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 needs and priorities
Promoting community in the digital world
I am a co-director for the Voice cLoud, a social enterprise 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 this time (March 2020) and had to address that quickly in order to keep assisting the communities and people we work with.
As directors we 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, we knew that they would be put at a further disadvantage as a result of no social contact and enforced isolation. Little did we know how long this extended isolation might continue for.
To that end, we launched a free to access e-learning module across our projects which included virtual meetings and rehearsals, livestreams and broadcasts; where possible, we hoped that this would keep participants in the Voice cLoud’s projects connected and socially/mentally stimulated and offer people the chance to pursue their hobbies and interests online.
On 16th March, we (quite consciously!) launched our first 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 the webcam and microphone on the device we were broadcasting from.
Although I sat on the public facing side of the camera, as we continued to regularly livestream to stay contacted with the participants of our projects, 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 a lot of research and trial and error, separate to our projects, which enabled us to progress firstly to using Zoom, which allowed multiple project leaders onscreen presenting from different locations to observe Government rules of no households mixing.
This was livestreamed to our social media channels and then (later down the line) in to an online studio, allowing us to raise the production level of our livestreams to a relatively sophisticated (yet low cost) broadcast standard.
As the weeks turned into months and the end of 2020 approached with the country still facing significant limitations on how we could socially and publicly mix, these livestreams had become extremely popular, with up to 12 thousand people watching in total every week, tuning in literally from all the world; across not only our target area of East Anglia – but also the rest of England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Canada, Spain, 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 gave cause for celebration, but also prompted us to also reflect and realise that the community we had aimed to nurture and encourage online had developed into a global one, and meaningful inter-cultural exchange!
Providing a service
I knew of so many businesses and organisations that were sadly suffering and at risk of closure as a result of not being able to reach their customers, clients and service-users. As they had limited tech knowledge/confidence to address this, I started to offer and provide support to some other non-profit organisations and/or those trading with charitable purposes. Using the knowledge that I had gained regarding virtual event production and online audience engagement, I started to provide livestreaming both as a service and as a training resource – supporting these organisations to understand how to operate taking their own services online.
Through confidence I gained as provider and trainer I further invested in equipment, expanding on my home studio set-up to include a full 4k multi-camera operation, high quality condenser microphones and mixer, production switchers, mobile router, encoder, auto-prompters, studio lighting and various livestream studio subscriptions. With these I started to provide a for-hire service to businesses, charities and third-sector organisations as well as privately for weddings and funerals.
With this set-up, I am ready to provide a small-scale onsite broadcasting service for businesses and organisation as we emerge from the pandemic.
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 including festivals, charity conferences, product launches, interfaith discussions, panel discussions, cookery shows and more.
Impact on the Arts
As of writing this page (January 2021), 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 deeply worried about the impact of various national lockdowns on The Arts and the inevitable confidence issues that audiences will have around attending theatre performances and gigs (traditionally perceived as cramped and confined for audiences).
This concern, not just for myself, 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 consider how we can deliver hybrid events that will be delivered in front of a reduced/restricted socially distanced live audience for an online audience tuning in from home. As the UK arts communities emerge from the impact of COVID-19, I believe that we will 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 became (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 and more discreet to allow placement which doesn’t compromise or hinder the viewing experience of a live audience. I believe that, eventually, this streaming tech will integrate into stage properties and set design as the theatrical world moves closer towards virtual-reality and other immersive technologies.
Conventionally, live performances cater for live audiences and online/broadcast performances are tailored for a “tuned-in” audience and ‘ne’er the twain shall meet’. During the Summer of 2020, with the support of various venues, I started to navigate the complexity of how a hybrid (online/offline) event could successfully work and what lessons could be learned. This is something that I intend to investigate further through 2021, aiming for a slick and seamless hybrid event that will offer a meaningful, authentic and engaging 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 offer considerable challenges too, such as how does a performer play to both camera AND a live audience without one side 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.
Most have really hurt (and in fact – brought to a full hiatus) the world of theatre, performance and the arts. However, there have been some things that have benefited arts professionals too. However, 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 have FOMO (fear of missing out – “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 explore and even partially transition into this online world to reach your existing audiences, expand upon them and revitalise your offer and rediscover 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 an immersive digital performance – 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, embodying 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 if 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, again please do 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, advising you on the best way to adapt your planned for event to an online version of it, 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!), which includes 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 in person! I control everything from my professional studio – thus social distance need not be a concern for you or your patrons/guests/delegates.
I can handle everything that your event needs remotely:
Live online chat / live Q&A
Feedback about my livestream producer services
Please contact me if you would like to see more formal feedback and references or recommendation letters/emails from clients whom I have webcasted, livestreamed and remotely broadcasted.
Please note that the above wording is my own thoughts, observations and intellectual property. 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”