How COVID-19 has both decimated and re-energised the arts world!

A rambling blog type thoughts on the impact of COVID-19 leading towards a sales pitch for my services! 

COVID-19

As a full-time musician and arts professional, when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit the UK in mid-March, 2020 I found myself having lost an entire year’s worth of work… overnight!

This meant that I had to: 
• Prioritise and secure any work that I could retain or salvage 
• Creatively pivot any skills and resources I already had
• Focus on opportunities and emerging need and priorities  

Promoting community in the digital world 

I am a director for a social enterprise, the Voice cLoud which explores the impact of arts and music on health and wellbeing – along with most other organisations, we had to suspend all physical meetings for our projects from mid March.

The directors of the Voice cLoud had a real concern that many of the individuals, families and communities that we work with would be disproportionately affected by lockdown and isolation given that they were already considered socially isolated, vulnerable or facing economic struggles that would put them at a further disadvantage as a result of no social contact and enforced isolation.

So, we launched an e:learning module across our projects which included virtual meetings and rehearsals, livestreams and broadcasts in order to keep participants in the Voice cLoud’s projects connected and socially/mentally stimulated where possible and offer people the chance to pursue their hobbies and interests online.

On 16th March, we very consciously launched our first (awkward) livestream. 

The Evolution of my livestreaming knowledge

Initially, the livestreams that we broadcast were very basic – using a single social media channel’s ability to Go Live using a computer’s webcam and microphone.

Although I sat on the public facing side of the camera, as the weeks progressed through the first lockdown, I found that I had a real passion, flair and aptitude for the production side of virtual events and webcasting. 

The need to retain engagement challenged me to conduct lots of research and trial and error (separate to our projects) which enabled us to progress firstly to using Zoom (allowing several project leaders onscreen presenting from different locations – in order to follow the government rules of no households mixing) and livestreaming out to our social media channels and then eventually to online studios which allowed us to raise the production level of our livestreams to a quite sophisticated (yet low budget) broadcast standard. 

These livestreams have been extremely popular with up to 12 thousand people watching in total every week tuning in literally from all the world (across East Anglia – our target area but also the rest of England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Canada, Denmark, Poland, Germany, America and even Australia – despite it being around 3am at the time of broadcast!).

By Christmas 2020, we reached a milestone of half a million views on one social media channel alone – an achievement which allowed us to also reflect and realise that the community we had aimed to nurture and encourage online had developed into a global one and inter-cultural exchange!

Providing a service

I knew of so many businesses and organisations that were really suffering and at risk of closing as a result of not being able to reach their customers, clients and service-users and with limited tech knowledge/confidence so I provided support to some other non profit organisations (or trading with charitable purpose).

Using the knowledge I had gained about virtual event production and online audience engagement, I started a livestreaming service, training up these organisations to help them take their services online.

Following confidence I gained as provider and trainer, I invested in further equipment, expanding upon my home studio set-up to include a full 4k multi-camera operation, microphones and mixer, camera switchers, mobile router, encoder, auto-prompters, studio lighting and various livestream studio subscriptions and started to provide a for-hire service to businesses, charities and third-sector organisations as well as privately for weddings and funerals. 

Since then I have delivered virtual events of all types both face to face (socially-distanced and with various control measures in place) and virtually; producing hundreds of hours of webcasts, livestreams and broadcasts across a broad range of sectors; for festivals, charity conferences, product launches, interfaith discussions, panel discussions, cookery shows and more.

Impact on the Arts

My first industry – the arts has been at an almost standstill since mid-March 2020 and the sector is hurting and its people struggling… Badly. 

I remain hugely worried about the impact of various national lockdowns on the arts and the inevitable confidence that audiences will have around attending theatre performances and gigs (traditionally perceived as cramped and confined for audiences)

This concern not just for myself and on behalf of the cultural community and arts professionals but also for the rich and diverse offer of culture and the arts that the UK rightfully proudly boasts of has led me to think about how we can deliver hybrid events that will be delivered in front of a reduced/restricted live audience for an online audience tuning in from home.

As the UK arts communities emerge from the impact of COVID-19, I believe we will both individually and collectively have to continue to be the tenacious, creative, entrepreneurial beings we are – growing and adapting to the changing events environment.

The COVID legacy 

In 2020, people became habituated with learning, pursuing hobbies and interests and receiving cultural nourishment online. 

Furthermore, they also got (mostly) comfortable with doing so (even those who didn’t think they would!)

I believe that while people desperately want physical social interaction and to attend shows, gigs and theatres live and in person – the technology that came to our rescue in 2020 will not go away.

Being a theatre maker or arts professional, I believe following and employing these methods and trends will put you at an advantage to future-proof yourself and your organisation.

What I think the future may look like for performance

I believe that technology will continue to play a pivotal and fundamental role in the future of events, maybe with tech and equipment becoming smaller or more discreet to allow placement which doesn’t compromise a live audiences viewing experience. I believe eventually, the tech will become part of stage properties and set design. 

Hybrid events

Conventionally, live performances cater for live audiences and online/broadcast performances are tailored for a “tuned-in” audience and never the twain shall meet . During the Summer of 2020, and with the support of various venues, I started to navigate the complexity of how a hybrid (online/offline) event could successfully work. This is something that I intend to investigate further through 2021, aiming for a seamless hybrid event that will offer a meaningful and authentic experience for both sets of audience.

For those willing to trial them, hybrid events will offer opportunities for performers, venues and theatres including increased reach and attendance, the possibility of higher engagement with audiences, sponsorship opportunities, reduced environmental and travel costs, the chance to interrogate audience demographic to learn more about your audience.

However, they will also bring considerable challenges too, such as how does a performer play to both camera AND a live audience without one side not left feeling un-engaged, ignored or as a “bystander” , also – how to monetise livestreams (it is both ok and essential to charge), how to create highly-curated and interactive content that offers an authentic and unique experience for both a digital and live audience with the same impact (if that is what you want to do!)

Since in-person/telephone bookings with box offices and cash payments have been largely suspended or made obsolete, 2021 may be the year to explore offering completely digital options for events. 

There are soooo many event platforms and contactless options that can either fully automate or make life easy, as well as offering convenience for audience members, including:
• Online ticketing with website or app
• Online payment
• Use of digital tickets
• Digital check-ins 

Fellow Artists – Can I help?

So, COVID has brought extreme changes to the events industry.

Some of these have benefited arts professionals but those who have not managed to harness and embrace livestreaming and virtual event technology may be left not only pondering whether they can survive the financial impact of successive lockdowns but also with “left behind” anxiety around being able to hold their own against this unprecedented surge in technology/performance innovation.

If you are a musician, artist, actor, poet, drama group, theatre or arts community and feel a bit lost with livestreams, get in touch – I would love to explore with you how you transition into this online world to reach your existing audiences and expand upon them and revitalise your offer and your “thang”.

I would love to collaborate with you

If you are a theatre maker or arts professional and would like to collaborate on a project which explores how traditional performance can interact with digital – a cutting edge experience for an audience which straddles the physical and virtual, let’s chat about what artistic and creative opportunities we might collaboratively explore that embody both a 2021 definition of culture and encourage a sense of community.

If this excites you, get in touch.

What I can do for business

Whether you don’t even know what a livestream is or you have gone live on social media many times and feel familiar and comfortable with the process but want to take your game to the next level – incorporating graphics, images, product placement or onscreen text in order to monetise your page, get in touch – I can provide a full hosting and broadcast service or a plug-in service which compliments and improves what you are already doing, training you and your staff to design, host, manage attendees and guests, prepare speakers and manage the technical production process.

I can handle:
• Integration of multiple guests to your live-stream from separate locations (different locations and countries! Introducing your team or featuring industry experts etc)
• Live-Streams sent to most social media platforms or simulcasted (several at the same time)
• Embedding of Live-Streams to your own website and RTMP integration
• White labelling services – Graphic and artwork creation, placements, lower thirds, integrated video overlays
• Onscreen text – scrolling, tickers, weblinks etc
• Pre-production, soundchecks 
• Sponsor recognition 
• Supply of presenter or host 
• Scripting and good-practise coaching 
• Post-event reports / stats

…and what is more, all of the above can be provided without ever meeting you or your onscreen guests who feature in your livestream! I control everything from my studio – so social distance need not be a concern for you.


Final note

Please ask to see my references or recommendation letters/emails from clients whom I have webcasted/livestreamed/broadcasted.

Please note that the above wording are my thoughts and observations. If you would like to quote any of the above, please credit me and offer a link to this page.

“Despite almost a year of social isolation, arguably the world has never been more connected”