friends and colleagues who couldn’t be there.

The most important post-stream benefit is the content you’ve created. If you get the chance to clean and mix the audio and re-sync to the video, you have an entire concert to segment into individual pieces for your YouTube channel, your website, portfolio submissions, etc.

Recommendations:

  1. Make sure all content stakeholders are aware and in agreement about how the captured media will be used and distributed well in advance.
  2. Don’t repost the entire concert in full. Only keep the entire performance video up as a result of the live stream.
  3. Segment out individual pieces and create a lead in and a closer for each video, with proper credits to performers, composers, and technicians as text overlays.
  4. Develop a channel/page where all of your media lives.
  5. Use the reposting of video content to strategically activate your social media or blog/newsletter presence.

Upcoming articles

Next week, we will discuss technical preparation, advertising, basic artist agreements, and a complete guide to hosting your stream on different platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter/Periscope, and other streaming hosting services.

Vireo, My Tenacious Muse

Having grown up in a house full of composers, I hit my college years with a heavy dose of curiosity about what else lay out there besides new music. At Yale, I was not required to declare a major right away, and I took many courses in music while also falling slowly and deeply in love with the literature major. It was 1986, the heyday of American poststructuralism, and – unlike the composition faculty – the department’s pantheon of literary theory superstars was strikingly diverse: Harold Bloom (father of the Theory of Originality), Shoshana Felman (French-Israeli feminist deconstructionist), bell hooks a.k.a. Gloria Watkins (proto-postcolonial poet and theorist), and pioneer queer theorist (and nascent opera librettist) Wayne Koestenbaum. It was rigorous and nerdy and glamorous all at once. I was hooked.

Eventually, much to the chagrin of my music professors and some of my family members, I left the music major behind, thinking perhaps that I was turning my back on the “family business.” I embarked on a massive senior thesis in the literature major, with Wayne Koestenbaum as my advisor, entitled “Signed, Sealed and Delivered: Originality, closure and reproduction in the collaborative discourses of psychoanalytic hysteria and Surrealism.” Here is a bit of nostalgia: a paragraph from my dot-matrix prospectus in 1990 that articulates, for the first time, a phenomenon in Western cultural history that ended up haunting me for the next 27 years:

Vireo: PROSPECTUS

Here are some images used in my essay and in the research for Vireo:

Vireo-Salpetriere

Painting: Une leçon clinique à la Salpêtrière. Pierre Aristide André Brouillet, 1887
Dr. Jean Martin Charcot, Parisian neurologist, demonstrates the symptoms of hysteria for a roomful of male students. Charcot was Freud’s teacher.

Vireo-Hysteria

Le Cinquantenaire de l’hysterie
Louis Aragon, André Bréton
1928: The Surrealists celebrated “The 50th Birthday of Hysteria” as “the most important poetic discovery of the 19th century,” with images of Dr. Charcot’s patients

Little did I know that this discovery was the seed of what would later become my most ambitious compositional endeavor: Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch’s Accuser.

Stream Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch’s Accuser on-demand at KCET.org.

I got an A on the essay, I graduated, and I disappointed my literature professors (there is a pattern here perhaps) by not going on to graduate work in comp lit but moving to New York City to couch surf, audition for singing work, and write music. I became the vocalist in the Philip Glass Ensemble and went on the 1992 world tour of Einstein on the Beach. But all the while I also kept reading and reading, about these girls whose fits and starts were the subject of assiduous study by groups of ministers and magistrates in Colonial America, priests in 15th-century Italy, neurologists during the Great War. My essay had focused primarily on psychoanalysis and surrealism, but my fascination with these visionary women continued and the scope of my research expanded. My library grew. Today my bookcase dedicated to this area of inquiry is bursting with wide-ranging works from multiple disciplines and centuries:

Vireo BOOKS

In 1993 I was accepted into a two-week program at New Dramatists in NYC called the Composer-Librettist Studio. Four composers and four playwrights created new opera/music theater scenes in a compressed round-robin workshop environment, and brave singers sight-read these scene-lets into being. One of the playwrights was Erik Ehn, whose writing seemed to trigger something in me that made the music write itself. I was in love with his writing, and so I approached him at the end of the session and asked him, with sweaty cold palms, if he would consider working with me on something bigger. I felt like I was asking him to the prom.

We began corresponding, mostly by fax, and I started to send him hefty packages of source materials from my research into young visionary women and the male authority figures who used these girls’ visions and behaviors as proof of their own various theories.

Vireo: RESEARCH-FAX

In a rush of dot-matrix pages came the first draft of a libretto for a traditional opera about a young girl named Vireo: “A fourteen year old girl genius. Lives in the 16th century, born in the 19th, does forward roll into the 20th.”

Vireo: ERIK LETTER

Erik had integrated and assimilated this vastness of source material and created one girl. And on page 29 of this libretto draft, she sang an aria called “The Bat” that seized me immediately:

The Bat.

(Vireo alone in a dark cell, walking circuits. At first she bumps into chair, bed, bucket… but gradually grows accustomed.)

VIREO

In the morning in my house
Before it’s light
I can walk as if the light
Were shining through our
High windows

If in the dark a chair has moved
I can move around it
I know the room so well
There is no out of place

I am not out of place in a jail cell
I close my eyes and cross to make
A breakfast fire
I remember very well and
Solitary suits me
Decorative as a memory

(To the dark, speaking.)
How well do you remember? Are you going to stop?

Here is the very first sketch of music for Vireo from 1993. This eventually became the aria that opens Episode 9 – Alcatraz:

Vireo: BAT SKETCH

My own singing voice was still very young then, and when we went into the studio to record the few songs and arias that I created in that first year, I sang the title role myself, with a variety of archaic sampled instruments accompanying me. This was a cutting-edge MIDI demo in 1994!

The Bat 1994 Demo Recording

Erik and I revised. I kept composing. We went into the studio again. We created packets with synopsis, budgets, and cassette tape work samples (with baritone Gregory Purnhagen as The Doctor, a role he would develop further with terrifying precision 20 years later). I applied for every grant I could find. I sent packages to every opera company in the country, with a letter of support from the then-president of the board of the San Francisco Girls Chorus, of which I was an alumna. The SFGC had given me my first performances and my first two commissions, and they took special interest as I began work on this ambitious undertaking.

Vireo: SFGC LETTER

I followed up my mass-mailings with phone calls, leaving message after message. But I was just 25 years old and had almost no track record of professional performances of my music. A few kind souls offered bland encouragement; most simply ignored us. After a year and a half of dedicated partnership-seeking, it was clear that Vireo was not finding a home. It wasn’t her time.

I told Erik that I couldn’t foresee any project of this size happening before I built a professional life from the ground up. I felt we needed to shelve Vireo for the time being. He and I both undertook other creative endeavors, sometimes in collaboration on smaller-scale projects. Many years passed, during which time I wrote many, many hours of music – solo, chamber, orchestral, chamber opera, and music theater. Commissions and opportunities grew, and slowly the scale of my projects ramped up. I created massive public-space works for up to 800 professional, amateur, and student musicians. My community of collaborator colleagues grew and deepened: Kronos Quartet, American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME), Alarm Will Sound, cellist Joshua Roman, violinist Jennifer Koh – these musical friendships sparked with possibility.

In all this time, the two years of sketches I made for Vireo lay largely untouched. Correspondence, research, grant applications, and drafts were boxed up. Life took its twists and turns; the box and I moved from the Bronx to Queens, then from Queens to Manhattan. I never “mined” these musical materials for other works, but I always felt their presence at the back of my mind.

The internet came to be. Collaborations unfolded over email instead of fax. Research exploded online, rendering my weeks buried in the Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale a kind of nostalgic curiosity. In 2009 I made a simple setting of “The Bat” aria for solo English horn, for a series of 15 short works I wrote, each bearing a six-word title. I titled it “I Know This Room So Well.” Vireo was coming back into my consciousness. The remounting of Einstein on the Beach found director Charles Otte, who had been Robert Wilson’s assistant director in 1992, and me back on the road together again, talking about new opera, film, and new media on the bus. In 2013 I became the artistic director of the San Francisco Girls Chorus, bringing my artistic focus back to the voices of exceptional young women.

Meanwhile, I had started exploring new project ideas as artist-in-residence with the Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana. GCAC’s Chief Curator and ED John Spiak introduced me to a wide range of potential partners to help generate ideas for how I might make work that could catalyze new relationships in Southern California. He introduced me to Juan Devis, chief creative officer of KCET in LA, and Maria Lazarova, then director of the Classical Voice Conservatory of the Orange County School of the Arts, one of the premier public charter arts schools in the nation. A coin dropped in my mind – here was a school full of young women with superb classical voice training. Maybe Vireo was here! And KCET was at the forefront of arts streaming programming. What if we made a TV/internet series that was an opera? What if that opera was Vireo?!

Things moved forward very fast then. Kronos wanted the pilot. KCET signed on as a partner. Charlie Otte brought a visionary concept and design. The box came down from off of my top shelf, and I excavated.

Dragon-and-Girl

A page from “The Box”: from Draft 1 of the libretto, with notes scribbled during a collaborative meeting between Erik & me in 1994.

It was like seeing the work of a student – a student full of promise but also in way over her head – and yet this student was a younger me. All of the musical ideas felt familiar yet strangely distant. Major structural reworking of the libretto ensued, to embrace the new episodic format. I sifted through the original musical sketches and discovered that I had taken at least a cursory stab at melodic or harmonic material for slightly less than half of the opera. Sometimes I just kept the essence – a harmonic color, a certain phrase, a rhythmic figuration – and other times I started over.

Vireo: SCHOOL

I lifted this one phrase out of early sketches. From it grew the whole “Birth of Caroline” scene in Episode 6, in which you can hear this exact phrase in a whole different setting.

In a few cases, like “The Bat,” I revised only lightly and honored the original. I let the obsessive energy of my earlier self inhabit me, and I felt the power of 20+ years of experience serving to bring the piece to its deserved epic scale. And I let the prodigious gifts of young Rowen Sabala, just 16 years old and a junior at OCSA, breathe new life and inspiration into the role of Vireo.

I would never have dreamed, back in 1990 as a literature major at Yale, or in 1993 when I spent so many months back and forth between the fax machine and the piano, that Vireo would eventually find such complete fulfillment. Now, 350 cast members and musicians, 400+ participants including designers and crew, 12 episodes and over 250,000 viewers later, I feel a certain wonder at the delicate thread that kept the project alive in the back of my mind, in a box at the back of my closet, for so many years. Its protracted latency period gave Vireo the opportunity to feed off of many life lessons, relationships and maturations. Her metamorphosis is complete.

Kronos Quartet with composer Lisa Bielawa

Kronos Quartet with composer Lisa Bielawa
Photo by Remsen Allard