Creating Successful Online Events: Q&A With Jay Nash
Recently, Jim chatted with musician Jay Nash about creating online events — the tech, the pricing and other issues that come up with this relatively new format. You can watch the full chat here, or read on for an excerpt of their conversation.
First, a little about Jay: Musician Jay Nash is part of the band The Contenders, who released their latest single “You Don’t Care or You Don’t Have the Time” in April 2020. Nash has also been hosting Quarantunes, an all-ages virtual concert series that aims to connect people during social distancing.
Q: What live streaming programs would you recommend?
Jay Nash: Right now, our access to the largest possible audience is probably through Facebook. If you’re apprehensive about only going to Facebook, there are ways to do multi-streaming, to stream to multiple platforms simultaneously.
There’s a program or platform called Wirecast that costs about $600 outright and then you can stream simultaneously to Facebook and YouTube.
There’s Boxcast, which is I think $100 a month, that comes with a piece of hardware, and I think that sends out one stream from where you’re streaming from and then they send it out to the other platforms. And what I’ve heard is that’s really great for venues. Their speciality is preserving a really high quality audio and video stream.
But there are a lot of free solutions, too. If you’re streaming to Facebook as an example, they allow RTMP (Real Time Messaging Protocol) streaming now, so you can use a free program called OBS (Open Broadcaster Software).
The bottom line is that every person is different, so you have to be realistic about what your technical capabilities are while you’re trying to do something creative and heartfelt and sincere and intelligent, because it can be a huge distraction. So you’re got to put the time into understanding it.
And consider the system, the equipment and budget you actually have access to. Because you can put on a great, high-quality piece of content with a phone or an iPad. It’s not going to be concert quality, but it’s compelling. The built-in camera and microphone are shockingly good.
Jim McCarthy: We’ve seen this huge move to online events as real ones can’t take place. At Goldstar, we now have hundreds of events for sale. And people are interested in them. We’re selling thousands of tickets a day. I think as we all stumble forward and learn what these are all about, what I was hearing is, the important thing is just that I get something out there. And I think we’re past the phase where consumers are just going to accept that. It’s actually important how much preparation goes into what you put out there, it’s not enough to simply have a placeholder.
Jay: And that’s not to say you can’t put out a spontaneous piece of content that’s going to resonate. I’ve found myself doing a last glance at Instagram at the end of the day and you see artists who’ve never live streamed before curled up in the corner of their bathrooms playing a song, and it’s still beautiful. That kind of thing isn’t necessarily something you’d promote or leave up there, but it can be very endearing and connective.
But I think if you’re gonna promote an event, if you’re going to put some effort into driving people to participate in that thing, in the year 2020 with all the brilliant minds out there connected to the internet, you’d better make sure it’s pretty good. That it’s some close approximation of what you do, and there aren’t barriers like horrible audio and video getting between you and your audience. Because that can get people to turn off the feed, and not return.
Jim: And this is especially true if you already have a fanbase. If you serve up something mediocre it can be a negative.
Jay: Yeah, there’s the potential that you could blow your chance. Like people might think, ‘oh, I checked out that stream, but I’ll just catch them when they come to town again.’
Online events are almost like a different art form, this is like a different set of skills. It’s like, ‘oh, he’s a great guitar player and singer, but he has no idea how to get that sound to an audience.’
For example, pick your favorite band, if you knew that when they came to your town that they were going to sound horrible, you’d stay home and listen to their record.
Q: How do you charge for a live streaming event? And what platform do you know of that allows artists to take tips as the show goes on?
Jay: I think the most common ways to accept tips would be Venmo and PayPal, that seems to be what everybody is doing right now.
You could use a program like OBS or similar to have it right there on the screen, which I would probably advise against, it looks a little bit tacky, like a tip jar. But a lot of people do it. Or have it in the comments section of that feed, like on Facebook and YouTube.
And as far as a ticketed event, that’s what you at Goldstar do. But I think that right now, it seems to me that the best way, if you’re looking to monetize it, and assuming you’re not Bruce Springsteen, then I think use the platforms that everyone is already using. Don’t make people sign up for something in the middle of your show.
Make yourself as accessible as possible and make it easy for people to throw bread in the jar.
One important thing to note is you don’t have the energy of an audience in the room. Say you’re an artist that works without a set list normally. If you do that, chances are you feed off the energy in the room to decide what’s going to come next. But if there’s no energy in the room, then that dead air of trying to figure out what song you’re going to play next, will eat you alive.
Q: Do you think it would be weird to add in recorded applause to an online show? What are other options to get that energy of a live crowd?
Jay: You can do online concerts using something like Zoom. If you have a pro account on Zoom you can have up to 200 users, and that way you can see all their faces and you can unmute them and they applaud.
I’ve done a few of these concerts for birthday parties and one for the US ski team and one for an ad agency in Chicago, and it was nice because I could see how people were grooving and interacting in a silent way that’s not disruptive. And then they unmute and clap after the songs.
Facebook’s kind of fun because you see this feed coming down the side, and people can chat with each other without disrupting the concert, which is something that can’t happen at an actual concert. If people are chatting there, that kind of stinks. But here, people can interact with each other and have a conversation that’s enriching to the experience I’m trying to provide, and they’re forming new friendships. And there’s a clap emoji. It takes awhile to get used to it, it’s a different environment, but I’ve been surprised how much I’ve been enjoying it, and looking forward to the streaming concerts, and how much it seems like people genuinely need music and appreciate it in their lives.
Q: Do you have tips for synching someone’s speech to a separate piece of audio?
Jay: As far as two musicians playing live, I don’t know if that is possible yet. I’ve seen people try it and there’s usually a lag. The technology is not quite there yet.
The thing that I just figured out how to do is bring FaceTime calls into my live stream feed, because the video and audio resolution are both better than Zoom. With OBS, there is a lot of capability.
You can bring in guests, you can feed audio and video from almost any source on your computer, whether it’s your digital audio workstation, or a quicktime file. If you have a quicktime file and you want to sling that into your broadcast you can do that. You can create different scenes. For instance, in the shows I’m doing now, I have a scene that’s setup with my studio microphones and then I can have a guest set up and I just press one button and the screen is split between me and my guest.
The closest thing I can get to real-time collaboration, is pre-recorded collaboration. So I make an audio recording, I set up an iPhone at a nice angle and make a video while I’m recording the audio to something. And then I send it to my collaborator, and they play along with it, and film themselves and then send everything back to me. I make a mix of the audio and I bring the two video pieces into iMovie and make a split screen video that’s pretty compelling to watch.
Jim: Thinking about this from a theater angle, in a theatrical production, that one second delay might not matter as much. So that’s a little bit of an advantage you have in that area.
Jay: And you could also create a four-way Zoom call and do a truly interactive thing and then pump that into a free program like OBS and put it out there to Facebook and probably generate a decent audience.
Q: Can you charge the same thing you would charge if the event was in-person?
Jay: I think you have to know your audience and what their expectations are. Every content creator and audience is probably a little bit different.
For example, for years, the band Phish has been selling live streams of their entire tour, and it’s extraordinarily high quality. They do theirs through Live Stream, which is a service that Vimeo provides, that’s probably the most high-end solution to live streaming.
And the way they cover their concerts, first of all, the audio sounds like a record, it’s perfectly mixed.
And they’ve got about five cameras on booms, very high-end cameras. And I think they sell the streaming for $10 or $20, so not as much as a ticket. But they can sell an infinite number of these views, and I think that they sell in the tens of thousands.
But for my personal take, I’ve moved in this time of quarantine to giving everything away for free, and I’m encouraging people to take it and share it. The tip jar is right there, but I’m not pushing the tip jar. Because I know that anybody right now who has the means is probably going to give pretty generously. And because it’s such a financially uncertain time and stressful time for so many people, I don’t want them to think, ‘oh, I’m not going to experience this piece of art because I can’t afford it.’
Because I think that’s how we get through a thing like this, is through our creativity and our connection over what we can actually make.
Jim: My thinking is to not replicate the model of the live event. One of the things that Jay talked about with his previous experiences, is making it free to watch and then creating other revenue streams with tip jars and live albums and premiums and things like that. And correct me if I’m wrong Jay, on a per capita basis you probably made just as much if not more from a streaming show than a live show.
Jay: Yes, and it’s only grown since quarantine has begun. I can’t predict the future, and I did a little bit of experimentation, between charging a minimal ticket price of $5 or $10 vs. it being pay what you want, and the numbers were pretty comparable.
As soon as you make it a regular thing though, I think you have less leverage to charge a ticket price, if you’re doing a weekly thing. Because I think subconsciously in people’s minds they realize there’s no limit to the supply.
Jim: There are a lot of ways to monetize content now, but the thing I would really advise not doing is moving your old business model over into this. I think that would be a mistake. You might get back similar economics or maybe not. Because obviously the live experience is better than the non-live experience, so you just have to think about the pricing model in a different way.
Q: If you’re streaming on Facebook live, do you still have options to monetize?
Jay: Absolutely. Facebook may change their policies, but at least right now you can very easily post however you’d like to be paid, your digital tip jar, in your header or pin it in the comments.
You can also do private shows that are paid, by creating a private Facebook group, and audiences get access to the group when they buy a ticket.
Jim: We are prepared to support a lot of different kinds of models of online events on Goldstar, and Goldstar members are very interested in them. So you can reach out to our team at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.