Over the past five years, I’ve used live streaming as a tool to reach more people through my music. During that time, we’ve seen live streaming become integrated into the social platforms we as artists use every day. Over the past five days alone, it’s become clear that more and more artists are considering streaming in the wake of COVID-19. Live broadcasts offer more personable content than a tweet, Instagram post or YouTube video can. With live streaming, you’re inviting your audience to live in the moment with you. Here are some tips that I hope will help those of you looking to set up your first stream.
It’s important to live-stream on the right platform for you and your audience. Go live where your core audience already lives. But don’t rule out other platforms because of this, as you might alienate fans who’d like to see you on the platforms that they prefer. Trial platforms and follow the metrics to determine where you may be best placed for live content. Suitable places to start include YouNow, Twitch, Insta Live, YouTube, Facebook Live, and Mixer. There are, of course, many more. Focusing on one or two options is wise. You don’t want to overcomplicate things for your supporters by sending them to too many platforms. But, at the same time, you want to reach as many new people as possible.
The technical stuff
Most platforms let you go live on a smartphone but you should consider a more professional PC/Mac set-up if you want to maximise the quality of your live-streamed performances. If you have a home studio, you may already own much of the equipment you need to get started. Depending on your set-up and what you already have spec-wise, you might have to look into the software and hardware that will work best for you, for your space and on your budget. I’ve left a list of my go-to hardware and software below but, bear in mind, there are many other options that might be better for your budget.
Microphone Neumann TLM 103
Audio Interface Universal Audio Apollo Twin X
Headphones Easy KZ ZST In Ears (In red and blue)
DAW Ableton Live
Guitars Gretsch Electromatic, Taylor GS Mini, Taylor CE110
Plug-ins Slate Digital, Waves, Izotope, IK Multimedia, Polyverse
Camera Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5k
Capture cards Blackmagic Decklink SDI
Lenses Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6
Broadcast software Streamlabs OBS
Colour-grade software DaVinci Resolve (optional)
LED Aputure AL-528W Amaran LED Panels
Computer Windows PC
Processor Intel I9-9900K
Graphics card Nvidia G-Force RTX 2070
Balancing personal and musical content
You should consider a structured format for your streams but casual streams that follow no strict parameters are popular too. Regimented formats work if you have different segments within a single session – you might want to open fan mail for 10 minutes and close the cast on a preview of a new song. However you approach your formatting, understand that it’s important to have a balance of both musical and personal content. Viewers want to get to know you, the person behind the music they’re hearing, especially if they’re new to your content. Take the time to host Q&As, give tips and tell stories from the road – whatever you’re comfortable sharing and whatever you think your viewers will love.
Your personal set-up
Though it can be challenging, especially if you have limited space to work with, it’s important to create a setting for your streams. If you’re using a dedicated room, dress and treat it as a live-stream studio space. Most of us will be using our home’s box room, our bedroom or our living room. With the right lighting, placement and camera angles, though, you can transform any space into an awesome set that will do wonders for your performances. First impressions can be critical to retaining new viewers. It’s worth putting in some effort to design and maintain a welcoming stream setting – better that than an unmade bed littered with week-old pyjamas.
Take your brand into account when curating your setting. The latest version of my live-streaming space, for example, is a neon-jungle-themed set-up that evolved from a simple brick wall with hanging ivy. The neon jungle is visually consistent with the upcoming music projects I’ll be releasing later in the year, hence the change. We’ve recently programmed the space’s neon lights to flash and change colour when we get a new subscriber or big donation.
Get your creative-producer hat on here: build a space that works for you and try to visualise the viewers’ experience. Go for something bespoke and on-brand.
This isn’t a YouTube video where your audience wants to sit back, watch and, if you’re lucky, leave a comment on. Viewers want to interact with what’s happening in front of them and be a part of the action. With that in mind, you need to give them something or someone to interact with. Better interaction means higher retention time – your audience will stick around for longer if they feel like they’re able to contribute to the stream. Playing songs back to back without addressing viewers or setting up a camera in the corner of a rehearsal room during practice isn’t going to make for great content because your audience can’t talk to you. That intimate connection is why they’re there in the first place. Reciprocate, converse with and recognise your community. Call supporters out by name. Ask them questions. Encourage Q&As and allow your audience to ask you anything. Take song requests. Improvise the lyrics they come up with in the chat into your music. There are endless options. Make sure that viewers who tip or donate are recognised and thank them personally for their direct support.
Consistency is key
Wherever you’re streaming, the key is to keep your broadcasts regular so your audience knows when and where to expect you. Thinking ahead and setting up a schedule will help keep your viewers informed. If you can’t commit to a streaming schedule, try hosting your community on a Discord server, where you can update them regularly about time changes or when you plan to go live. It’s a fine forum through which your supporters can interact and get to know each other as well – they all have a common interest, after all: you.
Call to Action
Don’t expect viewers to flood straight to your new single or new music video if you don’t mention it on your stream. Calls to action are important, especially during live broadcasts. If your supporters are already there, living with you in the moment, they’re likely to jump across to a link to new music if you mention it.
However, be careful not to oversell yourself. Let your performance and music do that. Viewers appreciate personable streamers who let their audiences get to know them – shoving merch in viewers’ faces is a quick way to turn them off. Think about peppering your stream with gentle reminders, perhaps every 15 minutes. Just be yourself, find that balance and remember to share new and exciting things you have going on.
The golden rule: nurture your community
Building an online community around your music is a special thing but remember to stay connected with your viewers both on and off stream. I talk in more detail about upholding this relationship with those who support you and your music in my TEDx Talk Livestreaming my Life, below (gentle reminder, see?):
Consider how best to give back to your community and how to incentivise viewers to visit your broadcasts and, more importantly, to stick around. What else, aside from the wonderful live music they get to tune into, could you offer as a thank-you to viewers for spending time with you? Weekly competitions? Free downloads? Live previews of unreleased material?
Keep content fresh and keep your audience informed. As with normal gigs, the best way to grow your community is through word of mouth. If you create compelling content, interact well with viewers and keep things novel, you can be sure your community will grow in time. It might not happen overnight but put the work in and you’ll reap the rewards and meet some awesome new people along the way.