Giant tsunami waves made it to our mobile phones as COVID-19 was taking us like a storm. These huge waves, which exponentially increased, dragged everyone who got caught up away. Musicians from all ages and walks of life, who had started to question their existence at home, found solace in livestream tools. Guitarists, pianists and everyone who had access to a studio at home -especially those who live nearby an atelier or a studio- went through a rather quick adaptation period.
Of course, even though these livestreams were the perfect medicine for our existential crises, it is true that they are really challenging. It isn’t easy at all to present your followers with a great performance during a 30 minute livestream. Those who have tried will agree. One has to go through everything their houses can offer. It is ultimately called a house for a reason! It doesn’t have a stage, or a background screen, no spotlights or a sound system. A TV on the right, silverware on the left, maybe a baby feeding chair that you forgot to put away in the back… The neighborhood mosque, always ready to start its call for prayer, is a fundamental part of this ambiance. Let’s also not forget those couple of neighbours who are always ready to get angry if you get a bit loud.
Let’s say that you live in a Bauhaus style villa and your house has the creme-de-la-creme studio equipment. Is that enough? Of course not. It is a matter of time until the fragile home internet falls victim to bandwidth problems as all the people in the neighbourhood work from home, their children have remote education, since it already can only handle downloading a couple of films or game anyways. The stream might cut off, weird sounds might emerge or the best scenario case; you might get obliterated into your pixels. So where did all that effort go?
So, what are the other problems that might arise? Let’s take a look at the topic of a digital tsunami. When you broadcasted in order to promote something on your social media for your followers, it had a fresh meaning in the past. But now the stories feature of Instagram is like a candy shop. And your competition here isn’t only other musicians either. Herbie Hancock is having a live event two icons down. What is that; Ibrahim Maalouf is having a moment with his fans right there! Look at how nice Christian McBride is, featuring someone great again on Live Wax. Şehirde Caz program is going on, let’s grab some tea and watch Caner and Ertuğrul. Oh, there is a new e-mail! The result is a all you can eat buffet syndrome where the concentration is constantly dwindling. This means keeping a viewer focused on your stream is really tough.
‘Şehirde Caz’ Instagram Jazz at Home Conversations and Christian McBride Live Wax Livestream
The situation is even worse for us vocalists. You are by yourself in the livestream if you cannot accompany yourself with an instrument. Because the global internet systems which keeps adding new numbers next to its G is only taking baby steps when it comes to live broadcasting. Delay and lags are inevitable due to the data loss between the router and the ISPs. Therefore, nobody can connect to another musician at their own home and make live music together. A self-sufficient guitarist cannot connect to his bassist friend. What can the drummer do? Their situation is really tough as well. This means that the current internet technology is far from providing a solution to problems jazz musicians are going through.
Habits That Are Likely To Change
Let’s assume that we got through all these problems and managed to make a successful livestream. What kind of a future awaits us after this? What will we do if the people who used to buy tickets to watch us perform get used to the free content? How will our followers who got used to writing comments (or ‘converse’ in other words) during the livestream be able to concentrate on improvization from start to finish at the club? What if this situation goes on too long? What if jazz musicians transform to solo recital artists, losing their reflexes to collectively improvize?
These are the risks that online livestreams, especially those on social media accounts, currently pose and can pose in the future. I would like to share suggestions I compiled from European Jazz Network’s recent YouTube webinar (1) series. I will contribute my personal view as I do this. What are some remedies to improve the positive potential of this problematic platform?
European Jazz Network, with the support of EU, discusses about the future of jazz and jazz musicians by organizing webinars open to public with the representatives of leading festivals, clubs, foundations and recording labels.
This Is Not a Club Gig
We first have to emphasize that social media livestreams aren’t ordinary concerts. People who come to clubs sit down and listen to you for 3 hours. But it is a matter of time until you fall victim to a notification that says “Herbie Hancock is Live!” on social media. So how will you keep your followers engaged in your own stream? Here is a couple of points to pay attention to:
- Importance Of Original Content
Until recently jazz musicians would wander from city to city with a new project in their pockets, presenting different interpretations of the same material in different cities. The material presented would only be accessible to those present in the club or the venue that evening. But now you only have one shot in your live performances on online platforms, especially on social media; the music we perform in that moment or bring up from the archive is accessed from all the cities in the world. Therefore, original content gains more importance.
Some coordinators suggest jazz musicians to clean up their YouTube channels in order to increase the value of original music content shared instantaneously. Because your followers might not be too keen to watch or even donate/pay for some similar content to what they might have already seen on your YouTube channel. Therefore, it makes much more sense to share original content with them or broadcast a recording from the archieve that you haven’t put on your YouTube channel before.
The archival concert recordings that Ibrahim Maalouf, French trumpet player with Lebanese origins, share on YouTube which are followed by a live Q&A session on Instagram are examples to this. Of course, we have to look into copyright and broadcasting policies of our recording labels, other companies we might have worked with and most importantly those of YouTube or the broadcasting platform we use before we share videos from our achieves. This will be our homework. We are cooped up at home, after all. We have a lot of time to read and learn.
- Accessibility Management
We naturally do not have the capacity to produce infinite music, so it might be hard to present original content in every live broadcast. Making these broadcasts accessible only within a certain area or country might bring a solution to this. For example, Istanbul Film Festival prepared a movie package which consisted of 15 films only accessible within Turkey in the past month. They sold these packages with electronic tickets and utilized online broadcasting for the screening times. I think similar methods can be used by jazz musicians, clubs and even festivals.
- Formulas To Bring Musicians Together
It is possible to develop formulas to bring musicians together during these live performances. It is possible for the jazz musicians to meet up, keeping social distancing rules in mind, at their houses, a venue or outside and broadcast performances this way. We have witnessed the closest example to this in Akbank Sanat’s “Evin Caz Hali” live concert series on their Instagram accounts. As another example Ankara Jazz Festival, which was organized online for the first time this year, successfully brought together Air Force’s Eagles of Jazz Orchestra together in the same concert hall on the 30th of April International Jazz Day.
Akbank Jazz Festival – “Evin Caz Hali” Online Live Concert Series
Ankara Jazz Festival – Eagles of Jazz Orchestra
- Little Conversation, More Music
It is really important to use time wisely during these livestreams, focusing more on performing and less on conversing. Our followers want to hear our music! According to a questionnaire conducted by the international concert announcement platform Bandsintown among 7 thousand followers (2), 75% of the music lovers prefer YouTube to watch online performances. A crushing 94% expressed that they want to see music performances rather than Q&A sessions during these broadcasts. However, we witness these same music lovers trying so hard to interact with the musicians online, especially on Instagram, instead of watching the performance. The fact that watchers can directly write on top of the video on Instagram unlike on YouTube might be playing a factor in this. A solution would be to close the video for comments temporarily.
This is the view on the stage and the background of online performances. How will jazz musicians financially survive during this time? When will we have the means to give concerts at physical venues? We will discuss these questions in my next article while we take a look at more questionairre data.
(1) You can watch the archived webinars and follow the upcoming ones from their YouTube channel. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAzvvlXGdJ5MMV_ZPWtHcBg