As the lockdown and social distancing extend further and further into the future, it becomes increasingly important to find new avenues to connect performers with audience members. So far, the stop-gap has been livestream concerts. The novelty of this medium, however, seems to be fading: there has been a steady decline of numbers on my livestream concerts.
Perhaps the problem is in recreating the social atmosphere, “see and be seen” of a live concert. Groupmuse has found a solution to this in their extremely social zoom after-parties. My sister Christina and I saw first-hand last week how fun these are! Each audience member introduces themselves at the beginning of the meeting, creating a feeling of openness and eliminating the wall between performer and spectator. Groupmuse also benefits from having a built-in community of dedicated fans who have been inoculated in the concept of paying at least $10-25 to watch a performance. For our concert, the average "admission fee" was actually much higher, with some people paying as much as $100. This is a credit to both the culture and community-building at Groupmuse.
For Home2Home’s second Yale Alumni Virtual concert, we knew we’d have to come up with new strategies to attract an audience and donations for the artists. Our immediate friends and family, as supportive as they are, cannot be our only watchers and contributors. It helps that each concert's almost entirely unique set of performers expands our audience into the new performers’ built-in networks. We ask players who we not only admired for their artistry, but also for their marketing savvy.
Even with all the wonderful work of our artists to spread the word on social media, the old “butts in seats” problem remains: YouTube lets you know exactly how many people are watching at any given moment. For our first stream, we had almost 90 people watching at one point. For the second one on May 15, however, the most we had was 52. We are learning and growing, of course, but we'd rather see numbers going up than down as we continue our series.
By the time our “virtual premiere” ended, however, the video had about 150 views on Youtube. This tells us that most audience members watched only a part of the concert, keeping the numbers of live watchers around 45 as people came in and out. On the plus side, we raised enough money in donations to pay our performers the same fee as those in the first concert received (the smaller number was split between fewer performers). In Covid times, this feels like a huge win!
We knew going into this concert that we’d struggle to get the same numbers as the first concert (novel ideas and events always seem to get a bigger crowd), and now we realize that there are problems to be solved in attracting an audience who will sit through the whole concert. Even my own friends and family have seen an exhausting number of my streamed concerts lately (three in the last week alone!) and are more likely to say “oh sorry I was busy, I’ll catch the next one”. Understandably, they have other things to do than watch me play three times a week!
So now we must adapt to the next, virtual stage for performers. With Home2Home, we are working on a combination of constantly expanding our audience while convincing spectators to return again and again. We are so proud of what we have accomplished at Home2Home: giving performers one of the very few opportunities right now to perform for a fee. Plus we have so much fun re-connecting with former Yale School of Music classmates and teachers! We’ve received deeply positive feedback from both participants and viewers. But, the numbers suggest that we must find ways to keep people engaged for the entire concert. We are brainstorming interactive activities for audience members which don’t distract from the performance, and if you have any suggestions, feel free to let me know!
The other piece of good news is that music and performers are emerging as wonderful sources of solace and comfort in this time. With so much more at-home time, audiences are hungry for entertainment and engagement. My news feed on Facebook is full of wonderful performances from world-class artists, reminding us the power of great music. While it may feel like suddenly social media is saturated with livestreams and videos, we can view this time as a golden era of creative and technological leaps in the classical music community. Many artists, including myself, have had to shed the shyness for sharing performances on the internet as this platform remains our only available stage.
To that end, I recently did something I never thought I’d do: I got dressed up in a costume and played a Star Wars medley for May the Fourth. Admittedly, my Computer Boyfriend (he earned this nickname for his tireless tech support of my performances) talked me into this, and even after we put all the work into creating the video (including a special effects Binary Sunset courtesy of CB), I was hesitant and embarrassed to put myself out there. Especially in such a nerdy way! In the end, I gave in and posted it to Facebook and YouTube. My friends and family loved it. So much so that 14 people shared it, with captions like “This is so cool!” Getting called cool for dressing as Princess Leia and playing Star Wars music is probably the second most surprising moment of my pandemic experience. The first, of course, was Nuns on Twitch.
Musicians choose their career path not because it was the easiest option- we all know going in that this is one of the most demanding careers. Not only that, failure is our constant companion as we measure ourselves against ideals of perfection. Thanks to this, we have built resilience and courage and an ever-deepening love for what we do. If there ever was a group of people who could withstand and even flourish with the challenges of this pandemic, I’d put my money on the creatives.