Right now, it doesn't matter whether you're a newcomer or a superstar – if you don't have an internet connection and a half-decent camera, you might as well not exist. Admittedly, cynics might say this was true even before the coronavirus hit, but 2020 has definitely taken it to another level.
Within days of lockdown, livestreamed gigs of all sorts started popping up online, whether "let's just have band practice via Skype" jams, "making the best of a bad situation" throwdowns such as Code Orange's no-audience album release gig, or "I was born ready for this" extravaganzas such as Yungblud's variety show. In the weeks since, we've had daily series, tours, global festivals, Hip Hop battles, even a stream album released already – all live, all online, all in your living room, home office, or wherever you prefer to enjoy your screentime.
Chart-topping Techno star and Viberate co-founder UMEK is among those who've had to adjust to the new reality and translate decades of live performances into a whole new experience, both for himself and his fans. He's never been a slouch when it comes to online presence, regularly dialing in from his studio or preparing special sets just for the novelty of it. However, trading in nightclubs for his house was still a challenge for someone so used to being in tune with his audience, feeling their reactions to his sets, and steering the dancefloor accordingly.
"It's a funny thing, being at home, no audience, playing to yourself and staring at the wall, while at the same time being under a sort of Big Brother eye, with thousands watching. You're in the spotlight and under scrutiny, not tucked away in the dark. You don't have that initial feedback, you don't know whether things are going well or not. But this has become a sort of norm now, and we'll have to get used to it. There will be more streams in the future now as well," he shrugs.
As a DJ who's used to being in transit all the time and has pared down his gear to fit in an overhead locker, UMEK keeps things simple and familiar at home as well: "My equipment is basically the same as in a club – a couple of turntables, a mixer, headphones, a USB key, the standards of the club scene these days. I set it up in my home 'office' – the room where I'm most used to playing music or doing other stuff, but not my actual studio."
"The visual aspect is extremely important, we're talking about a video medium, after all."
Though he's kept it very basic for now, he's aware that whereas live streams used to be a novelty just by virtue of existing, now that they're becoming the golden standard, he's going to have to up his game. "As we're still in the early stages of the livestream boom, such a basic setup is still acceptable, people are still satisfied with something on a smaller scale, but as things go forward, we'll definitely have to make it more interesting to watch. The visual aspect is extremely important, we're talking about a video medium, after all," he emphasizes. He's already got some ideas for taking his future streams to the next level: "Though I had just one camera for my first couple of streams now, it would be great to have three, four different angles and combine them, it would immediately be much more dynamic. I'm also thinking about livening it up by switching locations, for example streaming from the garden, our living room, studio, somewhere else. Maybe my wife will get involved next time as well and we'll decorate something together, or brainstorm how to make it more exciting."
At the time of writing, UMEK's participated in two major livestream events since beginning self-isolation – the first for the #ŽuramDoma (#PartyAtHome) initiative in his native Slovenia, and the second as part of Beatport's Global ReConnect charity marathon alongside luminaries such as Carl Cox, Bonobo, and Nina Kraviz. Both events were massively successful, though things didn't go without a glitch: "There were some serious issues with the Facebook streams, where they monitor copyrights strictly. It's very annoying when your stream cuts out mid-set, when you play a track by some other artist. They should fix that somehow, as this is how we DJs promote music, it's what people want to hear, and I think some sort of mutual agreement should be reached."
Of course, there's no need to stick just to Facebook, as there are numerous other options for livestreaming, from the usual social media such as Instagram, to more dedicated platforms such as Twitch: "To be honest, I wasn't even aware of these more dedicated channels before, though I've been told my Beatport stream had higher viewership on Twitch than on Facebook. Regardless, even though Facebook is usually the most popular, I think you should take advantage of as many platforms as possible in order to maximize reach." UMEK also mentions that there have been no copyright issues on other platforms so far, though warns that this will likely change as their viewership numbers go up.
"With livestreams, you're telling people a story – writers use words, we use tones."
Tech challenges aside, the fact that there's no direct feedback from the floor has meant UMEK's had to change the way he approaches his sets as well. "You're playing music you think people would want to listen to at home, while still staying true to your style. Many DJs now have the chance to play different sets at home, show themselves in a different light, but I've decided to still play new music for people. Music they maybe haven't heard yet, play stuff that's not even out yet, and thereby provide a sort of exclusivity," he explains, adding that you should keep in mind that people usually don't bust out all the dance moves when they're listening to livestreams at home: "Maybe something a bit more melodic can direct them towards certain mind patterns, that's what I'm going for, in a way."
Also, with the speed of everything going on, it makes sense to prep a musical selection beforehand: "You don't really have time to read the fans' comments while playing a set, or to improvise like in a club, where you can see, for example, that something softer isn't getting the right response, so you can try going harder. With livestreams, you're telling people a story – writers use words, we use tones."
With his experience so far, UMEK's already seeing potential areas of improvement, not just for his own streams, but for the industry as a whole: "I don't watch my streams in full, because I always know what I did throughout them, but the parts I do watch could be more interesting, I think. For the Beatport stream, I tried communicating by holding up pieces of paper with messages, and by showing the playlist on my phone. I'm not sure if it worked, but it's very monotonous to just watch a DJ play music with nothing going on."
The solution might be, as it often is, in advancing the technology used – perhaps overlays or feeds that would provide interesting info about the tracks played, reflects UMEK. Or, going even further, combining streams with another recent tech buzzword – virtual reality: "If you could introduce VR to livestreams, it would immediately make it a more comprehensive experience." If that were to happen and stick, there would be other benefits as well: "People wouldn't have to leave their homes for a good party. If I could perform as a hologram, I wouldn't have to fly all over, people wouldn't have to go out to clubs." Judging by the comments left on UMEK's streams, there's definitely a market for such events out there – fans were exclaiming how they finally didn't have to find a babysitter to go out, or how they didn't have to spend money on cab rides and overpriced drinks, and even one poor soul who was happy he could attend a rave with a broken foot.
"I'm sure we'll see a bigger impact of livestreams in the future, and I'm sure they'll continue to evolve."
Of course, this doesn't mean the future will be exclusively virtual: "People still want to go out, socialize, talk to each other in person. It's in cases like this pandemic, where this is basically the only way for someone like me to maintain contact with fans." It's clear that livestreams gained prominence due to the quarantine, but there's no reason to think they won't coexist with live gigs more significantly in the future: "I'm sure we'll see a bigger impact of livestreams in the future, and I'm sure they'll continue to evolve. I remember watching the first DanceTrippin videos, the first streams, and thinking, who's going to sit at home in front of a computer and look at images of a party? But I was wrong, it's more than successful today."
With that in mind, it might be a good idea brush up on your livestreaming fundamentals and start prepping for the future. You've got time now, in any case.
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