Live-streaming has opened new opportunities for many musicians. It has also created new categories of challenges. These prep and performance tips can make your Zoom gigs the best they can be.
In “Gigging over Zoom: A case study,” I talked about some of the technical elements that go into streaming a performance. But beyond the world of cameras, inputs, and audio settings, how do you make sure your online performance showcases you and your music at its best? Here are some tips to help you navigate online gigs and make your Zoom shows as engaging and musical as possible.
Handle tech early
In non-pandemic times, your everyday concerns before a show might include changing guitar strings, making sure cables work, hauling amps, and connecting keyboards. Every indie musician has his or her own pre-gig tech routine — but throw in live-streaming and things can get very complicated, very quickly, often in ways that musicians are not used to dealing with.
To make things as stress-free as possible, deal with the tech aspects — audio and camera settings, miking, lighting, mixes, etc. — early and proactively. The more dialed-in you have your musical and live-streaming set-ups as the downbeat approaches, the more energy you’ll have to focus on your performance.
Make sure you’re well-nourished and hydrated
If you’re streaming a performance from home, it can be easy to feel more casual about ramping up for your gig. Schedules easily warp in pandemic-land, as can your awareness of what, when, and how much you’ve eaten on a given day.
Just as with in-person shows, Zoom performances will likely work best when your diet has been consistent and healthy. Treat your Zoom gig just like an in-person gig in this regard, which means treating it like an athletic event. Plan ahead and give yourself the nourishment you need to perform at your best.
Dress the part
Just as with in-person gigs, people are not just hearing your music when you play via Zoom; they’re watching you as well. And while pandemic living can lead to all sorts of new normals regarding casual dress and hygiene, taking the time to dress the part before your online gig is imperative.
More important than just looking good on camera, cleaning up and putting on a special gig outfit can get you in the right headspace to give a performance you’ll be proud of. This doesn’t mean having to go over the top; just wearing something that looks good on camera and makes you feel confident will go a long way towards inspiring the performance you want to give.
Plan for the lack of feedback
When you play live in front of an audience, you see, hear, and feel them. All of that sensory feedback is an integral part of the experience. So, let’s face it, performing on Zoom without any audience feedback is just plain weird.
The first strategy I came up with to cope was to remind myself that yes, I’m playing for an audience — but for myself as well. Shifting my intention away from connecting with an audience that was no longer in front of me and towards creating music that I would personally love was subtle but important. I immediately felt more comfortable and free in my performance.
Having your Zoom screen show at least a few virtual audience member faces can help. That way, you can glance and remind yourself that, as different as your online performance may feel, you’re still sharing music with real people who are happy to hear it. Talking with the audience in between songs can also create a sense of connection.
Plan the aftermath
One of the hardest parts of Zoom gigging can happen after you finish playing. Many indie musicians cherish the after-show energy and hang at live performances, where you get to relax, catch up with bandmates and audience members, listen to the next band if there is one, sell merch, get mailing list sign-ups, and so on. It can feel abrupt and disconcerting to reach the climax of your show, finish things off and… find yourself sitting in your living room.
There’s no magic remedy for this letdown, so until the pandemic is under control and in-person live performances truly start again, find new ways to give yourself a post-show experience before you have to reconnect with reality. It can help to have an online, after-show catch-up scheduled to connect with friends and bandmates after the last note fades. It’s not nearly as intimate and stimulating as an in-person hang, but it’s better than nothing.
Adjust for the format
Some of your songs that normally feel wonderful when played in a club or theater may become awkward when performed in front of a laptop and camera; others that don’t particularly resonate in-person may expand via Zoom performance into new and unexpected territory.
Flexibility can be key in converting your in-person show to an online format. Try to have more material prepared than you have time to play and keep your setlist fluid. That way, you can adjust to the vibe of your online gig, whatever it may be, and customize your performance as you go.
Or, if you prefer to have a locked-in setlist for your online shows, just pay attention to what works and what doesn’t — regardless of your expectations — and adjust accordingly for your next show.
Record and review
Zoom makes it easy to record, so make sure to document your live-streamed shows. Reviewing after the fact can help you tweak your performance for the next live stream — and can provide good fodder for YouTube videos to be posted after the fact.
Like any sort of performance, gigging over Zoom gets easier with practice. Keep playing, creating, and sharing and enjoy this weird ride as much as you can.
Michael Gallant is a musician, writer, and entrepreneur living in New York City. His debut album for the Steinway & Sons label, Rock Rewind, features solo piano reinventions of Pearl Jam, U2, Halestorm, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Radiohead, and more. Read his recent article for the National Endowment for the Arts and follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant and Facebook.com/GallantMusic.
Gigging over Zoom: A case study
Ramping up for the big gig
Improving the audio in your streaming broadcasts and videos
Easy fixes to improve the lighting in your videos
Dress the part: Choosing the right outfit for the gig