An Artist’s Guide to Virtual Events

Yo-Yo Ma is playing Bach in his basement. Trevor Noah is tackling headlines in a sweatshirt. Dolly Parton is reading children’s books. Throughout the last few months, artists have had to reimagine their live performances, inviting audiences into their homes for intimate performances that have transformed the way we experience — and create — the arts.

We’re on the front line of this transition at the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, where Tiff is the media producer and Lara is the director of marketing. Due to social distancing, we moved a traditionally live, two-week Festival to the virtual space, producing events with 100+ self-isolating artists performing solo, on panels, in choirs, and on front lawns.

As much as we thought we knew about virtual events before this spring, we’ve since become verified experts. So, as you prepare to promote your debut novel, perform your one-woman show, or serenade your girlfriend, here’s our guide to executing and marketing a standout live performance on your very own virtual stage. *

Whether you have a home office or just a corner of the kitchen table, you can construct a professional production studio in your own home. All you really need is a camera, a mic, and the internet.

Begin with the Basics

Whether you have a home office or just a corner of the kitchen table, you can construct a professional production studio in your own home. All you really need is a camera, a mic, and the internet. You can get as fancy as you’d like, but these basics can be bought on a budget and will turn out a polished event.

Camera. You’ll need a laptop, desktop, tablet, or phone with a working webcam and mic.

Mic. At the very least, you’ll want earbuds or headphones with a built-in mic to prevent audio echoes. Most brands will do, but Tiff recommends this one from Logitech ($75). For a step up in sound quality, particularly when recording, try an external microphone with USB output like this one from Audio-Technica ($195).

A strong internet connection. This is a must. Make sure your browser is updated and, if possible, connect to your router with an ethernet cable instead of using WiFi. Disconnect all unnecessary devices (phone, ipad, etc.) and close all software or apps that use the camera, as well as any unnecessary tabs and apps. Clear your cache, and avoid downloading and uploading files while streaming.

Tired of being bound to your desk? To move around freely, mount this webcam from Logitech ($90) on a tripod and invest in an external mic from Samson ($92), or a headset from Pyle ($35) or Samson ($119). Get a little fancy with this portable, all-in-one camera and mic complete with lighting by Marantz ($249).

Pick Your Platform

Overwhelmed by the sheer number of platforms you can use to create and stream your content? We’ll help you pick the most appropriate one — or stream to all platforms all at once for maximum visibility. Whether you’re hosting a private workshop or streaming a concert to thousands of fans, here are your primary platforms.

Zoom. You can have an audience of up to 10,000 viewers on Zoom, or up to 1,000 active participants who can also be divided into different breakout rooms for more intimate and interactive conversations.

A Zoom Meeting is the best option for an event that requires interactivity between the presenter and the audience.

If you’re new to Zoom (is there anyone new to Zoom at this point?), sign up for an account at Zoom.us, then download and install it (for free) on your device. Zoom Webinar is designed for one or more people to present to an invisible audience who may interact with you through the chat function.

A Zoom Meeting is the best option for an event that requires interactivity between the presenter and the audience, like a writing workshop where all participants will be sharing their work. Tip: Register your participants to collect their contact information. (Be sure to add them to your newsletter. If you don’t have a newsletter, consider starting one; we’ll come back to this later.)

Social media. Almost all outlets offer streaming options. Facebook has Facebook Live, Twitter has Periscope, Instagram has Instagram Live or IGTV, YouTube has YouTube LIve — even LinkedIn has started live streaming.

Your personal page. With the wealth of streaming platforms, don’t forget to embed your livestream video in your own website. (If you don’t have a professional website, check out Wordpress and Squarespace for easy-to-use platforms.) Most platforms will offer an embed code to paste into your website’s code.

Can’t decide? Stream to them all at once! The digital broadcast studio, Streamyard, allows users to stream to multiple sites at the same time, including Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Periscope, Twitch, and your own website. The basic account is free. New to Streamyard? Check out this tutorial series.

Run through your performance until you’re comfortable with your content.

Set Yourself Up for Success

How many rumpled beds have you glimpsed on Zoom? How many backlit colleagues hidden in shadow? Here’s how to invite audiences into your personal life, but avoid embarrassment.

Be intimate, not exhibitionist. Film yourself against a plain — but not white — wall. A few photographs, a potted plant, or a bookshelf can create an intimate background without being too revealing.

Don’t let your kids upstage you. Find a quiet space and, if possible, shut the door. If you’re performing with other artists, remember to mute your mic when you’re not speaking.

Social distance for success. Place your camera or webcam two to three feet away from you, at head height; nobody wants to look up your nose. If using your laptop, place it on a stack of books to get the height right.

Don’t overshadow yourself. For the best lighting, position a lamp in front of you, behind your monitor. Never sit in front of a lamp or a window, which backlights you so audiences won’t be able to see your face.

Practice makes perfect. Run through your performance until you’re comfortable with your content. Time yourself to be sure you’ll keep your audience’s attention, and keep it short and sweet.

Lights, Camera, Action!

This may go without saying, but: You’re live! Don’t be like the woman who took her colleagues into the bathroom with her, or the boss who spent a whole meeting as a potato.

Don’t pick your nose. Keep your movements to a minimum when others are speaking so you won’t distract your audience.

Hide your porn. Close all other tabs and windows on your computer to minimize interference, help you remain focused on your event, and avoid humiliation (no one needs to know what you Google in your spare time).

Prepare to share. If you’re sharing a presentation or video, rehearse in advance and familiarize yourself with all of the system controls. Have your presentation open and all other items closed, and don’t forget to stop sharing when you’re done.

Stand Out in a Saturated Market

Unless you’re Lady Gaga, whose One World: Together at Home virtual concert netted 20 million viewers in April, the hordes probably aren’t clamoring for your content. There’s just too much to choose from on any given day, and audiences have their pick of entertainment, from virtual bike rides and cocktail hours to gallery tours and Broadway shows. To stand out in the crowd, you’ll have to build your own buzz.

To stand out in the crowd, you’ll have to build your own buzz.

Make it newsworthy. Keep your fans (and fans-to-be) apprised of your upcoming performances with a weekly or monthly newsletter. Lara recommends Mailchimp for its customizable layouts, automated ads, and thorough analytics (the basic plan is free). For a simpler option, try TinyLetter.

Pay for promo. Promote your events on Facebook and Instagram for just a few dollars a day. You’ll need a business Facebook page (separate from your personal page) to purchase ads.

Invite your friends. When your content goes live, set up a Facebook watch party and ask your friends to do the same.

Ensure life beyond live streaming. Promotion doesn’t end with your performance; record your event so you can continue to share it on your website and social channels. Audiences build over time, so keep pushing out those recorded events to give them a long life.

Back to basics. Amidst a plethora of virtual marketing opportunities, don’t forget old-fashioned word of mouth. Tell your family and friends about your event and ask them to support your efforts. We promise they’ll want to help you.

People need hope and joy and art now more than ever and are seeking meaningful content. The lasting artists are those who engage with frightening times to create extraordinary work. Thank you for meeting the pressing needs of your community in a way that feels urgent and timely; we hope this helps you reach them.

* We have not been paid to promote the products mentioned in this article.

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