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What to do in your bedroom: do’s and don’ts for livestreaming

If you are like me, you have been satisfying your craving for live music with livestreams.  As I have said elsewhere, livestreaming is a new artform, different from live concerts, different from video.  Livestreaming is intimate, it is a gathering of fans who can talk among themselves (no need to shout over the music), and with the band.  And, of course, it is casual.  The artists can kick back in their bedrooms and be themselves.  No costumes, makeup, strobe lights, towering speakers – just the artist and fans, being causal.

Unfortunately, watching over a dozen livestreams this week – and tuning out several when they became too painful to watch – has convinced me that a lot of artists are altogether too casual and have not grasped that the livestream is more than just putting a notice on your Facebook page, Instagramming it out, and sitting in front of the laptop and playing.  So, I have compiled the LA La Land Rules for Livestreaming, aka, do’s and don’ts in your bedroom. If you are an artist, hopefully, these will help you livestream at the top of your game.  If you are a fan, they will tell you what to look for in a good livestream, what to feedback in the Comments.

Don’t do it in the dark. I know it sounds silly, but many artists I watched this week were literally in the dark or close to it.  They were in their bedrooms with a single overhead light on.  The effect was a dark form with a guitar whose most prominent feature was a long nose shadow.  When you set up your livestream, find bright natural light from a window or better, use a ring light – $30-$35 online.  If you need to use what is available, light yourself with a key light – a bright lamp that makes you very visible to the camera and a fill light – a less bright lamp positioned to “fill” the shadows. This will give you even lighting but enough texture to look not only human but good. Check out Americana folk artist Stevie Coyle for some of the best livestream lighting around.

Do it outside of the bedroom.  For some reason, about 20% of the artists I saw this week livestreamed from their bedrooms, including a major national star (who I won’t name) sitting on a messy unmade bed (all we could think of was who was in it last night).  Fortunately, many of those I watched demonstrated how much better it is out of the bedroom. Guilia Milanta did a great livestream from her (well-organized and sparkling clean) kitchen because it had great acoustics; Americana artist Stevie Coyle does it from his Mighty Fine Guitar Store because it shows off the shop’s mouth-watering guitars (and great acoustics). Other good ones I watched came from a grand piano in a living room next to a window (Monica Pasquale),  an empty restaurant (The Hoping for the Best Tour), and a living room turned concert hall (Noctambule).  All were well-lit, well-focused, and well done. And none of the audience wondered who had been sleeping in their bed.

Do it loud.  We need to hear you.  The microphone on your laptop may be ok for Zoom, but not for livestream.  If you are a musician, you probably have microphones and maybe a mixer.  If you can’t mic your guitar and your voice and feed them to your camera through a small mixer, that’s ok. You can use your regular microphone jacked into your laptop or camera. Even better, invest  $20 in a specialized cell cam/microphone/ring light holder which gives great results and is a snap to setup. Just test it beforehand to see how it sounds. You wouldn’t accept bad light and sound from a club; don’t accept it from yourself.

Make sure we can catch you doing it.  My biggest frustration was not being able to find promoted livestreams.  The much-ballyhooed Rolling Stones livestream this past weekend that bounced people around until they dead-ended at a private YouTube page was a perfect example.  There are so many platforms now that you need to be very specific in your announcement of where you will be livestreaming and how people can find it.  Just posting on your FB page that you will be livestreaming at a certain time and date is not enough.  Tell us the platform, the way we get to it, and how we can tip you or pay you.  If you are announced on BandsInTown, make sure it says what platform.  If you are going to be on FB Live, set it up on your regular FB page so it is easy to open up. If you are on Instagram Live, tells us to follow you so your stream gets tagged as Live in Stories. We can ‘t appreciate you (or tip you) if we can’t find you.

Go live hot and ready.  Nothing tunes people out of livestreams faster than tuning in, finding the artist is not there or is still setting up the camera.  Plan ahead and start on time with everything ready and tested.  And introduce yourself.  Yes, there will be a platform caption, depending on the platform, but tell people who you are and thank them for being there and kick it off.  Livestreaming is different from setting up on a club stage and then turning to the audience and launching into a favorite number.  You are the MC/stage crew/engineer/band and you need to be ready. People will wait for you in a club because they have to; online they can find another livestream with a few clicks.

Stroke your partners. Your partners are all those people in the Comments section.  Say hi to the ones you know, welcome the ones you don’t. Thank them for the comments and compliments.   This means you have to watch the Comments scroll, which means your laptop needs to be close and easy to see (or phone but that can be difficult to see). It is ok to stop between songs, look at the screen, give a shout out to the people on the scroll.   We love it when you stroke us.  

Say goodbye with a kiss. It doesn’t have to be an actual kiss, although that can work depending on you and your fans – remember this is an intimate art form.  But wrap up with words that say “I loved that you were here and please come back.”  Don’t just end by saying “we are out of time, the tip jar is down there, see you next week.” Tell them when and where next week, offer to send them a reminder if they go to your website and leave their email. And wave, blow kisses, applaud your fans.  Go out with a bang so they will come back.

All of this will become second nature as bands and artists work livestream into their performance schedules.  But by remembering the do’s and don’ts, artists will give better performances, audiences will have a better time, and everyone can get satisfaction.

Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist and radio broadcaster based in Los Angeles, California, with a global following. His two weekly radio programs, MusicFridayLive! and MusicaFusionLA are heard nationwide and in the UK. He focuses on two music specialties: emerging bands in all genres, and the growing LA-based ALM genre (American Latino Music) that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America like cumbia, banda, jarocho and mariachi. He also likes to watch his friend drag race.

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