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GUIDE | Live Streaming Tips And How To Play Together Online For Musicians

By Anya Wassenberg on March 25, 2020

Photo by Simone Dabbicco from Pexels
Photo by Simone Dabbicco from Pexels

The social distancing imposed by the global COVID-19 outbreak has wreaked havoc with many industries, but perhaps music and the performing arts most acutely of all. It has effectively shutting down performing stages worldwide, but musicians and other artists are responding with a wave of online streaming performances.

Here’s how they’re doing it.

If you’re streaming a solo performance on Facebook, it’s relatively easy. First and foremost, you require a good internet connection, and a device like a phone, tablet, or laptop. Set up your device, access the camera in Facebook, click on “Live” and you’re already broadcasting. Musicians with an official Facebook profile or verified Instagram account can host a live concert and add a payment donation button with the iOS or Android app.

As a musician, if your official YouTube channel has more than 1,000 subscribers, you can enable live streaming. Using an encoding program, you can also produce more complex videos using multiple cameras and other options, and then stream it through YouTube Live. Ads, merchandising, and other options can add to the revenue stream.

For anyone who still isn’t sure about hosting a live stream, there are companies that can help, such as Side Door Access, who will help host an event for a 10 percent cut (waived until the end of March).

Live streaming with multiple performers in multiple locations can get impossibly complicated, particularly since there may be a slight lag time that means musicians are hearing notes a couple of seconds after they are played.

A video using multiple musicians can be assembled, provided all the musicians play with a click track that ensures the exact same tempo through all the recordings. It depends on the ability of the musicians to play their parts in isolation. That’s what the Rotterdam Symphony did, using 19 musicians. The video took about a week to produce.

That’s also how the TSO produced their at-home rendition of Aaron Coplands’ Appalachian Spring.

In lieu of live streaming, Toronto based composer Kevin Zi-Xiao He illustrates an option for isolated musicians who want to play pieces with multiple parts, albeit one that does require some video editing skills, and possibly also transcription skills, depending on the instrumentation. By recording himself playing the various parts of John Dowland: Lachrimae Antiquae from Lachrimae (Seaven Teares) for Five Viols, each with separate audio, he was able to assemble the video clips into a single performance.

Outside of social media platforms, Zoom is the live streaming software of choice — probably why their stock prices have jumped by about 30 percent in the last month or so. The basic version of Zoom can be downloaded for free from a number of different websites, and can be used on a computer or as an app. The company pioneered the video conferencing and webinar markets, and is available for free or with a paid subscription with a few extra perks. Even with the free version, however, you’ll be able to hold unlimited meetings of up to 40-meetings at a time, with up to 100 participants at a time. If you already have a copy of Zoom, you’ll want to make sure you have the most recent updated version.

Zoom can allow musicians to play together via the meeting function. The “Share Screen” and “Multiple participants can share simultaneously” functions should be enabled. Your group can include musicians only, or you can make it public. If the group is made public, an audience can listen along. You can adjust individual setting so that only those of the musicians are heard, for example, while the audience can only listen.

The meeting can also be recorded through the “Local Recording” option. The audio and video of a meeting can be recorded to a computer or laptop, and then uploaded to YouTube. The option is found under the Account Settings menu and in the Recording tab.

Zoom has also been a great boon to music teachers, who can hold lessons online and give feedback just as they do in person. Theatre companies and others have also used Zoom to keep performing without in-person audiences.

Even more options are available for musicians, particularly those who want to pursue live streaming on a regular basis. Twitch is an app known more for video game streaming, but it’s also free and available to musicians for live performances. Revenue can come from tipping through the app, or subscriptions to your Twitch channel. Similar apps include YouNow, Mixer, and Periscope.

Services such as StreamYard can help you send your stream to multiple platforms at once. For musicians who just want to play together, there are many options to jam online, just as Ninjam or Jamulus.

There are a couple of major caveats for live streaming, the first being audio quality. It’s a good idea to do a trial run first to check that the sound quality is sufficient for a decent performance. A stable and adequate internet connection is the other deal breaking stipulation.

Through the period of imposed social isolation, technology can help keep the spirit of sharing music alive. It’s no coincidence that so many of the orchestral selections being played in various ways by musicians uniting through the global pandemic are uplifting in nature. The Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra chose Beethoven’s iconic Ode to Joy, and for the TSO, Copland’s work held a similar premise. Jeffrey Beecher, TSO’s principal double bassist, and the person who coordinated the at-home recording project, explained in an interview with the Globe and Mail.

“The intent was to offer something of solace. I have felt grief in the losing of connection with my colleagues, and the piece, which moves through so many emotions in a short time, speaks to the moment.”


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