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The Great (Livestreamed) Gig in the Sky: Part-One

In part-one of musician and lecturer Sam Leak’s blog on monetising live performances he discusses paywalls, ticketing and how to keep your audience engaged.

Published: 07 July 2020 | 12:00 AM Updated: 28 April 2021 | 4:31 PM
Sam Leak playing piano
Embracing entrepreneurial activities is part-and-parcel of being a musician. Photo: Sam Leak by the MU

I get it. We’re musicians, so we tend (to varying degrees) to buy into the romantic conception of the ‘artist.’ We’re uneasy at the thought of being seen as business-people – this is about the music, not the money, after all.

Interestingly, although the modern-day image of the entrepreneur is of a cigar-smoking profit-seeker, in the past they’ve been characterised as risk-takers, driven by the creative pleasure of problem-solving, unhappy with the current state of affairs and ready to make changes. Sound familiar?

However, if my suggesting you’re already an entrepreneur bothers you, fear not: as Jo Haynes and Lee Marshall have noted, ‘while all musicians may be entrepreneurial by necessity, not all entrepreneurs are artistic.’ Embracing entrepreneurial activities is part-and-parcel of being a musician, but we do differ in that our work ‘can be deemed successful in intrinsic terms, without reference to external validators like the market.’

Phew – so now to get on with the business of how to make that sweet, sweet dollar in the aftermath of the global pandemic that’s mercilessly shaken up our industry.

Monetising livestreamed performances

During lockdown I have been livestreaming solo piano concerts for a wide range of venues from my house. Overall I have strong feelings about our need to:

  1. A. value our work; and 
  2. BB. support venues (we want a live scene to return to, after all...)

You can read about my thoughts on creating a sustainable new model for live gigs in my article for London Jazz News.

In the following blog posts, I thought I’d discuss some suggestions for monetising livestreamed performances.

They’re aimed both at musicians and at the venues with whom I think we should be performing in affiliation. We have to know our audience, and overall goal – audience development, performing to existing audiences, audiences we already have a relationship with? – and pick the best strategy from there. These ideas won’t work for everyone!

Monetising with a paywall

We can monetise performances by putting them behind a paywall, restricting access to those who have paid either for one-off entry or a subscription. Paywall options are built into platforms such as Vimeo, StreamMonkey, Dacast, and IBM Cloud Video. In general, we should make it as simple as possible for potential audience members to:

  1. A. pay (with a single source for payments)
  2. B. access the performance once they’ve paid.

As such, there is an advantage to using built-in paywalls rather than adopting a more round-about method for charging (e.g., via PayPal). However, not all of these options are for free, so we'll need to consider this.

Similarly, we should think about the likely viewing habits of our expected, or desired, audience – e.g., is our audience a Facebook-using audience? Alternatively, we could generate income through sponsorship and advertising, but we’d generally need to draw a large crowd to make this work.

Ticketing your livestreams

We also need to think about how to ticket our livestreams. Here are some thoughts and suggestions:

  • Provide free access for limited content/time, giving viewers a chance to ‘try-before-they-buy,’ and also to share the event to others that might be interested. This might include limited access to e.g., a pre-show talk (clearly advertising the main gig).
  • Provide a limited supply of tickets to increase their value.
  • Offer different, carefully priced, ticket ‘bundle’ options, for example – access to the livestream, access to the livestream and access to watching it afterwards, access to the livestream, and limited ‘VIP’ access to something else such as an interview, a workshop, or an extra song.
  • Offer ‘early-bird’ tickets for a discount, or with added incentives (e.g., a workshop, or a Q&A session), creating a sense of urgency.
  • Offer ticket buyers the option to invite a friend for a discounted price, or offer discounted tickets to anyone that shares the event. We might prefer a ‘share the event for the chance to win a free ticket’ approach. Shares are effectively ‘word-of-mouth,’ which is one of the most effective ways to reach new people.
  • Stream snippets of the show (e.g., the first song) for free, with a link to ticket payment.
  • For a first livestream, we might consider charging less than we will eventually, to have more people try the new format. We can then raise the price as our audience develops. Some free livestreamed music might also help with this (perhaps a song or two in the build-up to the performance?).
  • If using Facebook, then we can create a free-to-join group where we post some free content. This can then act as a gateway to a paid group where the main performance happens.  
  • An event management and ticketing website, such as Eventbrite, may help us to increase our reach.

Considering audience engagement and retention

We’ll also want to think about audience engagement and retention. This could form a whole other area of discussion, but here are a few ideas:

  • Use a mixture of education and entertainment.
  • Keep the livestream as interactive as possible. Respond to live comments (reading out the commenter’s name), and have a moderator (the promoter, if performing for a venue) on hand to respond to comments while you’re performing. Incorporate online polls, a Q&A session, an after-gig online hang-out, a raffle etc. Acknowledge audience engagement. Perhaps the moderator could be prepared with questions to ask the audience during the performance (they are, in essence, the host of the party). Let the audience know that they can prepare questions for us.
  • Where the gig ‘takes place’ will affect the atmosphere, so make sure that it looks good. This includes both the on-screen venue, and online location where the video plays. For the latter, this might involve using a dedicated website for the gig, or broadcasting it to a custom branded app.

Overall, we have to 'know' the audience for whom we’re playing (including how tech-savvy they will be). Are we developing a global audience? Are we playing for a dedicated crowd at a specific venue? We can make common-sense decisions about all of the above using this as a starting point.

In part-two of Sam’s blog on monetising livestreamed performances, he will discusses what the future may look like for venues, performers, and monetized livestreamed performances in the light of Oliver Dowden’s five-stage phased return for live music.

Sam Leak is a jazz musician, Lecturer in Music (Middlesex University), and PhD candidate in Music Psychology (Cambridge University). He is currently researching monetisation strategies for livestreaming in the wake of COVID-19, alongside Julia Haferkorn (Middlesex University), and Dr Brian Kavanagh (Kings College, London). 

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