Updated May 28, 2020
tl;dr This living document contains three main sections:
My goal is to build a comprehensive, up-to-date resource for anyone seeking guidance on how to stage alternative music events in this moment of significant upheaval for the industry. If I’m missing any crucial tools, please notify me, the author, via email at email@example.com.
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You can either read through this document from start to finish, or jump straight to a specific section by clicking the corresponding link below:
(written on March 13, 2020)
Major international music festivals including SXSW, Ultra and Tomorrowland Winter called it quits within the span of just a few days in early March. Meanwhile, the world’s two biggest promoters, Live Nation and AEG, are now recommending that all U.S. tours be postponed until the end of the month. While certainly the right decision for public safety, these cancellations have also thrust many music-industry workers’ futures in limbo — particularly those of the independent artists and promoters who rely more than ever on touring to make ends meet.
But all that hard work and planning isn’t necessarily for nothing. There’s an opportunity for artists, speakers and event organizers to embrace a fan-engagement tactic that many had previously considered “emerging” or “niche,” but is now arguably one of the most practical paths forward for performing artists in the wake of virtually no other alternative: Livestreaming.
In fact, musicians in high-risk areas have been among the first to bring their performances online in the wake of coronavirus-related cancellations. For instance, as tens of thousands of events have been cancelled in China, costing the local economy hundreds of millions of dollars, artists and labels in the country have turned to local social and video platforms like WeChat and Bilibili to perform virtual showcases for fans. La Fenice, an opera house in Venice, Italy, has livestreamed several concerts from empty theaters for thousands of viewers online — a practice that other local artists will likely replicate from the comfort of their own homes, as Italy as a whole goes on lockdown.
More recently, I’ve noticed several artists and music companies working around the clock over the past week to organize virtual versions of what they would have presented in person at festivals like SXSW.
Since SXSW was supposed to start today (March 13, 2020), I wanted to compile a document that honors and promotes these commitments to seeing hard work through, as well as provide some practical information for anyone else looking to stage their own virtual events in the near future.
That said, before diving into the full list of tools and events, I want to discuss a few points and caveats about livestreaming as more people inevitably onboard to the format this year. In short, livestreaming is necessary, but insufficient, as a solution to the current concert industry’s woes.
1. Livestreaming is not a perfect financial substitute for real concerts
This point might seem like a no-brainer, but is worth reiterating in this climate: you likely won’t get the same amount of money you were expecting on tour in a virtual environment. Put another way, the reality is that the vast majority of artists and promoters won’t recover their touring losses via livestreaming alone, unless they genuinely commit to the format long-term.
This is in part because everyday consumers aren’t used to paying for musical livestreams. The format has a reputation either as a more casual, open and democratized channel for engaging with celebrities (e.g. Instagram or Facebook Live), or as a means of increasing accessibility to massive events for much wider audiences (e.g. Coachella’s livestream, which earned 82 million live views on its first weekend in 2019).
Virtual reality is especially far off from competing with brick-and-mortar live revenue, as the former sector has historically struggled from consumers’ unwillingness to pay for the proper hardware, let alone for the accompanying content. As I found a few years ago, the annual revenue from all consumer VR content is only around 0.01% of Live Nation’s annual concert and ticketing revenue alone in a typical year.
Secondly, even if you did want to put your livestream behind a paywall and have fans buy tickets for access just like in real life, there aren’t many platforms around with that capability anyway, as I’ll discuss later. Awareness of these platforms among both artists and consumers remains low, but will likely increase this year amidst ongoing coronavirus-related cancellations (and hopefully with the help of this document!).
2. Livestreaming is not a perfect cultural or emotional substitute for real concerts
Given the amount of preparation that goes into events like SXSW panels and Coachella sets, it’s tempting just to copy and paste those formats into a virtual, livestreamed environment. But unfortunately, it isn’t always that simple (it never is!).
Let’s consider Twitch as an example. In a recent interview with Music Week, Pat Shah, Twitch’s Head of Music Strategy and Licensing, argued that livestreaming in general “requires a different mindset than just uploading a video. It’s more like a FaceTime conversation. It’s a raw, intimate experience that creates a deep emotional connection with your viewers.”
Maintaining a FaceTime conversation with your fans remotely is a vastly different kind of labor from just showing up onstage and performing a choreographed routine in person, in a way that not all artists might be ready for. The former is much more interactive, intimate and personal, yet also more casual and lower-stakes.
Aside from considering the financial upside (or lack thereof), artists who want to take livestreaming seriously as an alternative to cancelled shows need to ask themselves: Will fans who bought a ticket to your brick-and-mortar show necessarily be equally interested in a more stripped-down, casual experience online? And on the flip side, will fans interested in watching your livestream necessarily be interested in the same, high-production show that you would stage in person, or are they looking for something else? There isn’t always a direct equivalence there.
The artists who have been able to build a significant following and a (partial) living on Twitch — e.g. JVNA, HANA and Flux Pavilion — aren’t just performing live virtual shows for their fans. They’re also bringing fans behind-the-scenes in their music production and recording processes, or even just hanging out in their bedrooms and answering fans’ questions about their careers and lives, regardless of whether those conversations are related to music. And especially if they’re playing games or producing music, they’re often streaming for several hours in a row — a much longer duration than a typical live show.
Other potential livestreaming channels warrant the same scrutiny, in terms of whether they fit an artist’s given personality and needs. For instance, if you’re choosing to broadcast your panel in VR but all you’re showing is a PowerPoint presentation, why not just share your screen on Zoom, a much easier technology to navigate? If you want to embrace live audio-only streaming instead, are you comfortable talking “on the air” like in a podcast taping or radio segment?
The big takeaway here is that livestreaming works best when artists take the time to become familiar with the medium.
3. Livestreaming is no longer a “niche” strategy — it’s an accessibility imperative, and a potential catalyst for other kinds of virtual innovations
While livestreaming is an imperfect substitute for the brick-and-mortar concert industry for the reasons described above, I think it will become more commonplace for concert promoters and conference organizers to incorporate livestreaming into their future events, for the sake of accessibility at large.
It may be somewhat unfortunate that it took something like a global pandemic for people to start thinking about how to make live events more accessible to a wider, more global audience. But we’ve seen this before, in terms of extreme situations encouraging long-overdue adoption of new technology. For instance, Facebook and Twitter weren’t popular in Japan early on, but both turned into lifelines for local populations in the wake of the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that rattled the country in 2011.
I also think a shift towards virtual events will be a catalyst for other adjacent innovations, such as augmented-reality avatars and integrated content partnerships with gaming companies. Suddenly, Marshmello’s DJ sets in Fortnite and Minecraft’s DIY, in-game music festivals (Coalchella and Fire Festival) look less like cutting-edge stunts, and more like practical, scalable responses to the real-world restrictions we’re facing today.
At this point, it seems like a gargantuan, virtually impossible task to try to collate every single event that’s been affected by COVID-19, especially as governments around the world instate bans on any local events drawing a few hundred people or more (e.g. New York, Ohio, Seattle in the U.S.).
That said, here are a few of the most comprehensive lists I’ve found of major event cancellations and reschedulings — spanning music, film, theater, sports, technology and other verticals — in case that info interests you:
There may be an opportunity for many of the events on these lists to collaborate and share resources around a virtual experience, given that they are technically no longer confined by geography.
The following list of livestreaming tools is organized by format (video, audio, virtual reality), then by revenue model (free, free-to-play and ticketed/paywalled). Where appropriate, I include some bullet points with more background on the company and its goals, and/or links to examples of artists and music companies using the tool in practice.
Pro tip: If you want to broadcast to more than one of the below video platforms simultaneously, I recommend using one of the many simulcasting tools available online. You can view a preliminary list by jumping to the Simulcasting section of this document (<-- click there!).
If you’re looking to make your livestreaming experience available for free, below are the best options, which are already pretty popular among people in the music industry.
The platforms below are able to host “free-to-play” livestreams — meaning that the streams are free for anyone to access, but include the ability for viewers to contribute financially to the streamer if they so wish, usually through some kind of in-app “tipping” mechanism and/or direct monthly subscription.
The term “free-to-play” comes from the gaming world, which is important to keep in mind because many of the below platforms originally targeted online gaming communities. Hence “free-to-play concerts” work best when they act like games and have highly interactive, game-like mechanics built in.
The platforms below offer the closest thing to putting on an actual, in-person show, in terms of the capability to charge visitors upfront to access a paywalled livestream.
To my surprise, there’s a relative dearth of livestreaming platforms tailored for musicians looking to stage these ticketed “virtual concert” experiences. One popular option in the past, Concert Window, shut down in August 2019. Two of the options listed below were just launched within the past few months.
Below is a list of online tools that allow you to stream to multiple different video platforms simultaneously from one central site, in case you’re looking to optimize for reach. By necessity, your streams through these services will be free of charge (although viewers on platforms like Twitch can still “tip” you as discussed above).
These companies in livestreaming cater more to organizations and brands rather than artists, and many provide more managed and hands-on rather than self-serve solutions.
If you’d prefer not to show your face in your livestream and just want to talk with fans or with friends on the air, in the style of a traditional talk radio, then this section is for you. There aren’t as many options as in video, as live audio is still an emerging category on a global level, but I see this becoming more common in the future as certain markets like China warm up to the format.
This is still an emerging model in the live-audio space, but I found one example:
This is also still an emerging model, but I found one example — also from a podcast hosting platform:
Again, because of its technical complexity, broadcasting a show in VR only makes sense if you truly know the medium, so tread carefully.
This is an emerging category that combines livestreaming with the ability to feature products next to videos and/or allow people to purchase products in real time as they see them in the stream. While it has yet to be truly proven in the marketplace, it may be appropriate for artists who are looking to combine a live experience with promotions for Bandcamp or merch pages.
One of the most devastating aspects of the SXSW cancellation for me personally is the breadth of educational content that’s just going down the drain because it no longer has a platform.
With that in mind, I wanted to include a few potential tools for those speakers looking to create online courses, webinars or other videos around more educational, industry-facing panels and workshops, as a safety net in the wake of ongoing event cancellations. There may also be an opportunity here to turn otherwise ephemeral, one-time panels into more long-term revenue streams by making the videos and courses on-demand.
As more tours get cancelled or postponed, one particular aspect of the concert experience is also suffering: fan meet-and-greets. Major artists like Niall Horan and KISS have canceled their recent meet-and-greets, forfeiting not just significant income from VIP ticket buyers, but also an opportunity to commemorate and interact with their biggest fans and supporters face-to-face, which has tremendous emotional value on both sides of the table.
Artists of all sizes looking to move their VIP fan meet-and-greet experiences online can use most of the platforms listed above, particularly those in the free-to-play or ticketed/paywalled sections. But there are also a handful of platforms with a specific meet-and-greet interface that looks and works differently from those of standard livestreaming platforms.
A running list of emerging tools for real-time, synchronous creative collaboration and performance — one of the biggest obstacles facing many artists today in creating and recording music remotely, especially those who normally perform in a live ensemble setting.
[UPDATE MAY 18, 2020] As livestreaming activity continues to build up and the market starts to mature and take proper shape, I will no longer be updating this document with a listing of curated events, as it will be nowhere close to comprehensive and representative on its own.
Instead, below is a meta-list of other livestreaming and virtual event listings across the Internet, many of which are open to submissions. I highly recommend you send your livestreaming event to these resources if you’re looking to maximize your reach and discoverability.
Whether you are an artist looking for emergency funds to cope with ongoing event cancellations, or a fan or supporter wanting to contribute to artists’ collective livelihoods in these tough times, here are some local resources you can turn to: