A Manchester-based partnership has made a success of online gigs and believes they have established a new business model beyond the Covid-19 lockdown.
In four frantic spring weeks, Cat McGill and her partner Pete Ord had to take the Folk Weekend Oxford festival online. Cat, a musician herself, had organised the small but successful festival for some years and suddenly found her project being shut down along with thousands of other musical events as lockdown struck. But with Pete’s engineering and technical expertise and some deft adaptation, they managed to turn a potential disaster to their own advantage, turning at least the same amount of profit and paying the musicians and crews with a highly successful weekend of digital folk gigs.
We started doing it because the industry was on its knees and we needed something to occupy ourselves
It was a lightbulb moment.
While thousands of other musicians around the world began performing from their living rooms via their phones, sometimes for free, sometimes for peanuts, McGill and Ord decided to aim higher, charging sensible ticket prices for concerts with good images and high-quality audio. They also decided to use Zoom, trusting audiences to self-mute during songs but allowing applause and even heckling. It was an instant success. Live to Your Living Room was born.
‘We started doing it because the industry was on its knees and we needed something to occupy ourselves,’ Ord told MUSIC:ED. ‘Everyone turned to online streamed gigs with massive variability in quality, but we wanted to make sure that nothing was lost in terms of the value of a live production.’
To do this, they booked established British folk artists through their usual agents, ensuring the income pipeline was not broken. They agreed a fee based on percentage of ticket sales and sold them via a standard online route.
To ensure consistent audio quality, they purchased two Behringer XR18 digital mixing units with cables and a small laptop that links online to Ord’s own studio. These are sent to the artists by courier to connect with their own mics, amps and laptops. Pete Ord and his colleague engineers then mix the gigs live, listening via the same portals as the audiences.
Since they launched Live to Your Living Room McGill and Ord have hosted around 60 concerts with artists such as Eliza Carthy, Steven Tilston and Jez Lowe. So far, they’ve paid out over £65,000 to artists and more to the engineers, agents and crews involved. They have managed to take a modest income for themselves from the concerts, which helps mitigate their loss of studio work and other musical activities and have employed another sound engineer. They believe the project is so viable as a business model that it will outlast Covid, with potential pay-outs to artists of £120,000 over the coming year.
The project has attracted audiences that are missed by live touring
‘We’ve started to think about the long run and how it might work once things return to normal. One of the most overwhelming things we’ve found talking to audience members is how many have thanked us for being there because they’re unable to go to concerts anyway. They’re saying that at last they’re experiencing live music when they weren’t able to before.’
Ord is pragmatic about the fact that live streaming will have to adjust once venues re-open but the project has attracted audiences that are missed by live touring: the disabled, the remote, those who cannot afford it and audiences for British folk music abroad. ‘People are coming to more gigs than they usually would,’ he says. ‘They’re buying multi-tickets and I wonder how much that would have happened normally.’
With standard ticket prices set at around £14 per device, there is a lower price of £8 for those who say they can’t afford more and a £22 suggestion for people who have more people watching their device who feel like helping the musicians.
There are parts of marginalised communities who are finding they are being catered for online in a way they never were before
And beyond straightforward concerts McGill and Ord are considering combining the idea with their usual work as community music practitioners. McGill worked for years with autistic children and adults before being diagnosed with autism herself. Ord met her through his own work as a community musician working with special needs and disabled clients and as with many teachers and therapists in the arts, much of their work has moved online.
‘It’s a really fascinating area. I lecture at Leeds Conservatoire about the real-time changes I’m making as a community musician. I can’t see it going away. There are parts of marginalised communities: mental issues, disabilities and so on who are finding they are being catered for online in a way they never were before. Now the rest of the world has been forced to make things more accessible. We’ve been needing this for years and now it’s happening because of Covid. A lot of this innovation is going to stick.’
Listings for coming gigs can be found at https://livetoyourlivingroom.com/
Booking link to gigs: https://livetoyourlivingroom.com/events/