Thinking About Livestreaming as an Artist? Read This First
In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, many artists are turning to livestreaming—some for the first time—to present their work. We reached out to Creative Capital Awardee Yara Travieso and Brighid Greene who gained a lot of first-hand experience for using livestreaming platforms. In 2017, they explored all the options to present a livestream version of the Creative Capital Project, La Medea, an immersive musical performance that reimagines Euripiedes tragedy as alive broadcast Latin-disco-pop variety show.
Watch our Livestreaming for Artists online workshop led by Yara Travieso and Brighid Greene.
Livestreaming can be daunting, since it can put the artist in a vulnerable, one-sided position as performer. Travieso and Greene suggest thinking of livestreaming less as a final product, and more as a way to continue a creative practice. Embrace the messiness of social media and the vulnerability of the digital sphere to use it as one uses a studio practice—be experimental, see what works, and improve upon the work. When the quarantine ends, you might even have a final performance ready for a physical venue.
Below, Travieso and Greene share some thoughts on what to consider when choosing a platform.
Our Experience with Livestreaming
We’ve used livestreaming for La Medea, and other performances. La Medea premiered in 2017 and has been touring since. Re-imagining Euripides’ myth into a Latin-disco-pop-feminist variety show, La Medea is an immersive musical and a simulcast film directed, performed, shot, and edited in real time. Performers and camera women play the characters, while studio audiences act as the Greek chorus and film extras. The pervasive figure of the dangerous foreign woman, who vengefully murders her own children, is shattered in this genre-bending multidimensional dismantling that rejects the limited gaze imposed on her for centuries.
Using livestreaming as an integral part of the storytelling, not just as documentation for at home viewers, La Medea blends the best parts of each world— the fantasy of cinema and the vulnerability of theater in order to transmit the storyworld to multiple audiences. Its magic lives within its high stakes liveness and audience participation. Through the livestream, our at-home viewers have a hand in crafting the script, writing in questions via chat that we then ask the characters. In this way they take on the voice of the Greek Chorus. Additionally, the in-house theater audiences are aware they are being broadcast to the world and so they too are part of the theatrical stage, participating as the film extras, dancing with our characters, and in short acting as the physical Greek Chorus.
We found that the livestream was more effective if we used interactivity with the audience to enhance their experience, instead of just broadcasting a video that someone can watch at any time. Because La Medea is specifically made for camera, our actors directly address our home viewers and continuously take their experience into account. This allows for our livestream viewers to feel far more engaged than they would normally while watching a documented performance. Through the chats, they feel heard and as though they are part of the story world and in community with the theater audiences, becoming emotionally invested in the story.
Additionally, because the livestream is such an important aspect of the production, the physical and monetary limitations of theater vanish. Viewers tune in from around the world, including curators and presenters that later are able to commission the production’s tour.
Since livestreaming is so technical and unpredictable, we embrace that as part of the storytelling. Things can freeze or be out of sync, so we include unpredictability into the world which works really well. We play with the blunders and embrace the mess— there is a purposeful technical error in the show so that makes the space for us to roll with it without losing the thread of the story if a true technical error occurs.
What should people look to livestreaming platforms to accomplish?
Rather than thinking of livestream as a platform for getting your artwork out to the world, we would rather think of how the different platforms can fulfill a playful creative process, joy, authenticity, or vision. Whatever we are creating has its own language, style, and intention in order to exist in its most full and sincere capacity. We already do this outside of livestream, for example, when creating a music performance that is meant to feel immersive, one would probably avoid a traditional proscenium stage and be more inclined to perform it in the round or blackbox. The same goes for livestreaming, except with more play, agency, and low stakes to experiment with new ideas. We could use livestreaming platforms as we use venues, all with their own built-in audiences, aesthetics, and logistics which all play into your creative process. But the point is to always create when and how it feels right for you!
When looking at what platform to use, here are some things we like to think about.
- Does the work require a known audience or will an anonymous audience be an interesting component? For example, when we used Twitch we sent the link to our built-in audience but also had people tuning in from the Twitch community that had never watched something like La Medea. We were lucky to have La Medea featured on their homepage and that made for major turnout in viewers that were predominantly male, watching a hyperfeminist musical.
- Another thing to consider is timing—does the work live best when the moment strikes you and expression can be released at any time, or will a dedicated time and date fulfill your daily structure? When we livestreamed La Medea with HowlRound, it functioned more like a theater venue; they only stream one thing at a time, and so La Medea was the primary focus for three nights in a row at 8pm.
- This leads to sharing and archiving— does the work live best to be shared across platforms, or within a singular space? And when the livestream is finished, can it be added to your collection as a living document in tandem to your prepared documents, or is it important that it remains ephemeral like a live performance, and is letting go a useful tool?
- And what about person-to-person contact— does the work benefit from acknowledging your audience and looking them in the eye, does this time call for an introduction? Or does chatting and checking-in throughout shape the work? Is it helpful to see your audience if they were to be there on Zoom for example? Or does the design of being in your space alone yet with the support of an audience you can’t see feel liberating? Are you a stop-motion artist and is this the time for everyone to see your film play out in real time with your hands in the shot?
- And what about the monetary relationship— is it available for free in this moment when so many of the community are losing income, or is it intended to be shared with people who might otherwise still have their jobs and be able to pay for a performance to maintain some financial stability?
- And lastly, content, where is the material situated, what else is happening in that virtual space, who are the other players?
Straight out of the gate, Instagram is probably your best bet to start livestreaming. You probably already have an audience on this platform, and it’s pretty easy to go live. But once you start recording, you really are live! This could be a good option for dancers, or other artists who use improvisation in their practice. Or, if possible, it could help to have someone record for you, as you move around. Instagram and other social media platforms tend to be more personal, casual, and vulnerable which is great for behind the scenes conversations, or playfully workshopping new ideas, or intimate one-person performances.
Vulture has a round up of some popular artists who are using Instagram livestreaming during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Creative Capital Awardee Kenya (Robinson) often streams live on Instagram.
HowlRound is a free platform to use, they provide back-end support to help you set up your livestream which is essential. Streams on HowlRound can be hosted on the artist’s own YouTube channel. HowlRound seeks to be a theater commons, so their livestream is a single performance venue, like an online theater.
They recently posted their own guide to using their platform.
Usually Vimeo charges a $75 a month minimum to use their livestreaming platform, but they are currently offering non-profit organizations and educational institutions free livestreaming until June 1 by completing this form. Artists might consider reaching out to the organizations they have worked with to be presented live by their Vimeo platform. Vimeo features multiple ways to chat—both a Q&A function to moderate questions coming in and also a more standard open-ended chat room. It also allows a simulcast to multiple platforms including YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Twitch, and more.
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- The film community adapts amidst festival and premiere cancelations
- How to plan a virtual event: Expert insights from the Vimeo team
Twitch was built for people who want to livestream themselves as they play video games. Needless to say, Twitch has a massive network, and an artist who uses it has a potential to have lots of viewers. While it is more geared towards gaming, there is likely a crossover between arts genre and gaming that could really benefit an artist seeking new audiences. You can customize the page for your livestream and livestream multiple times if you have multiple shows for example—you can see how we used it for La Medea.
Even though Twitch is not a platform for the arts specifically, we used it and found a few odd subscribers who wouldn’t have found us otherwise. We have found that the team at Twitch has been interested in supporting the arts. This could be a breakout moment—there is a Music & Performance category already. If you do use Twitch, someone may need to regulate the chat room—they do have specific parameters and guidelines around this and you can set up your chat room to fully allow comments or restrict the use of certain words.
Check out artist Joshua Citarella’s Twitch page. He uses it to host panel discussions between artists and curators.
Most people are familiar with YouTube, but perhaps not about the massive community that consumes YouTube-specific content. If you do choose to use YouTube, be prepared to spend time building up videos. While YouTube does have livestreaming capabilities, it’s more of a place to put finished, edited content. However, if you do choose to use it, their powerful algorithm could potentially help you gain a new audience.
This New York Times article on one of the biggest YouTube stars has a lot of great information for people who want to learn more about the YouTube community.
Facebook has livestreaming capabilities, and it might be where many artists already have built a welcoming audience. That said, it’s not necessarily the best place to stream content. Facebook livestream videos cannot be embedded on other platforms, like YouTube, so your audience must watch on Facebook. Facebook also doesn’t have much options for exploring new content or creators, so you’re pretty much stuck with the audience you already have.
Zoom is typically used for meetings in work spaces, however, we and other artists have been using it to lead workshops, classes, and dance parties! Although picture and sound quality are not the greatest, its potential for large group face-to-face gatherings is exciting when making art about and with the community, which we personally have been enjoying these days!
In our online workshop, Vijay from HowlRound mentioned OBS Studio—you can use this to pull in your video content and make edits and graphics and send the final stream to your livestream. He also mentioned Archive.org where videos can be stored after instead of being on YouTube.
Nel Shelby is offering one-on-one pay-what-you-can brainstorming sessions, you can sign up for them via her appointment calendar.
Check out CultureHub’s Downtown Variety show every Friday and also be on the lookout for the software they are developing called LiveLab that permits for a more designed function of video conferencing that moves more towards a collaborative and creative way of participating.
You can learn how to stream a Zoom meeting to Vimeo Live like we did for the online workshop.
Check out the JamKazam website for playing music together over livestream.
It is possible to have a donation button via Vimeo Livestream. Through Twitch once you stream for enough time you can become an affiliate and start receiving money via subscription, ads, and bits. There are third party platforms like Streamlab and StreamElements that you can also stream through to collect tips and donations. You don’t have to pay to use Twitch, but you have to put in time using it to be eligible to receive money whereas with Vimeo you have to pay monthly. And here is a website where you can sell tixs for livestreamed events.
Artists Using Livestreaming
- Chameleon (The Living Installments) by Jaamil Olawale Kosoko : April 22 will be A livestreamed interactive piece presented by EMPAC.
- Each Monday, the Future Historical Society will share a new task created to spark creativity, build community, and bring us closer together on BRICbrooklyn created with artist Yazmany Arboleda.
- Follow Artist Liz Ferrer for her livestream projects with collaborator Bow
- Organized by Dale Andree, National Water Dance is doing a nationwide livestream collaborative performance on April 18th at 4pm!
- Fusebox Festival is going virtual! April 24-26