You Don’t Have to be the New York Philharmonic to Stream Your Opening Night Concert on Facebook Live

How the California Symphony streamed the season opener with only $2,500

California Symphony Operations & Education Director Sunshine Deffner hosts the season opener live stream, a pilot project the organization executed on a shoestring budget.

“We just don’t have the resources,” said pretty much every nonprofit organization ever. Whether you’ve worked at a nonprofit, know someone who’s worked at one, support one, volunteer at one, or are not connected to one at all but are a living, breathing human, you’ve probably heard this at some point. Nonprofits — particularly performing arts organizations — of all sizes say this like it’s our motto sometimes, and while there are some reasons for this (namely that we are often undercapitalized, don’t prioritize or budget for risk-taking with new projects, and are not generally rewarded by our leadership for trying new things if they don’t immediately produce financial returns), this kind of thinking is holding us back. And at times, this kind of thinking is even a defense mechanism when we’re afraid to try to something new, or even just so overworked that adding something new to our plates seems outright daunting. I admit to that. Since joining the California Symphony, I’ve even thought before that I shouldn’t tackle certain projects and instead leave those innovations to “the big guys,” arts organizations that have much larger budgets, because (here it comes) we just don’t have the resources. Then I realized that when I used to work for those really large multi-million dollar arts organizations, we still used the same excuse regardless of how big our budget was, and we passed up working on some interesting ideas because of it.

“Being large and well funded can often be a greater limitation than being small.” — Frank Capek, CEO, Customer Innovations, Inc.

All of this was epitomized for me this summer when I attended a conference for the Association of California Symphony Orchestras, at a presentation led by Frank Capek on creating next generation customer experiences. Capek, who has worked with clients such as Marriott, L’Oréal, and Merck, said that size and budget are often an issue, but not in the way you think. He proceeded to say that being large and well funded can often be a greater limitation than being small, and that the small and nimble are the ones who often can innovate better. “The future,” he said, “belongs to the nimble.” That day, I decided that the California Symphony’s size is not a limitation, it’s an advantage, and we would move faster than other arts organizations, large and small, because of this mentality. That day I decided that there was no reason we couldn’t be the first small or mid-size budget professional orchestra to stream a concert online.

“That day, I decided that the California Symphony’s size is not a limitation, it’s an advantage.”

Facebook Live Makes Streaming Easy and Cheap

Facebook Live debuted to select public figures in summer 2015 and rolled out to all pages and individuals as a free platform in April of this year. Later that month, the San Francisco Symphony was the first professional orchestra to utilize Facebook Live to stream part of a full orchestra concert, and while other orchestras had begun to adopt the platform for streaming events, lectures, and smaller ensemble performances, to our knowledge, no other professional orchestra had since used it to broadcast part of a full symphony concert. The California Symphony is located just 20 miles away from San Francisco, based in the suburb of Walnut Creek. The San Francisco Symphony’s budget is approximately $70 million, while ours is $1.5M. We knew that given our location in the tech-centric Bay Area, we needed to do this, and we also knew we knew that we didn’t have a lot of cash to make it happen. Oh, and the decision to stream the season opener was made in early August at the aforementioned conference, and the concert was September 18, giving us just over a month to make it all come together. Small and nimble, right?!

Initial outline for the California Symphony’s streaming pilot project.

We quickly articulated our goals for the broadcast: 1) We wanted to offer more than only music, making sure that anyone watching the stream, no matter their level of experience with or understanding of classical music would learn something about who we are and what we do, and what goes into producing a concert on stage and off. 2) We wanted to take advantage of the Facebook algorithm, which promotes longer live streams in more people’s feeds, meaning the longer the broadcast, the more people would see it. In other words, we had no expectation or desire for people to watch our entire stream — we knew the main attraction was the concert itself — but by utilizing our already-in-place pre-concert talk and adding in some great behind-the-scenes content, by the time the concert began, the stream would be promoted in up to five times the number of viewer newsfeeds than if we had broadcast for a shorter amount of time. 3) We wanted to tie-in the event to our 30th anniversary (a nice coincidence in timing that this aligned with our season opener and also why we chose not to wait to execute the project until a later concert in the season), and 4) We wanted to integrate the broadcast into a larger community engagement activity, making the California Symphony more open to and known by our own community. Our final project brief:

Offer a free Facebook Live video and audio stream to kickoff the California Symphony’s 30th anniversary season. The stream will last approximately 90 minutes including the first 30 minutes of the season opener concert, and will be available for viewing on the Symphony’s Facebook Page as well as projected outdoors on the Lesher Center Promenade. Additional activities for all ages will take place outside the Lesher Center, including:

2:30 — Food trucks, instrument petting zoo, and Pokémon Go stops and lures

3:00 — Stream begins with pre-concert talk by Music Director Donato Cabrera

3:30 — Stream continues with backstage interviews and a behind-the-scenes look at what happens before a concert

4:00 — Stream continues with the first 30 minutes of the concert (approximately), including “Network” by Pulitzer Prize winner Kevin Puts and the first movement of the Mozart Flute Concerto with soloist Annie Wu

4:30 — Stream concludes

Promotional image shared on social media and shared with community organizations for easy, turnkey inclusion as well as consistent branding.

An additional goal was to capture the information of the people who watched the stream for future marketing. If you’ve been following this blog, you know that we care A LOT about patron retention and getting first-time attendees to come back again. For the people watching the stream online, this is easy: Facebook’s advertising tools now allow for you to run ads to people who have watched specific videos on your page. You can even specify in your targeting if you want people who watched at least 25/50/75 percent, etc., or people who watched at least 10 seconds of your video, and on and on. So the people who watched the video stream online (whether live or later) — especially those who watched within a 10–20 mile radius of Walnut Creek — will definitely be seeing ads inviting them to attend our other concerts this season. For the onsite activities, we set up an enter-to-win station where people could join our mailing list in exchange for the chance to win tickets to future concerts and gift certificates to one of the food trucks on site. People could join via an iPad that was connected to our email software so the entry went straight to our mailing list, and we also offered old-fashioned paper and pencil forms for those less comfortable with the technology. We also pre-printed extra first time attendee postcards to hand out to the people watching the broadcast outside, offering them a discount to attend a full concert in the future and join us inside.

Enter-to-win form set up to directly import new patron contact information to our email software. We also ask for full mailing address information to add these new attendees to future marketing mailings.

Final Cost Breakdown

We said at the top that we executed this project for $2,500. We scrimped and scrapped everywhere we could, and it’s worth mentioning we simultaneously developed a much more substantial budget so we could apply for funding to do this bigger and better in the future. The point is that it is possible for an arts organization of any budget size to execute this type of project, and here’s the breakdown:

  • $0 = Facebook Live platform to stream
  • $200 = Videographer. We hired a college student film major: someone knowledgeable about how to frame a shot (particularly important for the backstage interviews), sound quality, and other similar details, and who is also young enough to be completely comfortable with the Facebook Live technology as well as affordable for us.
  • $0 = Camera. Our videographer brought his own equipment, but ultimately we decided to simply use an iPhone because walking around filming backstage was going to be nearly impossible with a DSLR camera connected to a cable connected to a laptop connected to the internet. Also, because Facebook Live is so new, very few high-end video cameras are compatible with the platform at this time, and Facebook Live was specifically designed for the mobile app, integrating with the camera on your phone rather than the Facebook webpage on your desktop.
  • $556.31 = Audio/Visual rental. For the outdoor broadcast, we originally had plans for a giant projection on the wall of the building, and all that ended up going into the “bigger and better” budget. Instead we rented a 55" television and speakers on stands, and that worked just fine for this pilot experiment.
  • $338.71 = Labor for AV setup/teardown. This included one IATSE (i.e. union) stagehand and one person on staff at the venue where we perform. This amount includes payroll taxes, pension, and workers comp.
  • $1,218.92 = Orchestra costs. This line gets a little complicated, but the short of it is that the California Symphony is a professional unionized orchestra, and in addition to our local union agreement, we are signatory to a national agreement with the American Federation of Musicians that governs these types of media projects for orchestras of all sizes across the country. While the orchestra costs are the largest portion of expenses for this project, you can deduce that the musicians don’t individually see much extra in their pocket. It has to be said that we absolutely could not have done this project without the agreement and support of our orchestra members. Not only are they some of the finest musicians in the Bay Area, they are some of the finest people, too, and they were so wonderfully encouraging of this experiment, many of them commenting on and liking the stream, and inviting their students, friends, and family to watch. Their support is allowing us to build new audiences that will in turn patronize more concerts if we’re doing our jobs right. Love them.
  • $201.94 = WiFi Hotspots. We purchased two WiFi hotspots and data — one that traveled with the videographer as he filmed so that we’d always be connected for the stream, and one located outside so that we could project the feed from Facebook to our outdoor audience. We did several tests in advance to make sure the connection to the hotspot worked and that walking around connected worked, and we still hit some hiccups with bad connections backstage. Lessons learned for the future “bigger and better” streaming projects.
  • $0 = Food trucks. A whole separate post could be written on the mysteries of working with food trucks, permitting with the city, and coordinating with these entrepreneurs that don’t keep normal business hours. Suffice it to say having a venue on private property makes everything easier, and eventually we secured a fantastic partner who served up ice cream cookie sandwiches all afternoon before the concert began (attendees paid for their own food). It was a hit!
  • $0 = Instrument Petting Zoo. We operate our petting zoo multiple times throughout the year, so setting it up here wouldn’t have been too much of an undertaking, except that every single staff member was tasked with other responsibilities for the Sunday Funday and broadcast activities. We partnered with another local business, Lamorinda Music, who volunteered their time to fully operate the booth, and even brought all kinds of extra instruments for the kids to touch, hold, and play. Also a hit!
  • $0 = Marketing. What this actually means is $0 in addition to the marketing budget already allocated for this concert. We were very careful not to advertise the free concert stream to our regular attendees so as not to cannibalize ticket sales, but did advertise the free pre-concert outdoor activities to that group. To attract new people to come in person and watch online, we included the information in our press release so it was picked up by local calendar listings and even a few outlets we don’t normally get attention from such as family blogs and community forums. We also worked with the local Chamber of Commerce for additional social media exposure, as well as the City of Walnut Creek and WC Downtown Association. Lastly, we used about $200 of the concert’s digital marketing budget for running very targeted ads on Facebook promoting the Sunday Funday activities and concert stream to families who did not have an interest in classical music (because those who did have an interest in classical music were receiving ticket sales ads) and who lived within 5 miles of Walnut Creek.

The total spent came to $2,515.88, and we reached more than 5,200 people (and still counting), compared to our concert hall, which seats 800 max. That’s almost a seven-fold increase in people served by one concert, experiencing this art form in which we believe so much, learning about the California Symphony and who we are, and ultimately taking one more step towards classical music as an entertainment choice.

Little did we know, as we were plotting and planning our opening night stream, the granddaddy of all orchestras in America was doing the same. One day after our season opener concert, the New York Philharmonic announced they would be streaming their opening night on Facebook Live that following weekend. Just this week, Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall announced their own Facebook Live projects. What an honor to be in such company, and we hope this posts helps empower you to do so too.

Why Not Stream the Full Concert?

Honestly, almost no one has questioned why we didn’t stream the entire concert, but since a few people have, and in case you’re wondering, the answer is two-fold. One reason is cost. The agreement with the musicians mentioned above has different pay rates depending on the length of the broadcast. If we had streamed the full concert, the project would have cost us more than four times as much for not just the orchestra, but longer labor calls as well, and that would have been closer to a $10k price tag, which we definitely could not afford. The second reason not to broadcast the entire concert is the bigger reason though, because even if we had the funding to cover the larger costs, we still would limit the length of the free concert stream due to principle. We believe in the value of the product we’re offering: a fully immersive live concert experience with amazing, top professional musicians. We want to fund this work in part through ticket sales, so we are happy, eager even, to offer a little taste of a full concert experience — the appetizer if you will (I got in trouble for calling it the gateway drug) — for free, and people who want to experience more need to come in person and purchase a ticket to see the whole thing. We also feel that’s how we do right by our existing subscribers and ticket holders and don’t undercut their purchase by giving it away elsewhere. All told, we are happy to help the community see part of a concert (all concerts if we can secure the funding!) for free on us, and deeply want that to lead to a virtuous cycle of building more fans and audience members.

“We are happy, eager even, to offer a little taste of a full concert experience — the appetizer if you will.”

Additional Resources

When we started this blog, we said we were writing for anyone and everyone who’s interested, including our colleagues in the industry. If you are considering using Facebook Live to stream a concert or an event, here are links to our own resources we compiled for this project that might be helpful.

California Symphony Facebook Live General Info and Tips

California Symphony Sunday Funday Overview

California Symphony Sunday Funday Planning Checklist

About the Author

Aubrey Bergauer, Executive Director, California Symphony
Aubrey Bergauer defies trends, and then makes her own. In a time when most arts organizations are scaling back programs, tightening budgets, and seeing declines in tickets and subscriptions, Bergauer has dramatically increased earned and contributed revenue at organizations ranging from Seattle Opera to the Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival to the California Symphony. Her focus on not just engaging — but retaining — new audiences grew Seattle Opera’s BRAVO! Club (young patrons group for audience members in their 20’s and 30’s) to the largest group of its kind nationwide, led the Bumbershoot Festival to achieve an unprecedented 43% increase in revenue, and propelled the California Symphony to quadruple the size of its donor base. From growing audiences, increasing concerts, and expanding programs to instilling and achieving common goals across what are usually siloed marketing, development, and artistic departments, Bergauer is someone you want to follow — on the nationally-recognized blog she created to discuss what actually works in a changing arts landscape, and in real life, too.

A graduate of Rice University with degrees in Music Performance and Business, for the last 15 years Bergauer has used music to make the world around her better, through programs that champion social justice and equality, through ground-breaking marketing and audience development tactics on the forefront of technology, and through taking strategically calculated risks in a risk-adverse field. If ideas are a dime a dozen, what separates Bergauer is her experience and record of impact and execution at institutions of all sizes. Praised for her leadership which “points the way to a new style of audience outreach,” (Wall Street Journal) and which drove the California Symphony to become “the most forward-looking music organization around.” (Mercury News) Bergauer’s ability to strategically and holistically examine and advance every facet of the organization’s mission and vision is creating a transformational change in the office, on the stage, in the audience, in the community, and going well beyond the industry of classical music.