Sam Leak has been involved in a research project on livestreaming which has just produced its results. The project was a collaboration between Middlesex University and Kings College London. 1,484 people participated of whom 777 were musicians.
Sam told Sebastian about the main results, the some of the conclusions that have surprised him – notably that the donation model has been far more successful and less problematic than he expected. He also gives his own personal take on the what the implications are for the jazz sector right now, as live gigs return. Which leads to a mention of his own recent and near-future performances – including a birthday gig next week:
LondonJazz News : What is the background to this new report?
Sam Leak: We’ve written a 53-page report and an accompanying 20-page statistical analysis (links to both below) on livestreaming, so there are lots of findings to choose from.
As we come from different backgrounds (Julia Haferkorn ’s expertise is within the Classical Music industry, and Brian Kavanagh‘s is in digital innovation) we’ve all invariably found different findings to be particularly interesting to us individually. Aside from being a Jazz musician, my academic background is in music psychology. As such I’m very interested in the various factors that have influenced the livestreaming behaviour of musicians and audience members since the start of the pandemic.
We’ve done some predictive modelling that has uncovered some fascinating things. That’s what I’ll focus on here, but bear in mind that the overall report covers a wide variety of different angles on this, drawing on several interviews, and on a great deal of desk research. What I’ll provide here is a personal take on our findings.
LJN: One of the questions I know you were looking at is the effectiveness – or lack of it – of livestreaming for generating income, and/or replacing income lost from other sources. What are the results?
SL: COVID-19 hit musicians hard, suffering a median income loss of £9000 from performance work. Most musicians who took the survey had performances cancelled due to the pandemic, and of these 50% had lost 35 or more. Seen from the other side, audience members spent a median of between £251-£500 annually on concerts prior to March 2020, and this dropped to £0 for the period since. So, to what extent has livestreaming managed to fill this gap?
Livestreaming has been a fruitful addition to the working lives of musicians and our research suggests that it’s here to stay. However, as a direct, sole means of generating income it hasn’t been altogether successful. The median number of livestreams that audience members paid for was just 4, with 79% having paid for 10 or fewer (incorporating 30% who paid for between 1 and 4, and 21% who hadn’t paid for any). The median amount they spent on watching livestreams within the year was between £51-£100, which contrasts starkly to what they had previously spent on physical concerts annually. On balance, musicians were fairly negative about the prospects of livestreaming as a viable, additional income stream for them in the future. Audience members were split as to whether their payments towards livestreams to date were made out of a sense of charity.
LJN: Who has been livestreaming, and why?
SL: We found we could predict the number of livestreams that (livestreaming) musicians performed on the basis of how many of their performances were cancelled, but not on the basis of their income loss from live performance work. This could suggest that musicians were more driven towards it by a desire to continue performing than by financial necessity. There similarly wasn’t evidence that those who livestreamed more felt more positive about the income generated from it. In fact, although musicians and audience members alike largely disagreed that livestreams should be free to watch, the musicians that agreed more that they should be also performed more of them.
LJN: And who’s been watching them?
SL: Audience members who watched more livestreams also tended to agree more that they should either be free, or at least cost less than concerts in physical venues. They tended to have watched more concerts in physical venues prior to COVID-19, however there wasn’t evidence that they’d spent more on live concerts. Of those that had paid to watch livestreams, the amount they’d paid for concerts pre-COVID was a good predictor of how many livestreams they’d paid to watch. Promisingly for musicians, those that paid for more livestreams also agreed more that livestreaming has a future post-COVID-19.
LJN: What technology do musicians need to get their heads around?
SL: Musicians mainly agreed, to varying degrees, that concerns about technology (such as a lack of relevant technical knowledge and equipment) hold them back from livestreaming. However many also disagreed. Interestingly concerns about technology, legal/copyright issues, and the effort involved in presenting livestreams, didn’t influence how many livestreams musicians actually performed. The data for this prediction only came from musicians who had performed at least one livestream, so any musicians for whom these issues are a complete barrier wouldn’t have entered the model – this may partially explain the lack of influence here.
LJN: And I understand you also have some practical advice to give?
SL: Yes, w have a 4-page section of the report dedicated to helping musicians get set up with the most suitable technology for what they want to achieve. At the more straightforward end we’ve provided advice on enhancing the quality of what you can produce with your phone, and at the higher end we’ve laid out how to produce a high-quality stream, with advice on audio equipment, cameras, lighting, and internet requirements.
LJN: Presumably some musicians plan meticulously before they stream and actually di very few, whereas others ‘just do it’ and end up doing more….
SL: Musicians who are more concerned about the audience’s interest in, engagement with, and experience of their livestreams perform fewer of them, and 77% of musicians indicated that they were concerned to various degrees. However there wasn’t any evidence that those who livestreamed more felt any more positive about the qualitative experience they’ve provided for their audiences, how their livestreams have been set/staged, or how connecting with the audience has gone.
LJN: How are audiences’ attitudes to livestreams developing?
SL: For audience members, feeling that differences from physical concerts (e.g., not being in the same room, and the lack of interaction or a shared emotional experience) held them back from watching livestreams tended to result (perhaps unsurprisingly) in them watching fewer. 96% of audience members who hadn’t watched a livestream before, agreed that this was a barrier, whereas there was a far more mixed picture for those that had watched at least one. People who agreed that the audience’s in-the-moment responses to the livestream, and also performers communicating with the audience, make them feel connected, watched more livestreams. In fact, connection arose as a major theme in our research. Audiences agree that a sense of connection with other viewers, and (even more importantly) with the performers, is important to them. The good news is that they’ve also mostly felt positive about this. However it’s clearly a vital area for musicians and promoters to attend to when putting on livestreams.
Those who watched more livestreams tended to be older (over 35), and tended to be more positive about their experience of practical issues such as the effort involved in watching livestreams, and the payment process.
LJN: So, despite reservations, there is an audience?
SL: Yes, I think that there is definitely an audience for it (and I’ll go into this more in a minute when I discuss the future of livestreaming), but many audience members who haven’t watched livestreams have reservations about them, as do many musicians. A challenge for the future will be to get those with reservations to give them a go. It’s promising that some of the features highlighted as barriers are in fact the same ones that audiences have enjoyed the most about livestreams – livestreams, surprisingly, can provide an excellent sense of interaction and shared emotional experience.
LJN: What about the danger that the donation model can compromise artistic integrity?
SL: Prior to our research, one of my big concerns about the donation model was that it might lead musicians to ‘play for the crowd.’ Musicians were split as to whether playing for donations negatively influences artistic and programming decisions, with most people only feeling moderately one way or the other. It seems to me now that the original question was founded on a value judgement that isn’t shared by everyone. It was interesting interviewing French-American Jazz pianist Dan Tepfer about this – he’s been performing a weekly, donation-funded(/free), livestream which he’s seen as a place to experiment, to develop an online community around his music, and to promote his ticketed livestreams. In these he’s happy to take requests and is keen on cultivating a dialogue with the audience. The success he’s had with this has led him to rethink how he communicates with the audience in physical venues, on certain gigs now taking requests from, and conversing with, the live audience. So, my original question was built on an assumption that playing for the crowd is inherently negative, but actually many performers and audience members do not feel this way. I’ll add the caveat that this model is better suited to certain types of music – often you carefully programme a concert to have a certain musical arc to it, or perhaps you’re playing music that isn’t instantly accessible but which has inherent value that shouldn’t be compromised. Perhaps it’s a case of rethinking the function of livestreaming: Dan livestreams for free to attract a larger audience to his more-dedicated projects, which are ticketed and are presumably far more programmed. With a bit of thought, this model could work for a wide variety of music.
LJN: Will it still be with us in a post-COVID world?
SL: Musicians and audience members believe that livestreaming will be a significant part of the music sector’s landscape post-COVID, but that the role it will play is mostly in audience development: attracting audiences to physical performances and giving audience members who are unable to attend (e.g., because they live too far away, or due to a physical disability) an option to watch. Perhaps livestream tours will act as a useful precursor to physical ones, increasing their economic viability while reducing an act’s carbon footprint?
79% of audience members who hadn’t watched a livestream before were clear that they wouldn’t ever choose to watch one when they could watch the same concert in a physical venue. However the picture from those who had watched livestreams was a lot more mixed. These two groups were also divided as to whether they would watch a livestreamed performance at all post-COVID-19, with 76% of the former indicating that they wouldn’t, but 87% of the latter indicating that they would. 69% of musicians who hadn’t livestreamed before were unlikely to start doing so, but responses were more mixed from those who had. Audience members as a whole were somewhat likely to watch livestreams in the future, but the responses for musicians were more evenly split.
Agreeing that livestreaming has a future post-COVID-19 was predictive of the number of livestreams paid for by audience members, but not of the number watched. Musicians who think livestreams will be a helpful additional part of musicians’ working lives in the future performed more of them, although this isn’t predictable on the basis of a) how likely they are to continue to livestream in the future, or b) whether they think it will be a successful tool for reaching new audiences. 84% of musicians agreed that livestreaming should embrace new artistic possibilities made possible by the format instead of replicating performances in physical venues.
LJN: And where does this leave us? How does livestreaming fit into the broader picture?
SL: I think livestreaming will certainly be with us in the future but for most individual musicians it won’t be overly effective as a direct source of income. Rather it will become another cog in their working lives, helping them to generate a wider community around their music, and adding to their overall income. It will help them to sell more concert tickets, sell more of their recorded music, generate income from virtual audience members at physical concerts, be offered concert opportunities in places where they hadn’t previously developed an audience, and occasionally to offer bespoke ticketed livestreamed events. It will also be interesting to see how musicians explore possibilities within the format that physical performances can’t offer. As one example, the chance to communicate directly with performers and other audience members during the course of a performance has been a real positive – I wonder to what degree livestreaming will develop into its own format, offering an experience that can’t be had elsewhere?
LJN: There is also the perspective of venues and promoters to take into account, and to balance with that of the musician…
SL: A lot of venues are now set up for livestreaming, so it is logical to expect that many live performances will now also be streamed. I do have some concerns about this as a musician – what musical risks will we avoid when we know that everything we perform is being recorded for posterity? Who will own the music livestreamed by a venue once it becomes a recording – is it the musician, the venue, the livestreaming platform? What consequences will that have? How do we ensure that musicians have the right to decide if their music remains online after the performance? Of course, perhaps once broadcasting everything online becomes the norm, a lot of these issues will fade away? I imagine there will be a lot of heated debate around these topics in the coming years.
LJN: What was the biggest surprise for you in the findings?
SL: I went into the project expecting to find evidence that the donations model hasn’t worked, so I was surprised to find musicians rate it as one of the most successful of the options we presented, albeit ‘the best of a bad bunch.’ It was one of the two most popular options, along with receiving fixed fees from promoters. Musicians who had tried all of the available options rated them all as negative to varying degrees, although it is possible that this reflects some feature of musicians who have tried them all. For this group, statistical analysis revealed that there were statistically significant differences between the success ratings for different payment methods, which is to say there were differences that are very unlikely to have been observed by chance. Further investigation found that this was largely driven by how unpopular sponsorship and advertising were by contrast to donations. For those that had tried only fixed price ticket sales, donations, pay-what-you-want ticket sales, and fixed performance fees, there was also a significant difference between the success ratings for these methods. In this instance, the result turned out to be driven by how successful receiving fixed fees from promoters was by contrast to selling fixed priced tickets. In general, success ratings for all methods varied from moderately successful to extremely unsuccessful, which I think speaks to the role livestreaming will play for musicians in the future.
Another interesting finding was about genre. We defined ‘prolific livestreamers’ as those who had performed 10 or more livestreams since March 2020, and then we investigated the prolific to non-prolific livestreamer ratio for each genre. We found a statistically significant relationship, and on further investigation this turned out to be driven by how few Jazz musicians were prolific livestreamers (12%) as compared to folk (30%) and pop (31%) musicians. Unsurprisingly, for all genres there were notably fewer prolific than non-prolific livestreamers. This is a great example of ‘the numbers don’t lie’ – as a Jazz musician with an interest in livestreaming I could easily be convinced that we’re some of the most prolific livestreamers around (on reflection it’s not all that surprising to me that we’re among the least).
LJN: Are there good stories about people learning new skills? Are we all potential TV producers?
SL: I love this article from Dan Tepfer on how he developed the skill set to put on some really high-quality streams from his apartment in New York:
I’ve had some similar experiences myself. I love the human aspect to Dan’s story – using a storage box and a vegetable bag as a diffuser for his lighting, and having to run an ethernet cable to a friendly neighbour’s apartment so he could stream his online real-time music duets. In my own case, I found a kick drum microphone I owned and taped it inside my piano, only for it to fall off mid sound-checking for my first livestream. I had a filmmaker friend Zoom call me to tell me where I could put ordinary household lights around my piano room in order to make the stream look as good as it could under the circumstances. The first practice run stream I did to YouTube I couldn’t work out how to switch off, and so left it running for about 4 hours…
I think we have all managed to ‘tech-up’ significantly since the start of the pandemic. I never expected to need to know how to work a DSLR camera, or think about how to light a scene. I never expected that knowing my internet upload speed, and understanding the impact this has on what I can broadcast, would be important to me. To be honest, my audio interface wasn’t even plugged in when COVID-19 hit. These new skills we’ve developed through necessity can only advantage us in the future.
LJN: Has the outcome of the survey influenced what you will be doing as either performer or promoter
It certainly has. I promoted a livestreamed programme for the EFG London Jazz Festival at Olivers Jazz Club last year, which was a steep learning curve but a very useful experience. I’m interested in how successful Dan Tepfer’s model has been, and I wonder if something similar might suit me. I’m also interested in collaborating with filmmakers, visual artists etc. to explore the format’s potential to produce something new. I think the largest takeaway is the importance of building an online community around your music, and of finding ways to communicate directly with the audience during performances, regardless of whether you are playing online or in a physical venue. There’s definitely room for a rethink of some of the long-established performance practices that we take for granted.
LJN: And you’ve just done a livestream yourself…
SL: I recently gave a livestream for Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club which was pretty exciting after not having performed for months in lockdown. It was surreal being back in that room again, and fantastic to get to play with Simon and Will again – a really heartwarming experience all around!
LJN: What are your own plans as performer and as promoter in the next few month?
SL: My Wednesday “Soul Station Sessions” at Olivers Jazz Bar kick back into action on May 19th (which is also my birthday), where I’ll be playing alongside Alex Garnett, Simon Read, and Jason Brown. I’m starting to get a few gigs in the book for the future too – I’ll be playing some album dates with Alex Western-King’s band (1st July at the 606 club, 24th November at Pizza Express Dean Street), a duet slot with Sara Dowling at the Bermondsey Square Jazz Day (20th June), and a gig with Bukky Leo and Black Egypt at The Jazz Café celebrating the music of William Onyeabor (24th August). When lockdown hit I was in the middle of a tour with my trio, so I’m also hoping to rebook some of the lost gigs and get the band back in action. I’m really excited about making music again, and from the conversations I’ve had with other musicians I don’t think I’m alone!
The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, and was partnered with Serious, The Musicians’ Union, The Incorporated Society of Musicians, the Music Venue Trust, and Sheffield Performer & Audience Research Centre. It is a collaboration between Middlesex University and Kings College London. The team was headed by Julia Haferkorn, alongside Dr Brian Kavanagh and Sam Leak.