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Illustration of girl balancing mixing bowl on her head as she plays guitar to a camera on a tripod for livestream

An artist’s guide to live streaming during isolation

How to adapt your art practice in difficult times, with tips from how we do it at the Sydney Opera House

Illustrations by Sylvia Zheng

Natália Scherer
Digital Marketing Coordinator

Disclaimer: This guide doesn’t cover any of the legal requirements for live streaming (such as copyright, licences and a platform’s terms and conditions). Please check you have satisfied the applicable requirements before you start your stream.

March was a month like no other. In a matter of days, the performing arts industry changed for good with venues across the world, including the Sydney Opera House, shutting their doors temporarily due to restrictions on mass gatherings.

Ever since lockdown, people have been spending a lot more time online watching video. We’ve seen a similar spike in numbers across the Opera House’s channels. For many artists who rely on live performance, pivoting to online has been a challenge.

With this newly attentive online audience, why not make a prima donna out of your digital presence and give it the role it deserves?

Our Digital Video team has prepared a guide on how to go live and prepare digital events that will get you a standing ovation.

Illustration of camera on tripod in front of computer monitor

Tech rehearsal:
Setting up the stream

The technical side of your live stream is the first step to guaranteeing a smooth broadcast. Here are some things to prepare before you even start:

  • A well prepared setup: An appropriate camera angle that also accounts for lighting will make a world of difference for your composition.

  • Good image and sound quality: People are very sensitive to poor audio and image so issues here can lead to instant viewer drop-offs. You don’t need expensive gear to go live. Your smartphone camera is a great tool literally at your fingertips. A low cost tripod and external microphone can also give amazing results.

  • Perform a test run: Testing before the actual event will help correct problems and improve the chance of delivering a successful digital event.

  • Use a checklist to help planning in advance: Then, all you need to do is hit ‘Go Live’ on your preferred streaming platform (we use Facebook and YouTube). Here's a template checklist based on one we use.
Illustration of girl shouting into megaphone with the words "FINAL CALL!"

Final call:
Marketing and distribution

What’s the point of working so hard on a technical composition if no one knows you’re going live?

  • Think about the message: Where will it be distributed? We announce our live streams on our website, social media accounts (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook), YouTube and email newsletters (often referred to in the industry as ‘EDMs’, or electronic direct mail).

  • Make it easy to find: Our messages always include the event link, date and time, and a few lines on what it’s about.

  • Use the platforms you already have: Your brand is probably present across a range of channels. Understanding who your audience is and where they are tuning in from also helps guide decisions. Your analytics (available on Business accounts) will provide valuable insights into demographics and geographics.

  • What time is the best time?: There’s no single right time to start streaming but think about whether people want to see your content when they wake up, during their coffee break, or before going to bed.

Once you know the exact details of your stream, set up an “intention-to-go-live”. This gives subscribers time to prepare for it too.

In short, make your event as visible as possible across all channels.

Graph showing traffic source types for video channels. 1. YouTube search, 2. Browse features, 3. Other YouTube features, 4. Direct or unknown, 5. Others

Our audience for this stream came mostly from external sources (Facebook and Website)

Illustration of girl looking under curtain

Behind the scenes:
What is metadata, and why does it matter?

Our team loves a good discussion around metadata. (Sometimes, we wonder if everyone else spends this much time discussing keywords, hyphens and capitalisation). However, we recognise that paying some attention to your metadata will help boost your search engine optimisation (SEO).

  • Make a clear first impression: Thumbnails, keywords, a neat description and tagline all contribute to making your video great. We’re always learning from other brands. They can be a good reference, especially when you are just starting out. If you get the chance, create a custom thumbnail template that will help audiences immediately identify that this content belongs to you.

  • Find the right tools: Use audience development tools to identify the tags other YouTube videos use, which aren’t otherwise visible to viewers. These can help you choose tags for your own content so it ranks higher on similar search displays.
Illustration of girl mixing food in a mixing bowl

The content that works best for a live stream

Times are tough for everyone. We’re all looking for reasons to smile, and “feel good” content is the right way to go. Don’t overthink it either – even the simplest ideas can be heartwarming. Some recent ones that worked for us: Piano Day, Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Other great examples: Jamie Oliver, Aussie Pops Orchestra.

  • People still want to enjoy themselves: We’re not allowed to go out, but we still want to have fun. Give this entertainment to your audience. It can be as simple as a live chat, a cooking class or reciting a poem.

  • Not everything needs to be brand new: You don’t necessarily need to create fresh content. Revisit your archive and uncover gems that are waiting to see the light of day. Check you can use it, dust it off and resurface it using YouTube or Facebook’s Premiere functionality.

  • Peoples’ viewing habits have changed: At the Sydney Opera House we’ve seen more younger people streaming content and folks from overseas joining too. This might be the same phenomenon your brand is experiencing, so consider tailoring your content to these new audiences.
Illustration of two people staring at a computer screen with speech bubbles coming out

Building your online community

Being part of a community is an important aspect of being human. Live streams can help us stay connected.

  • Give voice to your fans through live chat: Giving audiences a chance to talk through your own broadcast is the perfect stage to let them express themselves and be heard.

  • Encourage interactions between viewers: Some people have anxiety about getting up on stage; they might need a gentle push. Moderate the chat by asking questions and showing interest. We usually start quieter chats by asking people where they’re tuning in from. This always gets some exciting responses.

  • Brush up on your knowledge for the hard questions: When people really engage and start asking questions it can quickly become overwhelming. You might not have time to hunt down all the answers on the fly. A production brief is very helpful to refer to during these chats. It should include details about the performance, actors, history of the work, as well as useful links you think streamers might also enjoy.

  • If the chat is out of control, enable ‘slow mode’: Past experiences have taught us that if too many people join and chat at once, it becomes tricky to moderate everything. Simply enable ‘slow mode’ (available on the backend of your stream) to ease the flow of comments and help you out.

  • Consider everyone’s needs: Make sure all people can access the stream equally by using live captioning services or Auslan interpreters. We did this in our live stream of Handel’s Messiah in Auslan. Another great example is Jamie Oliver making bread on his YouTube channel.

  • Give people a call-to-action: Don’t forget to ask people to subscribe to your channel. In the end, we all want it to grow–right?
Image of girl singing "WOAH" under a spotlight

Stage presence:
What do data and analytics tell us about our performances?

After your performance ends, it’s always good to find out what people thought about your stage presence. Give analytics a couple of days to mature, then get back to it to analyse people’s reactions to your broadcast.

  • It’s all in the numbers: Data showing views, watch time, completion rate and peaks in engagement tell you more about your audience interests. Use this to plan your next live stream more effectively.

  • What the numbers told us: During one of our recent contemporary music concerts, we noticed a steep drop-off in the first few minutes of the video. This is completely normal for all videos–especially ones that are a few hours long. The majority of the public join out of curiosity and leave for something else. Longform content also tends to have shorter audience retention.

    Notice the spike in views halfway through the performance. At about 1:11:00, the band started playing one of their more popular songs. After it finished, people once again dropped off. Uploading the setlist enabled viewers to tune in when they wanted.
Graphic showing audience retention numbers. Heavy at the start, peak in the middle, steady until 2 hours 27 minutes when it ends

This graph shows audience retention peaking at the start of the stream, and spiking again during the band's most popular song

For a recent classical music broadcast, we managed to maintain a pretty steady result throughout the performance. Peak in concurrent viewers happened at the 14 minute mark when an international artist from New York joined the stream. Many people were waiting for this, which was reflected in our analytics.

Graphic showing concurrent viewers. Sharp turn up in the first few seconds, retaining viewers for 52 minutes throughout

This graph shows concurrent viewers remaining relatively steady throughout the entire stream, with a slight rise when a well-known musician from New York went live

Illustration of a man plugging his ears from harsh noise

Out of tune:
What do I do if things go wrong?

We all play out of tune sometimes. Making mistakes is normal. It’s a good opportunity to learn from your own and (preferably) other people’s mistakes.

  • Anything can happen: We’ve had plenty go wrong. Problems with equipment during live streams, live chats getting out of control. Our secret is: keep calm and work together. Now that we are isolated, make sure everyone’s online and available at crucial moments to provide help and advice.

  • Dropping out: A bad internet connection, problems with audio being silent, and starting late can ruin your plans and upset followers. Don’t forget your test run!

  • Artists don’t sweat, they shine: If things go wrong, move on and don’t let this discourage you.

Bringing our stages to your sofa, our new digital program comes to you weekly from our House to yours. See the program.

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