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Live-Streaming's Long Tail

278032670_054171cacb_zGuest post by Cortney Harding (@cortneyharding) for sidewinder.fm, a music and tech think tank.

For the past ten years, I’ve heard some variation on the following statement almost every day: “artists need to focus on touring and monetizing their live shows.” Yet beyond actually playing live, and occasionally selling some merch, no one has come up with any great ideas for how artists can make extra money playing live. Even the good old, DIY by the seat of your pants Econoline van tour can get expensive, and geographical constraints remain — mounting a world tour is not for the faint of heart or wallet.

And while live-streaming concerts has certainly grown in popularity over the last several years, many people still think live-streaming needs to be a big production, complete with big name sponsors (American Express has been part of a number of live-streams) and plenty of promotion. But what if live-streaming shows was to become the new normal? Audiences, artists, venues, and brands could all benefit, without taking anything away from the live experience.

There are some indie bands live-streaming shows. Ryan Montbleau, the subject of both New York Times and Forbes pieces, has rigged together a setup the uses apps like Audio Hijack Pro and Nicecast and an iPhone. However, he admits in the pieces that his audience has been small and while he has invested in the live-stream technology, he hasn’t seen a financial gain. Wolfgang’s Vault and Daytrotter are also making inroads into the space, but so far no one has come out with a product that can be used by and for the masses. Livestream.com seems to have come closest at this point, but has only a handful of small clubs on board.

There are a number of different audiences for live-streams. The first is the superfans — drive to any suburb, and you’ll be unable to swing a cat with hitting a teenage girl obsessed with One Direction or Justin Bieber. Those girls would gladly watch every show their favorite band does, no matter where they are. And lest you think only young people would be this completist, I give you the jam band fan — particularly the one who can’t load up his or her van and follow the tour, but would check out every show. Even smaller bands have packs of cult followers in different cities who might not watch every single night, but would watch enough shows to make it worthwhile.

Second, the shut-outs and the shut-ins. The shut-outs are the fans who didn’t buy tickets in time, or stood in line for hours outside an event only to be turned away. They like the artist enough to make an effort to pay, say, $50 to see them — they’d probably pay five bucks to see a stream of the show. This could also be a sideline for bars around certain venues, especially ones where there are no advance sales — the bar could pay to stream the concert and charge a small cover, and fans could have their own social experience while watching a show.

The shut-ins are a growing population, as thirtysomething music fans have kids and move to the suburbs. They still enjoy and care about music, but dropping a hundred bucks for a babysitter just to see a band doesn’t make sense to them. They would pay a small fee to be part of the action, though, and even have the opportunity to share the music with their families. Shut-ins also include people with injuries and disabilities (Have you ever gone to a rock show while on crutches? It’s no fun.) and people with geographical limitations — maybe they’re out in the country; maybe they’re in another country where the artist isn’t touring. When I was in South Africa, I met plenty of indie rock fans who almost never get to see bands from the US, simply because the cost to get down there to play shows is so high.

The third audience is the casual fan, who has heard good things about an artist but doesn’t want to spend the money just yet. Watching a live-stream and seeing how great a certain band is will likely convince them to buy tickets when the artist does come to town.

For artists, the biggest benefit is the income they would get from the live-streams. They would also attract new fans and be able to see where fans are in order to route tours better or decide to play certain markets — if hundreds of kids in Rio are streaming live shows every single night, a ticket to Brazil is in order.

Brands would benefit by being exposed to a targeted, niche audience, and having ample time to share their message. As anyone who has ever been to an indie rock show knows, it takes less time to negotiate a Mideast peace treaty than it does for two bands to swap gear. No one wants to watch a bunch of roadies on stage — so sell that time to advertisers and make sure the content they run is appropriate, creative, and useful. Pop artists have started running commercials in venues at this point and people don’t seem to mind, so there’s no reason why an audience watching a live-stream show would care, especially if the content is great. This also represents a big opportunity for labels, who could buy time to show videos by related artists.

Finally, the clubs get a the benefit of the income stream and the branding — if I watch enough great shows at a club in my city online, I’ll probably check it out eventually. And let’s face it — live-streams are great, but they are no substitute for standing a few feet away from an artist and watching them perform in person. Live-streams won’t replace but will supplement.

Up to this point, live-streams have been expensive and cumbersome, which is why very few artists do them. However, as streaming technology progresses, it should be easier and cheaper for clubs and artists to get in on the act. The initial outlay might be on the higher end, but the payoff will be significant. The long tail of live-streaming is the future, and artists and venues that jump on board now will see the rewards in spades.

(Image Credit: Flickr)



Cortney Harding is a Brooklyn-based business development consultant. She has worked with ThingLink, official.fm, Gumroad, and Superglued, among others, creating partnerships for them with brands and the entertainment industry. She was previously the music editor at Billboard and tweets at @cortneyharding.

Sidewinder.fm is founded and edited by Kyle Bylin of Live Nation Labs. If you would like to contribute a post to be featured on the site, please reach out.

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