Tag Archive for livestreaming

Adventures in Livestreaming: Student Music Ensembles

An occasional series in which I fumble my way through the world of live-event coverage. I screw up so you don’t have to. 

If your university is home to the kind of wonderful student performing groups we have here at the University of Rochester, and you are not currently livestreaming their performances over the Web, may I humbly suggest that you make it your belated New Year’s resolution to start. Or to at least try. I promise you they are the low-hanging-fruit of awesome when it comes to starting and sustaining a live-event-coverage program.

Last semester, I started a livestreaming pilot program with a few of our music department ensembles: the Jazz Ensemble, Wind Symphony, Symphony Orchestra, and Chamber Orchestra. I can happily report that these events have been the most successful events I’ve livestreamed so far. And I am measuring success in terms of both the total number of viewers and the sheer blissed-out happiness expressed by viewers and performers alike at the opportunity to participate in something they had no way of experiencing before.

The first “shake out cruise” was the Jazz Ensemble’s fall concert. With very little promotion, the livestream attracted a sustained viewership of around 40 listeners, with a high of 53. Earth shattering? No. But consider that most of this group’s performances attract around 150-200 in-person attendees. The livestream availability increased their usual attendance levels by between a quarter and a third, without detracting from that in-person attendance.

And that online audience was beyond thrilled. Here is the very first comment received on the built-in chat during that very first livestreamed concert:

8:10 PM  universityofrochester: This is the first jazz ensemble concert to stream live on the Web
8:10 PM  universityofrochester: We appreciate any feedback you may have
8:11 PM  parent: pan the camera left-we can’t see the rhythm section
8:14 PM  universityofrochester: is your student in the rhythm section?
8:14 PM  universityofrochester: I can try to zoom in. :-)
8:15 PM  parent: yes – thanks – the bass player

And it only got better from there. Here is some of the commentary from the Wind Ensemble performance the following week, which sustained 100 viewers throughout the entire concert, and hit a high of 121 (again, with an in-person attendance of around 200):

8:15 PM  MommaLi: Go Greg from Ma and Pa Danchik in Pittsburgh!
8:15 PM  Jay: Kedar u played well and nice job! made me and your dad very proud…
8:18 PM  Jaclyn: go vicky, go! love you, lady!
8:19 PM  MommaLi: “Rust Belt” making us proud tonight : ) Go horns!!!
8:27 PM  Websters: Enjoying this very much!  Thanks for livestreaming for those of us who can’t be there in person.
8:28 PM  akshay: Beautiful! Enjoying this sitting in Carlson doing my assignments!
8:29 PM  Jairo: I am abroad and this is awesome!
8:30 PM  memphismary: I see my girlie sitting between the 2nd and 3rd sax players–yay!
8:44 PM  MommaLi: Thought we’d get the tree decorated tonight but we’re glued. Go Emily! And huge thanks UofR for this privilege.
8:45 PM  URalum89: UR doing a great service and these are wonderful artists. It is a great way to stay connected to the University. Thank you.
8:45 PM  lysolmom: You are doing great, UofR – Miss everybody there so much -you are All fantastic, and this is better than an old lady like me could ever imagine!

When I shared this feedback and viewership stats with the conductors – along with the fact that the livestreams had attracted viewers from Kuala Lumpur, Brussels, Australia, Florida, California, North Dakota, Virginia, etc. – their jaws literally dropped. Needless to say, we are planning to livestream all the major music ensemble performances this semester. This data also helped justify my department’s decision to go ahead and purchase the ad-free version of the livestream platform we are using (Livestream.com; $3,250/year for 3,000 ad-free viewer hours/month).

Here are some tips on how to get started livestreaming your own students’ musical magnificence.

(1) Talk to the right people. Finding out who the right people are on any campus can be a challenge in and of itself. In my case, I first spoke to the press officer in our Communications office who handles publicity for our concert events. She put me in touch with the Music Department’s concertmaster, a faculty member who also administers the department’s performance programs. He then put me in touch with his student technical staff – they set up the house sound before each concert – and with the director of the Jazz Ensemble – he was an eager and gracious “guinea pig” for the first livestream. NOTE: it took two-and-a-half months between my first point-of-contact to my first dry-run of livestreaming a rehearsal. So be patient, young grasshopper. And persistent.

(2) Address issues of copyright. You’d need to take a course in copyright law to understand all the intricacies of rights to sound recordings and performances. In fact, I have taken a course in copyright law, and I still don’t understand them. Luckily I don’t have to. The aforementioned concertmaster handles all copyright concerns when the ensembles are putting together their programs for the semester. For much of the classical music repertoire, copyright is not an issue since works are in the public domain. Also our university has signed contracts with the three major publishing rights organizations – ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. So far, there has been one song in one concert that we did not have clear rights to based on these agreements, so for that song I simply unplugged the audio source from the laptop and explained to the online audience what was going on. And we did Not. Lose. A single. Viewer. They stuck around for six minutes of silence; that’s how much they want this stuff. On your campus, talk with those involved in planning performances of musical works and possibly your university counsel to make sure you have all your intellectual property ducks in a row.

(3) Get the conductor on board. The conductors of the major ensembles I’ve worked with so far – Bill Tiberio of the Jazz Ensemble and David Harmon of the classical ensembles – have been amazing, enthusiastic, and gracious. From the very first one, Tiberio welcomed the online audience from the stage (just as he would welcome the in-person audience), repeated the livestream URL multiple times, and encouraged attendees to send the URL to their friends and relatives at home (which I saw several audience members doing from their phones as the concert began). This has set the tone for the rest of the performances.

(4) The technical stuff. Short answer: it’s all about audio. These are musical performances, after all. For me, my setup is probably embarrassingly low-tech, but it works. (You can check out the archive of the Wind Symphony performance at http://livestre.am/4eYB8  for a sample; fast-forward to the 20-minute mark unless you enjoy watching people mill about.) I use a Canon Vixia HV40 camera – an older model HD camera with a Firewire output. I connect the camera to my Macbook Pro via Firewire, and then connect to the output from the auditorium’s sound board with an RCA audio adapter into the stereo mini-jack input in my laptop. The craziest part is that the sound board is in the back of the stage, so I run a 200-foot extension cable from the stage to my laptop, which is set up in a break in the auditorium seating. Honestly the part of the set-up process that takes the longest is taping this cable down with gaffer tape. But on the upside, I do get to say “gaffer tape” with an air of knowledge and authority.

So what’s next? Obviously the parent audience is key here. These are folks who have probably been watching their child perform at recitals and concerts since the kids were in grade school. Now imagine that for the first time you can’t attend every performance, because your kid is in Rochester and you are in Pittsburgh. It’s kind of a no-brainer that for this audience, this content is unbelievably valuable. My next step for this semester, though, is to try to work with our Admissions office to see how they might use these livestreams as a way to reach out to prospective students. I have to imagine that showing a high school student with an interest in the arts and biomedical engineering just what it would be like to study and perform at our university could also be potentially helpful to students making their college choices.

–lori

Adventures in Livestreaming: Chapter 1

An occasional series in which I fumble my way the world of live-event coverage. I screw up so you don’t have to. 

My golden nugget of fried gold from HighEdWeb 2011 was this, courtesy of rockstar niceguy and caffeine connoiseur Seth O’Dell: If you are not livestreaming your events, you do not care about your community. All it takes is one person, one laptop, and one camera.

With those words ringing like a Buddhist sutra in my ears, I’ve set about trying to bring real-time event coverage to our campus this year. My immodest goal: make livestreaming of guest speakers, panels, and performances an expectation and not an exception. When someone hears that an event is *not* going to be livestreamed, I want them to be disappointed.

So far this year, I’ve livestreamed two events and have three more coming up. Each time I’m learning something new, something I think I’ll do differently the next time around. Let’s start at the beginning:

Livestreaming Rule #1:
The Cake Is A Lie (well, at least a fib)

Seth is an inspiration and a giant amongst mortals, but his “One person, one laptop, one camera” philosophy is akin to the coach in Bull Durham saying, “You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball.” He ain’t lying, but there’s a bit more to it than that.

The very first event I livestreamed did in fact involve one person (me), one laptop (and old MacBook Pro I use as a Safari test machine) and one camera (an even older Sony Handycam of the kind your dad took on vacation to Washington’s Crossing in 2002).

And it did in fact work. The event was a hastily convened ceremony for our YellowJackets a cappella ensemble who were being presented with a key to the city. It was in a huge room with bad acoustics and there was no podium mic or sound system. I just used the built-in mic on the camera to pick up the sound in the room. We ended up with 48 viewers for a webcast that was only promoted about a half an hour before it began with a homepage, Facebook, and Twitter posting.

So as a proof of concept, I’d call this one a success. With lots of research and several test runs, even a clueless neophyte like me was able to pull off a live webcast that did not crash and burn midway through. One-person-one-laptop-one-camera does work. However, both the person, the laptop, and the camera in this scenario left something to be desired. As a result, the final product did leave lots of room for improvement on both the technical quality side (especially audio), the skills side (especially me) and on the promotional side.

Things can only get better from here — stay tuned for our next exciting episode!

–lori

PS — for those interested, here are some of the specifics on the equipment used on this event.

EVENT: YellowJackets Key To the City

  • Platform: Livestream; used their Livestream Studio Web-based interface
  • Camera: Sony Handycam DCR-HC90 (don’t think they make ‘em anymore)
  • Mic: Camera built-in
  • Laptop: Macbook Pro (late 2006 model; this caused a last minute scramble to find a Firewire 800 to Firewire 400 adapter for the laptop’s older Firewire input)
  • Tripod