Music industry turns to livestreaming to boost revenue

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Caroline BurgessImage source, Caroline Burgess
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Caroline last attended Glastonbury in person in 2019 with her husband and daughter

Caroline Burgess-Pike is a huge music festival fan. She normally attends two a year, including the granddaddy of them all, Glastonbury.

This year the PR director from Kent signed up for the Glastonbury Live event.

She says livestreams are a fantastic way to fill the gap when in-person live events are cancelled.

"They are great for families who might struggle to attend a festival with young children in tow."

During the Covid pandemic, she says livestreams have been "important to help support the live music and event industry at such a difficult time".

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Sam Divine DJed from her living room when the UK stay-at-home order took effect

It was back in March 2020 that the UK's first Covid lockdown was announced.

Before all the restrictions came into effect, Sam Divine DJed at the Defected Virtual Festival which took place in a London megaclub - without an audience.

"Finding yourself alone in the Ministry of Sound with no-one apart from the tech guys, lighting guys and some dancers, was very weird. But there was something magical about it, too.

"I was going to be playing to thousands of people who should have been on the dance floor but instead were in their living rooms," the Ibiza-favourite says.

Just days after the event, the lockdown meant Sam found herself DJing in her living room. She experimented with different streaming platforms and chose one called Twitch, which allowed some interaction with fans.

"It was crazy to see the number of people in one chat room, watching their favourite DJs [during livestreams]. The community came together from all over the world and supported each other - it was beautiful."

Sam says she won't be turning off the streaming with the ending of Covid restrictions. "I'm starting a brand called Cloud 9. It'll include a nine-date club tour in the US, streamed to audiences in the UK."

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For punk band Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes audience interaction is "crucial"

No part of the music industry has escaped unscathed from Covid - including Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, a punk band with a reputation for raucous live performances.

In November 2020, they livestreamed a gig from the O2 Academy in Brixton over the Melody VR app.

Frank Carter himself wasn't initially sold on the idea.

"We were very hesitant to do any kind of livestreaming; our shows have always been about interaction - that energy from the audience has sometimes been what's got us through."

Guitarist Dean Richardson says because of this, audience interaction was crucial.

"There were three huge screens which we faced as we played and there were 20 fans on each screen. It was like the craziest CCTV show ever.

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Frank Carter: "You've got to have the blood, sweat and tears"

"There was a band in their rehearsal room and kids moshing off their sofas with parents trying to keep control. Seeing that meant you knew you were performing to someone."

However, Dean adds a caveat: "It was an incredible livestream gig but it was not an incredible gig compared to Alexandra Palace. A lot of the discussion is whether it's a viable alternative, I don't think it is, I think it's a different thing."

Frank agrees. "You've got to have the blood, sweat and tears, otherwise you've got a high-production band practice.

"You also see there's a future where you can combine the audience and a livestream to homes of people who can't get to a gig or may have anxiety or a disability which prevents them from having the experience that they'd want to have.

"That's the greatest thing that's come out of it. That's what I'm excited about."

Image source, Mark Allan/Barbican
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The Barbican's Huw Humphreys says livestreams have attracted new audiences

If Dean, Frank and Sam Divine have found the last year hard work, venues have also had to adapt.

When the pandemic hit, Huw Humphreys, head of music at London's Barbican Centre ripped up a schedule planned up to four years in advance. The Barbican had occasionally facilitated a livestream but this didn't prepare Huw for what was coming.

"We almost needed a blank sheet of paper. We worked on a series of concerts from September 2020 to Christmas. We had some existing kit for streaming but supplemented that with new equipment."

Streaming tickets cost £12.50, and Huw reckons one-and-a-half to two people per ticket watched a livestream.

To attend in-person, when restrictions allowed, tickets cost £20. Yet whereas the 1,900-seat auditorium was running at a reduced, socially-distanced capacity, the size of an audience for a livestream is limitless,

"Shows were able to pay for themselves so it was financially viable and we've definitely attracted audiences overseas who wouldn't otherwise be watching," says Huw.

When no "in-person" concert-goers were allowed in the hall, Huw says there were some surprising results.

"The conditions allowed us to do things we'd never be able to do in a normal recital. When we livestreamed pianist Benjamin Grosvenor, we put the piano on a platform over the stalls and filmed in 360 degrees and over the top. That's the kind of thing you can't do with an audience."

Although Huw's looking forward to welcoming back full audiences, he says the Barbican will keep the livestreams going, making them "better and better".

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Joel Broms Brosjö's company is aimed at artists who want to livestream their events

Now people are becoming increasingly used to watching livestreamed events, the number of services designed to facilitate them has also increased.

One of these is Swedish-based firm Doors, founded by Joel Broms Brosjö.

It aims to provide artists with "everything you need to create unique livestreamed experiences and get paid".

This includes things like dealing with ticketing, local taxes and performance rights fees. Artists get 70% of revenues after taxes and rights payments - the platform gets the remaining 30%.

Joel says his platform is aimed at artists who have already have a fanbase and now want to bring in some cash.

"If you're a band with 500 people at your gigs, that's a really good starting point for us. Aspiring artists would grow their fanbase on other platforms and then monetise it through us when they're big enough to sell tickets."

One act that has used Joel's platform is Swedish singer Tomas Ledin who played a set on Doors this Midsummer's Eve.

"Ledin tours up and down the country, but has cancelled two summer tours because of the pandemic. From an island in the archipelago, Ledin connected with an audience that tuned in on tablets, smartphones, TVs and desktop computers to share an intimate moment of music and hope."

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Livestreamed music events are not new but have really become popular during the pandemic. There are some definite advantages and many events look set to continue using the technology to reach fans.

Yet they are unlikely to ever replace the excitement of in-person events.

"They're just not the same as experiencing live music in person, as they can't fully replicate the magic of the event," says festival-goer Caroline Burgess-Pike.

"I'm not sure I'd even watch the next Glastonbury Festival being livestreamed if I couldn't be there - I'd feel I was missing out.

"Although for those who can't get to an event livestreams do of course have their benefits."

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