Let’s face it, live streaming is starting to feel a little stale. And if we’re being honest, it never really scratched the itch in the first place. But you gotta use it or lose it...at least that’s the expression that comes to mind in a time like this when staying connected to your fans and your art is more important than ever.
So what do you do? How do you think outside the box when you’re literally stuck inside one - most likely your bedroom?
1. Remember: raw rocks
Do not, I repeat, do not try to make your live stream the same as your live show. If you’ve tried this already, you know it doesn’t work anyhow. Yes, no one else is in the room with you. No, you can’t hear the applause. Yes, the awkward silence between songs is a bit uncomfortable. It is what it is. The shine is gone.
But raw is the new black, my friends! Take inventory of your live stream set - everything from your space to your songs to how you perform those songs in that space. If you write on the floor, consider live streaming from the floor - legs crossed, back against the couch, relaxed, low key, raw. You play with an electric guitar and amp? Put it away, pull out the acoustic guitar. Do you typically stream your whole room when you perform? Try getting a little closer and capturing waste up.
Don’t get me wrong; people, organizations, and companies, are paying big money for their live streams this year. Quality standards are going up all across the board and I definitely support excellent wifi, a sharp camera, and an external mic. But as production value goes up, your fans will still only want one thing - to feel like they are actually in the room with you. Make yourself as accessible as possible.
2. Engage engage, engage
If there’s one thing I personally enjoy about live streaming, it’s hearing from my audience more directly. In fact, I have more conversations with my fans now than when I saw them in person. Go figure!
Nothing compares to real-time comments during a live stream. If you want to pump life into your stream, your audience’s comments need to be your top priority. Read comments aloud and mention the fans name when you do.
Comments are not a distraction from your set. They are the set. Allow them to direct your ‘stage’ banter and influence your song picks. Talk directly to people. Call them out and ask them questions. How is the weather in their city? Where are they watching from? What was the highlight of their week? What are they drinking right now? You will notice increased engagement in your streams when you make your viewers feel like they are part of the stream.
Also here’s a tip: stream from one device (a laptop or tablet) and read/respond to comments from another (your phone). Or vice versa. Working with 2 different devices has made my streaming experience a little more fluid since I’m not tampering with the device that is capturing the performance. This is especially helpful if my streaming device is a few feet away and awkward to reach when attempting to read viewer comments.
3. Give your fans the spotlight
Let’s take it a step further. What if you could actually pull your fans into your live video stream? Make them special guests? Have a 2-minute on-screen interview with a stranger? Guess what, you can! You’ll need to be using Zoom, Streamyard, or another 3rd party service, since Facebook doesn’t allow split screens, but it’s possible. And you can still share the feed to Facebook.
All this requires is private-messaging your eager fan a link to join. It might be easier to have a friend, spouse, or partner help you with this so you’re not playing that admin role during your set.
But don’t be afraid to take things a step further and invite your fans into your stream. If anything, having two people banter back and forth is much more enjoyable than one person. It doesn’t need to be long, it doesn’t need to be a major part of your set, but keep it fun, light, and use it as yet another means to connect with your audience while making them more than just a passive bystander.
Keep in mind that if you’re streaming on Instagram, they make this concept very easy to carry out. Fans can simply click the “Request to Join” button at the bottom of the feed if they want to be part of the “show”.
4. Take it off social media
It’s true, Facebook and Instagram make streaming pretty easy, accessible, and shareable. But try another approach. Create an exclusive streaming experience - one that’s completely private, invite only, and off social media.
My most rewarding and memorable live stream this year was a Zoom “house concert”. I was able to talk with my audience and answer questions about my songwriting process and the meaning behind certain songs. The host of the Zoom wanted the stream to mirror his in-person house concert series, so he even divided viewers into breakout rooms so they could meet each other and get to know a stranger - in the same way you might do at an actual house concert.
Give it a try. Consider inviting only fans from your mailing list...or maybe just supporters who have bought merch or donated this year. Make sure they know it’s exclusive.
5. Don’t forget a giveaway or two
Giveaways have become a staple part of my live stream set, not only because contests engage fans, but b/also because they bring in additional income. I’ll explain.
I often give away “Lyric Posters” - 13x19 frameable graphic designs I’ve personally created, and an occasional T-shirt or tank. I choose my winners by asking thoughtful questions and picking my favorite answers in the comments. A few questions I’ve asked over the last few months are:
1) What is your silver lining during this pandemic - an unexpected pleasant by product of quarantine?
2) What do you look forward to most when things fully open back up?
Milk the question and ask it repeatedly over the course of your stream. Read comments in between your songs. Near the end of your stream announce your favorite answer and tell the viewer to send you their address.
Also look at this as an opportunity to advertise your merch. When I display a poster or T-shirt on screen it serves as a reminder to fans that they can support me by buying merch from my store. And they do. It’s a win win. 75% of the time a live stream with a merch giveaway translates into direct sales (or even just donations; don’t forget to include links to your Store, Tip Jar or PayPal!)
Engage, engage, engage. At the end of the day, whether you’re running a contest, streaming from your kitchen floor, or taking it off social media, connecting with your fans on a personal level is the goal. Think of that as your sole purpose for live streaming and the fans who follow you on screen will be the first ones to show up at your in-person concerts when the time comes.
Joy Ike is a full-time singer-songwriter and artist consultant based out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her writings on music, business, and branding have been shared by ASCAP, BMI, Bandzoogle, Indie on the Move, CD Baby, and several other prominent music industry blogs. She also gives lectures and workshops on fanbase-building, tour booking, social media best practices, and turning a music career into a sustainable living. You can find her through her artist consulting project, Cultivators, or at www.joyike.com, Facebook, and Instagram.
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