How to Set up Your Virtual Gig
Since social distancing has been introduced around the world, live streaming has really taken off in the independent music community. In my last blog post, I outlined some reasons why indie artists should be taking advantage of this amazing tool and how they can use it, but this time I want to give some more practical advice on how you can set up and promote your next virtual gig.
What streaming platform should I use?
As I’m sure you know, there are a few different live streaming platforms to choose from, but which one should you be using?
In most circumstances, I think Twitch is the best way to go. It’s the most feature-rich, it encourages engagement and most of all, it’s really easy to use for your listeners. One link can take them straight to your live video and on top of that, it’s possible to add a donation section to your channel page. Not only is Twitch easily accessible for your current fanbase, but it provides the best opportunity to get in front of new listeners. As I mentioned in my previous post, it isn’t very saturated when it comes to music. This means you can easily get discovered in the music category listing if you pick up enough viewers. It’s a fast growing platform, so if you get in there now you can make the most of it.
Instagram live is another good option. When you go live, the link is displayed right at the top of people's feeds, before any stories. Because of this, you can get some really good reach. The downside is that being a predominantly mobile only platform, the audio quality is never going to be anything special and many viewers might be just having a quick look at their phone, so may not stick around for long. You could integrate a tip jar by putting a PayPal.me link in your bio, but users will have to click off of the stream to donate, which adds a bit of unnecessary friction to the process. I think this is better for a spur of the moment live stream rather than a full virtual gig.
Facebook and YouTube
The final two options are Facebook and YouTube, both have some good options for incorporating decent audio quality and again, you can provide a PayPal.me link for fans to give you tips. A positive is that they both have the benefit of being able to save your stream as a video for use as future content. However, they don’t really do anything special that you can’t do with Twitch, so unless you have a particularly big following on either platform, you’re probably better off using that.
In terms of the set up, there are a couple of routes you could take. The first is the most straightforward - just use your phone/laptop’s camera and microphone and stream straight from there. This is quick, easy and great if you’re on a budget or just wanting to try it out, but it’s not that exciting from a listener’s perspective and your performance isn’t going to sound that impressive, which means you’re going to have to work extra hard to keep your audience engaged and entertained.
The second approach would be capture your audio with decent gear, send it into a DAW, and stream a clean, mixed sound that will be much more pleasing for your listeners and will show off your performance in its best light. So how would you set this up? I’m going to use a simple acoustic singer/songwriter example to explain.
For the vocal, you’re going to need a microphone. It doesn’t have to be anything too flashy or expensive, it just needs to sound better than the one on your phone, so unless you plan on using it for some home recording too, don’t waste too much time debating what one to get. Something as simple as an SM58 would be just fine. Your guitar can be DI’d and both will be plugged in to a simple, 2-input (or more if needed) USB audio interface. Open your DAW (even Garageband will be perfect for this application), record a quick song and start getting a mix together that you can bring up every time you go live to make your performance sound professional. If you haven’t mixed anything before, I’d recommend looking up some simple YouTube tutorials and experimenting with this until you have something you’re happy with. Just don’t go overboard, a little bit of EQ, compression and reverb to taste on each instrument will go a long way. If you’re in doubt, send a quick snippet of the audio to me here and I’ll help you out.
Once you’ve got a sound you like, you need to route the audio from your DAW directly to your live streaming service of choice. I was going to type up a whole guide on how to do this, but Steven Melin’s YouTube video does a better job of explaining how than I ever could, so give it a watch! Steven is a really talented composer and he makes some great content. Check out his other videos and his website! https://www.stevenmelin.com/
Make it look good!
As well as sounding amazing, your virtual gig should look the part too. Instead of just streaming from your sofa, make a special performance area. Set up a backdrop, hang some cool lights and let your imagination run wild thinking about what you can do to stand out. The more effort you put in, the more your audience will see that and feel inclined to stay and listen.
Promoting Your Gig
Once everything is ready to go, you will need to promote your virtual gig. Unless your following is huge, you can’t just randomly go live and expect people to come flooding in. You need to promote your stream just like you would a real gig, or your latest single. Set a date, a time and make a real event out of it!
When will you host it?
Picking a time is more important than you might think. If your audience aren’t available, they won’t be watching you, so try to base it around their habits and avoid clashing with any major TV shows or sporting events (not that there’s a lot of those right now). It’s likely that the best time is going to be the evening, but just in case, here’s a quick tip for Instagram users - If you have a business profile, you can tap the three lines at the top of your page and go to the “Insights” section. From there, go to the audience tab and scroll down to the bottom. You will be able to see which day your followers are most active on and at what time on that day. Pick two times based on this. Ask your audience via a poll on your story which time they’d prefer and there you have it!
Give an incentive to watch
Once you have the date and time you need to promote it like crazy, so plan well in advance. You can do this through regular social media posts, but try to give an incentive for people to come and watch. You could giveaway some exclusive merch or a hard copy of your EP to one lucky viewer. You could print some special T-shirts to sell that will only be available on the stream. Maybe you could start gathering some song requests before the event? Let your imagination run wild and make it more than a plain old live stream.
One of my favourite things I’ve seen a few artists doing with their virtual gigs is teaming up. You could run a live stream (or a series of live streams) with other local artists, or bands in your genre to promote each other, increase your reach and give your listeners more value for their time. You could also team up with your local music venue. Maybe your gig’s been cancelled, but you could replace it on the night with a virtual one. The venue will love the exposure and support this brings just as much as you. Do you have a good relationship with a particular music blog or local radio station? Offer to collaborate with them! Thinking a little more outside the box, if you play regular slots at your local pub and they’ve been forced to close, you could join forces with them for some live music and a quiz on their Facebook page. The possibilities are endless.
This is here to stay.
Most importantly, and as I mentioned in the last blog post, I think that the live streaming trend is here to stay well beyond the current social situation, both in the indie music community and in the A-list world. I’d encourage every artist to invest some time and effort into this and make it a regular part of your schedule. It’s an amazing tool to have access to, so take advantage of it!