Producing a successful live streaming event takes a lot more than a smart phone and a tripod. This two-part post features a Facebook Live case study from concept and rehearsal, to broadcast and analysis.
I totally understand why you feel the way you do when you complain about fans at shows having their phones out and taking pictures or videos of your performance instead of just watching and enjoying it. But with cell phones, cameras, and social media all playing such a major role in the way we communicate, face it: they are not going away.
So we can either keep bitching about them, or we can find a way to make them work to our advantage.
This was the internal dialogue I was having while driving to Austintown, Ohio to work with one of my client-bands, Amanda Jones & the Family Band, and it was during that 30-minute commute on Interstate 80 that I started kicking around an idea I knew Amanda and her band would be perfect to experiment with.
This Facebook Live case study (split into two parts) is a detailed look at that idea and how we implemented it, plus some of the important decisions that had to be made going into it. The second part will delve into what happened the night of the show, problems that arose and how we dealt with them, and will include video of the entire Facebook Live broadcast.
I’m also going to talk about the things that could have gone better than they did as well as what I think we should do differently the next time we attempt something like this. Even the most planned out shows can have things go wrong, forcing musicians to think on their feet and adapt. Like Mike Tyson used to say, everybody has a plan, until they get punched.
The people involved
I’m Wade Sutton, Artist Development and Music PR (Rocket to the Stars). The band involved in this little experiment is from an area just outside of Youngstown, Ohio, which is about half way between Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
The band, Amanda Jones & The Family Band, is just that: a family band. Amanda is the lead vocalist, and her father, Michael, is the acoustic guitar player. Her sister, Brittany, is the keyboard player, and Brittany’s husband, Nathan, is on bass. The drummer, Frank, and electric guitarist, David, are not relatives but have been with the band for some time.
For a number of years, the band has putting time and energy into writing original music. The current set list is made of up a combination of originals and covers, and while their music falls under the country genre, their original music and personal style and energy gives them an incredible amount of crossover appeal.
They also don’t burn out their local audience, making it a point to book dates outside the Youngstown area, including shows in Cleveland, the Pittsburgh market, and down into West Virginia.
The band has also received its fair share of media coverage, performing on the television morning news program on Cleveland’s FOX TV affiliate in addition to multiple appearances on Froggy radio in Pittsburgh. So this is a group that has worked hard to grow beyond being a local band and, while they aren’t nationally famous, they are performing and operating on a regional level.
Looking for something different
This idea of artists blasting audiences for using their phones at shows was weighing on me and I kept coming back to one question: If fans at a live show have their phones out, what can we do that will get them to use those phones in a manner that benefits the band?
I knew a couple of things going into this. I wanted it to be something that involved Facebook Live and I wanted it to be something much different than what people typically see of a Facebook Live broadcast.
I began formulating an idea born from two popular performances I had seen over the past few years.
The first was a U2 performance I saw during which the band invited a member of the audience to join them on stage. The woman they selected was given a cell phone tied to the band’s Periscope account. For one song, she was given free reign to walk around the stage showing whatever she wanted on camera and it was all broadcast live on Periscope.
The second source of inspiration was Bruce Springsteen’s Super Bowl halftime show and the way he interacted with the cameras in addition to playing to the live audience. It created a sense of breaking the fourth wall and made for a television broadcast that was much more engaging for those watching on TV.
We wanted to do something that was extremely engaging for the audience attending the show as well as the folks watching on Facebook, we wanted to create something that would encourage people to share the video, and we wanted to walk away with incredible footage the band could repurpose and use for marketing, including a sizzle reel that could be shown at trade conventions or to send to colleges at which the band is hoping to be booked.
The vast majority of Facebook Live broadcasts done by music artists wanting to air portions of their live show, more often than not, involves the artist placing their phone on a tripod off to the side of the stage. The artist then performs for their audience and totally ignores the camera, leaving the online viewers feeling like passive observers.
When I arrived for my appointment with Amanda, the idea was pretty much fleshed out. We were going to take a three-song portion of an upcoming live show, put together a high-energy performance for those three songs, and broadcast it live on Facebook Live, and we were going to have the camera operator moving around on the stage with the band. This meant making sure the camera operator knew everything that was going on performance-wise so she would have the camera on the appropriate band member and capture specific angles at specific times. And, most importantly, the band was going to be performing to the camera as much as to the audience at the venue.
We were essentially creating a live mini-television production for FB Live.
We decided to add an additional layer by erecting a video screen at the venue on which the broadcast would be shown as it was happening live. We wanted to encourage fans at the show to break out their phones, share the broadcast with their Facebook friends, and leave comments so they could see their own names and comments pop up on the screen we erected – all things that would make Facebook detect the video as “interesting content” and hopefully push it into more people’s news feeds.
In planning out this three-song broadcast, we had to make some pretty important decisions. The two things that jumped out immediately were figuring out what three songs to perform and where the broadcast would take place.
As far as what three songs we’d use, I suggested we stick to using only original material. As you may know, Universal Music Group has been on a tear pulling down covers of their songs done by music artists and posted on Facebook, and though we could have used covers owned by other publishing companies, I felt the broadcast and video content was too important for the band to risk butting heads with any publishing companies.
I also wanted them to use originals that were upbeat – I wanted the entire broadcast to be full of energy, so anything remotely close to a ballad was tossed from the start. We eventually whittled it down to three songs: “Jones Family Reunion,” “Ready to Fall,” and “Wine, Whiskey, and Beer.”
“Jones Family Reunion” was perfect to start the broadcast with for several reasons. Not only is it a fun, upbeat song, it also reinforces an interesting aspect of the band’s branding: most of the members are family. That’s important, because it is one of the things a lot of fans remember when they are first exposed to the band.
“Ready to Fall” was a natural fit for the second slot. While it’s upbeat, it’s a song where we could bring down the visual energy (for the first half) by having Amanda sing at the mic stand. We did this so we could come out of this song and ramp up the visual energy for the end of the broadcast – we needed the audience to SEE the energy increasing over that time period. Doing so keeps the show visually interesting for both the audience at the venue and watching on Facebook Live.
“Wine, Whiskey, and Beer” was the finale for the three song broadcast. It’s a fan favorite and includes a call-and-response, and we could continue increasing the visual energy to keep a natural flow to the show and the Facebook Live broadcast. It also gave us an opportunity to show that even though the band’s performances are branded as something that families can take their kids to, the band can still let loose.
So all three of the songs were catchy and energetic and they all had their own way of reinforcing the band’s brand and image.
The next thing on our plate was figuring out at which show this Facebook Live performance was going to take place. We had several options available to us but there were two that stood out: the band’s appearance at WinterFest in downtown Cleveland and their show at a venue called Bootlegger’s near Yankee Lake, Ohio.
WinterFest was a great opportunity for them. It was a performance tied to a much bigger event and a lot of people were expected to turn out. But because the show was outdoors on a November Cleveland day, I was concerned the wind would nix any plans to erect the video screen – one strong gust and that thing would have been sailing over Lake Erie. And while we knew attendance was expected to be pretty high, we knew attendees would have a lot of things to do and look at and we didn’t know to what extent that would suck people away from the stage.
Bootlegger’s was the other attractive option. The band had performed there on two other occasions and both had big turnouts. The venue is pretty much in the band’s backyard and, like I said, they make it a point to avoid over-saturating the local market. Plus, the show was booked for late January, which gave us more time to prepare. And, as a bonus, we discovered the venue had just spent major cash on a new lighting and effects system that would blow people’s socks off. Having decided that we wanted to take video from this performance to use for marketing purposes, this was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
We circled the Bootlegger’s date as the show during which the Facebook Live broadcast would take place.
Into the rehearsal room
We set aside two Sunday afternoons to work on the production of the broadcast, with each session lasting two hours.
In helping the band with this, I wanted to focus on two things: making sure the performances were planned out with a lot of energy and working with the camera operator to walk her through everything we would need her to do. She needed to know everything that was going on during the performance, where on stage it was happening, and where she was going to have to be to get the best angle. A friend of the band, Alyce, volunteered to be the camera operator, so I asked her to be present at both rehearsals.
Fortunately, the band brings a lot of experience to the stage as well as a willingness to try new things, is fantastic at accepting coaching (a rarity in this business), and already came in with a high level of energy and enthusiasm. We focused on creating visuals that would stick out to people watching the show. This included sections in the broadcast in which Amanda was kneeling with Michael and Nathan on either side of her, Amanda tossing beach balls out into the crowd, and Amanda singing while riding on Nate’s shoulders while he walked around playing bass during the finale.
While we were nailing down all the movements that would take place during the broadcast, we also had to hash out things like when Amanda and members of the band would be performing to the camera vs. when they were performing to the crowd at Bootlegger’s.
Once all of that was done, we had to address the final layer: Alyce’s presence on the stage during the show. I wanted to make this as easy as possible for her, so I grabbed Brittany’s iPhone (the same one we would be using for the broadcast) and had the band run through the three songs while I recorded the video as if we were doing the FB Live broadcast. We sent the video file to Alyce so she could study it before the second two-hour session. It basically provided her with a video walk-through of where she had to be and where the camera had to be pointed at any given time.
The second two-hour session was spent doing repeated run-throughs of the three-song set. We also worked on Amanda’s delivery during the transitions when she would direct the crowd to sign-up for the band’s e-mail list, give them the rundown on the merchandise giveaway that was being run through sharing the FB Live video, and directing the audience on the call-and-response going into the last song. And this gave Alyce several opportunities to operate the camera through the entire set while we made adjustments to the performances and added more movements to the show.
We wrapped up that second rehearsal with a ten-minute FB Live broadcast during which the band and I discussed the work that went into it.
So now you know about everything leading into the show and the broadcast. In Part 2 of our Facebook Live case study, you will get a very detailed look at everything that took place during the show, problems that popped up, things that went exactly the way we were hoping, and aspects of the show that could have gone better. Plus, you’ll get to see the Facebook Live broadcast in its entirety as well as video of the performance shot from the floor.
With clients in major cities like Nashville, New York, London, Sydney, and Toronto, Rocket to the Stars’ Wade Sutton has dedicated his life to helping music artists in all aspects of their careers. Armed with 20 years of radio journalism experience, Wade now provides an array of services to artists, including writing biographies and press releases; creating press kits, websites, and sponsorship proposals; media interview preparation, and more. In 2014, Wade co-authored a music business eBook titled The $150,000 Music Degree with Rick Barker. Click here to get a FREE copy of the book today.
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