Laura Marling and gig directors explain what it takes to put on a ticketed livestream show

With gigs cancelled due to COVID-19, paying for virtual gigs is on the rise

With ticketed livestream gigs on the rise with touring paused due to coronavirus, a number of creatives have spoken to NME about what it takes to put on a monetised virtual gig.

Most live shows have not been possible for some months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While venues with social distancing measures in place for audiences may be allowed to reopen later this month, it is argued that this is not a realistic or financially viable alternative for the vast majority of spaces and events in the UK, and that they should be “mothballed” until it is safe for them to open at full capacity.

To provide a safe experience for fans at home while offering something more than a bedroom performance filmed on a webcam, many artists have taken to selling tickets to view professionally-produced livestream gigs. However, it has been questioned how realistic it will be for many acts to host such events due to technical, logistical and financial issues.

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Laura Marling, whose one-off ticketed performances from London’s Union Chapel were viewed by more than 6,000 fans, explained to NME how the pay-per-view approach was “justified” in that hiring a director, sound engineer and professional camera crew provided a more cinematic experience.

“Like everyone else, we were trying to think on our feet about how to do something that wasn’t just a shit Instagram video,” Marling told NME. “I decided to release my new album ‘Song For Our Daughter‘ early while in lockdown and still wanted to perform bits of it, but I wasn’t comfortable just sitting back in my living room and doing an awkward performance. I wanted to do something a bit more polished.”

As for the decision to make it an event that could only be viewed once, Marling explained: “It’s a somewhat cynical term, but manufacturing scarcity is an important part of it all. As a musician who’s been doing this for 14 years, I see no harm in that. It’s hard to make it as a musician or in any kind of creative pursuit. There is value in only a certain amount of people having this experience and it only being available at a very certain time. That’s what gigs are.”

Laura Marling

Despite the expense spent on high production values, Marling recognised that “there’s so much possibility to do this on a much lower budget”, but the emphasis would need to be on much more than the performance.

“There’s a much more interesting thing to be explored in how the world of theatre or performance of a different style can be woven into it, in a way that heightens the performance because it’s live,” she said. “I’m still trying to think about how you could do a live music show, even when gigs go back to normal, but have this other experience of a global audience experiencing something together with a beginning, a middle and an end, that isn’t just a setlist.”

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She continued: “I would definitely do it again. We’d have to expand on the show – I couldn’t do another solo performance. I’m trying to think of places that maybe haven’t been used at the moment and how we might use them in an interesting way.”

Asked if the pay-per-view gig model was a viable alternative for artists currently unable to tour, Marling replied: “Not financially, no. It’s a curiosity.

“That has huge value, and people can do it on a much lower budget, but for a middling artist like me who’s neither successful or unsuccessful, it’s not an economically viable alternative for gigs.”

Laura Marling

Marling’s Union Chapel stream was directed by Giorgio Testi, who told NME that he set out to provide an entirely different offering to simply capturing what a normal show would have been like.

“It was like a movie of a concert,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to say, ‘This is the way that concerts should be shot’, but at this moment in time I feel that this is how people should experience live music from home. We had the venue all to ourselves, so we were able to position Laura wherever was best for the cameras. After the first song, we moved her to the centre of the venue. Visually, you can give the audience something different because you can really capture the beauty of a venue like Union Chapel.”

With this in mind, Testi admitted that “this kind of approach is not for all artists”.

“Artists like Laura can afford to do it like this and be extra exposed,” he continued. “With that kind of filming, there’s no way that the director can cover up anything and just shoot the audience or other things. The camera was on Laura from start to end. You need to sing and be able to perform. It’s not the type of thing that everyone can do. Other artists might want to wait for gigs and life to go back to normal.”

Nick Cave to stream new 'Idiot Prayer' solo show from Alexandra Palace. Credit: Joel Ryan
Nick Cave to stream new ‘Idiot Prayer’ solo show from Alexandra Palace. Credit: Joel Ryan

Robbie Ryan was the cinematographer on Nick Cave’s recent ticketed stream show Idiot Prayer, which was pre-recorded at London’s Alexandra Palace. After working with just Cave sat at a piano, he agreed that other performers might want to take a different approach to livestreaming.

“It worked well for Nick’s music but I don’t know if it’ll be the same for a band,” Ryan admitted. “Nick was re-intepretating his music back to the way that it was written in the first place, but maybe with a band something would be lost.”

He added: “We’re all in a different reality these days as we try to gleam a different way of what it’s like to go through these things. With what we did, it’s an intimate experience and you feel like you’re there with him. But let’s not be fooling ourselves – it’s not the same as being at a gig. I was there and I had a great time, but I’m hoping that what I captured satisfies the insatiable need of Nick Cave’s following.”

Nick Cave to stream new 'Idiot Prayer' solo show from Alexandra Palace. Credit: Joel Ryan

However, solutions are available for rising acts and smaller bands. Andrea Cockerton is the founder of Lockjam – a new online ‘venue’ raising funds for musicians and tech crews out of work due to COVID-19, and a platform for less established artitst with a smaller budget to host ticketed livestream shows. They’ll soon be rebranding and launching a new service as Diuo with filming locations based  in Manchester, London, Bristol and Cambridge.

“Understandably, everyone’s been really bereft of hope because it is really difficult,” Andrea told NME. “We’ve been doing this from week three of lockdown. We were immediately looking to the future, going ‘This is something that we need to adapt for’. People are happy to pay if they’re getting quality. They’re not happy to pay if it’s a Facebook stream. If it’s in a space that feels like an event, then they’re really to pay. The branding and the environment around that is really important.”

Hiring experienced crew and offering high quality video, audio and streaming services, Cockerton hopes to create a more level playing field for rising talent to make money from virtual gigs.

“The mega bands have got the budget and can do this already,” she said. “Smaller bands who have had to cancel their tours don’t have the cameras, the equipment or the knowhow. They’re the artists that we’re looking to help.”

She added: “We want to hear from people who can sell over 400 tickets. Underneath that, it’s just not going to work – given the costs involved. We’re looking at budgeting tickets for about a tenner, for an hour-long show, on a high-quality platform where you can pay for replays as well. It’s a revenue share model where the lion’s share will go to the musicians. We cover the basic costs then we’ll split the rest between us all with a percentage going to charity to help musicians.

“Whatever we do has to be commercially sound, artistically brilliant, but also do some social good. That’s what Diuo will be about.”

Tonight (Thursday August 6), The Streets will perform a ticketed livestream gig from EartH in Hackney, to promote new mixtape ‘None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Alive’.

Last week, the organisers of a government pilot socially distanced gig with Frank Turner performing at London’s Clapham Grand acknowledged that the event “did not succeed” in creating a viable blueprint for the return of live music.

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