I’m going to say something that is going to upset a lot of musicians.
I totally understand why you feel the way you do when you complain about fans at shows constantly having their phones out and taking pictures or videos of the performance instead of just watching it without using mobile devices.
But with cell phones, cameras, and social media all playing such a major role in society and the way we communicate, we have to understand that they are not going away any time soon.
So we can either keep bitching about them….or we can find a way to make them work to our own advantage.
This was the internal dialogue I was having in my own mind a few months ago while driving to Austintown, Ohio to work with the lead vocalist of one of my client-bands, Amanda Jones & the Family Band.
And it was during that 30-minute commute on Interstate 80 that I started kicking around an idea; one that I knew Amanda and her band would be the perfect band to experiment with.
This article, the first of two parts, is a detailed look at that idea, how we implemented and rehearsed it, and some of the important decisions that had to be made going into it. The second part, which I’ll release in the next week or two, will delve into what happened the night of the show, problems that arose and how we dealt with them, and will include video of the entire Facebook Live broadcast as well as video shot from the floor of the venue.
But I’m also going to talk about the things that could have gone better than they did as well as what I think we should do differently the next time we attempt something like this. Even the most planned out shows can have things go wrong or pop up forcing musicians to think on their feet and adapt. Like boxing legend Mike Tyson used to say…everybody has a plan until they get punched.
THE PEOPLE INVOLVED
It would be a good idea to introduce you to the folks involved and why all of this went down in the manner that it did.
For those of you reading this not already familiar with me, I’m Wade Sutton from Rocket to the Stars – Artist Development and Music PR. I work with bands all over the world (thanks to Skype) and provide to them an array of PR-related services like bio and press release writing (I have an extensive journalism background), website and press kit creation, and more.
I also help artists hone their live performance skills and assist in the production of their live shows. I previously founded and directed one of the largest singing competitions on the US East Coast, one that saw the live attendance at the show’s annual finals surpassing an estimated 27,000 people.
The band involved in this little experiment is from an area just outside of Youngstown, Ohio, which is about half way between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. They have been clients of mine for about one year and we were just recently beginning to really dig into their live show.
The lead singer, Amanda, has been singing for several years but didn’t truly throw everything she had into music until after graduating from Mt Union University in Ohio. The band, Amanda Jones & The Family Band, is just that: a family band. Amanda’s father, Michael, is the acoustic guitar player. Her sister, Brittany, is the keyboard player. Brittany’s husband, Nathan, is on bass. The drummer, Frank, and electric guitarist, David, are not relatives but have been with the band for some time now.
When they first started performing, they were a Sugarland tribute band. It isn’t difficult to figure out why because Amanda at times sounds strikingly similar to Jennifer Nettles. But wanting to be something more than a tribute band, they began putting more time and energy into writing original music. The current set list is made of up a healthy combination of originals and covers. And while their music would most certainly fall under the country genre, their original music, individual style, personal likeability, and energy gives them an incredible amount of crossover appeal.
They also don’t burn out their local audience, instead making it a point to book dates outside the Youngstown area, including shows in Cleveland, the Pittsburgh market, and even down into West Virginia.
The band has also received its fair share of media coverage as well. They have performed live (more than once) on the television morning news program on Cleveland’s FOX TV affiliate in addition to making multiple appearances on Froggy radio in Pittsburgh.
So this is a group that has worked hard to grow beyond being a local band and, while they aren’t famous or well-known, they are performing and operating on a regional level.
LOOKING FOR SOMETHING A LITTLE BIT DIFFERENT
Back to the day I was driving to work with Amanda.
This idea of artists blasting audiences for using their phones at shows was weighing on me and I kept coming back to one question: If fans at a live show will have their phones out, what can we do that will get them to use those phones in a manner that benefits the bands.
I knew a couple of things going into this. I wanted it to be something that involved Facebook Live and I wanted it to be something much different than what people typically see of a FB Live broadcast.
I began formulating an idea that was born from two immensely popular performances I had seen over the past few years.
The first source of inspiration for the idea was a U2 performance I saw a couple of years ago in which the band invited a member of the audience to join them on stage. The woman they selected was given a cell phone tied to the band’s Periscope account. For one song, the fan was given free reign to walk around the stage showing what ever she wanted on camera and it was all broadcast live on Periscope. If I remember correctly, this all happened in that time period between when Twitter really started pushing Periscope (in direct competition with Meerkat) but before FB announced that it was working on the now popular Facebook Live feature.
The second source of inspiration for the idea was when Bruce Springsteen performed during the Super Bowl halftime show several years ago. The thing about that particular show that I always carried with me after watching it wasn’t how much energy Springsteen had on stage but was how he interacted with the cameras in addition to playing to the live audience. It created a sense of breaking the fourth wall and made for a television broadcast that was much more engaging for those watching on TV.
So taking those two performances as sources of inspiration, I knew we wanted to do something that was extremely engaging for both the audience attending the show live as well as the folks watching on Facebook AND we wanted to create something that would encourage people to share the video AND we wanted to walk away from it with incredible footage that the band could then repurpose and use for marketing materials, including a sizzle reel that could be shown at trade conventions or to send to colleges at which the band is hoping to be booked.
There is an inherent problem with the vast majority of Facebook Live broadcasts done by music artists wanting to air portions of their live show. More often than not, the artist places their phone on a tripod (or has somebody else hold it) and the phone is situated off to the side of the stage. The artist then performs for their audience and totally ignores the camera. So it leaves the viewer watching online feeling like they are a fly on the wall…a passive observer.
It results in a very strong feeling of detachment for the viewer, something that is in direct opposition of the engaging experience artists should be trying to create for fans.
When I arrived for my appointment with Amanda, the idea was pretty much fleshed out and we immediately began planning it. We were going to take a three song portion of an upcoming live show, put together a high-energy performance for those three songs, and broadcast it live on Facebook Live…and we were going to have the camera operator moving around on the stage with the band. This meant making sure the camera operator knew everything that was going on performance-wise so she would have the camera on the appropriate band member at any given time and so we could capture specific angles at specific times. And, most importantly, the band was going to be performing to the camera as much as the audience at the venue.
We were essentially creating a live mini-television production for FB Live.
We then decided to add an additional layer by erecting a video screen at the venue on which the broadcast would be shown as it was happening live. The reason we did that was because we wanted to encourage fans at the show to break out their phones, share the broadcast with their own Facebook friends, and leave comments so they could see their own names and comments pop up on the screen next to the stage…all things that would make Facebook detect the video as “interesting content” and hopefully push it into more people’s news feeds.
WHAT WE HAD TO DECIDE
In planning out this three song broadcast, we had to make some pretty important decisions. The two things that jumped out immediately were figuring out what three songs would be performed during that broadcast and during what live show would the broadcast take place.
As far as what three songs we would use, we took a look at all of the band’s options. As I said previously, their set list includes a combination of originals and covers. I suggested to Amanda that we stick to using only originals for the broadcast. As many musicians know, Universal Music Group has been on a tear pulling down covers of their songs done by music artists and posted on Facebook. Even though we could have used covers owned by other publishing companies, I felt the broadcast and video content was too important for the band to risk butting heads with any publishing companies. And it wasn’t like they were lacking quality originals that could be used for the broadcast.
I also wanted them to use originals that were upbeat because the performances during that broadcast were going to utilize an extensive amount of movement. I wanted the entire broadcast to be full of energy so anything remotely close to a ballad was tossed from the start. We eventually whittled it down to three songs: Jones Family Reunion, Ready to Fall, and Wine, Whiskey, and Beer.
Jones Family Reunion was the perfect song to start the broadcast with for several reasons. Not only is it a very fun and upbeat song, it also does an incredible job reinforcing one of the most interesting aspects of the band’s branding in that most of the members are family. That was extremely important because it is one of the things about the band that a lot of fans remember when they are first exposed to them. So starting the broadcast with that song allowed us to introduce people watching it to one of the things about them that is different from most other bands out there and it was done in a very high-energy manner.
Ready to Fall was a natural fit for the second slot. It gave us an opportunity to do a song that was about falling in love but wasn’t a weepy, slow song. And while it was upbeat, it was one we could bring down the visual energy (for the first half) by having Amanda sing at the mic stand and putting more attention on the lyrics for a period of time. We did this on purpose because we wanted to come out of this song and ramp up the visual energy for the end of the broadcast but we needed the audience to SEE the energy increasing over that time period. Doing so keeps the show visually interesting for both the audience at the venue and watching on Facebook Live.
Wine, Whiskey, and Beer was the finale for the three song broadcast. The song is a fan favorite and includes a call-and- response. It was also a very appropriate song to continue increasing the visual energy coming out of Ready to Fall enabling us to keep a very natural flow to the show and the Facebook Live broadcast. It also gave us an opportunity to show that even though the band’s performances are branded as something that families can take their kids to, the band can still let loose in a manner that parents would be okay with having their children at the show. It is a party…but it is a controlled party.
So all three of the songs were selected because not only were they catchy and energetic, they all had their own way of reinforcing the band’s brand and image. This is an area in which I’ve always felt too few bands are giving their attention and it is holding them back in a big way.
The next thing on our plate was figuring out at which show this Facebook Live performance was going to take place. We had several options available to us but there were two that stood out: the band’s appearance at WinterFest in downtown Cleveland or at their show at a venue called Bootlegger’s near Yankee Lake, Ohio.
WinterFest was a great opportunity for them. It was a performance that was tied directly to a much bigger event (so they weren’t solely responsible for bringing in the crowd) and it was one at which a lot of people were expected to turn out. But there were some cons to trying to do the broadcast there. Because the show was going to be outdoors on a November Cleveland day, I was concerned the wind would nix any plans to erect the video screen on which the FB Live broadcast would be shown. One strong gust and that thing would have been sailing into the air and out over Lake Erie. And even though we knew attendance for the festival was expected to be pretty high, we knew attendees would have a lot of things to do and look at and we didn’t know to what extent that would suck people away from the stage to do other things. Lastly, WinterFest was right around the corner from when we started fleshing out this idea and we wouldn’t have very much time to rehearse for it.
Bootlegger’s was the other attractive option. The band had performed there on two other occasions and, both times, had big turnouts. The venue is pretty much in the band’s backyard and, like I said earlier, they make it a point to not over-saturate the local market by doing too many shows locally. The show was booked for late January and gave us more time to prepare. And, most importantly, we discovered that the venue had just spent major cash on a new lighting and effects system that would blow people’s socks off. Having decided that we wanted to take video from this performance to use for marketing purposes, this was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
We circled the Bootlegger’s date as the show during which the Facebook Live broadcast would take place.
INTO THE REHEARSAL ROOM
We set aside two Sunday afternoons to work on the production of the broadcast, with each session lasting two hours,
In helping the band with this, I had to focus on two things: Making sure their performances were planned out with a lot of energy and I had to work with the camera operator on walk her through everything we would need her to do. Remember that she needed to know everything that was going on during the performance, where on stage it was happening, and where she was going to have to be to get the best angle. A friend of the band, Alyce, volunteered to be the camera operator so I asked that she be present at both rehearsals.
We addressed the performances first. Fortunately, the band brings a lot of experience to the stage as well as a willingness to try new things, is fantastic at accepting coaching (a rarity in this business, believe it or not), and already came in with a greater than average level of energy and enthusiasm. So it wasn’t difficult to get them to ratchet the energy up a few more levels. We then focused on creating visuals that would stick out to people watching the show. This included sections in the broadcast in which Amanda was on her knees with Michael and Nathan on either side of her, Amanda tossing beach balls out into the crowd, and Amanda actually singing while riding on Nate’s shoulders while he walked around playing bass during the finale of the broadcast.
It was all stuff that would look great performance-wise even without the impressive lighting at the venue. Since we had only a couple of hours to sort everything out, we took a “broad strokes” approach creating and working on these very cool visuals in cleaning up any major problems that popped up.
While we were hammering down all the movements that would take place during the broadcast, we also had to hash out things like when Amanda and members of the band would be performing to the camera operated by Alyce vs when they were performing to the crowd attending the show at Bootlegger’s. Proving that they were in fact the perfect band to run this little experiment with, the band had no problem hamming it up for the camera during rehearsal.
Once all of that was done, we had to address the final layer: Alyce’s presence on the stage during the show. I wanted to make this as easy as possible for her so grabbed Brittany’s iPhone (the same one we would be using for the Facebook Live broadcast) and I had the band run through each of the three songs while I recorded the video as if we were doing the FB Live broadcast. We then sent the video file to Alyce so she could study before the second two-hour session. It basically provided her with a video walk-through of where she had to be and where the camera had to be pointed at any given time.
The second two-hour session was spent doing repeated run throughs of the three song set. We also worked on Amanda’s delivery during the transitions when she would direct the crowd to sign-up for the band’s e-mail list, give them the rundown on the merchandise giveaway that was being run through sharing the FB Live video, and directing the audience on the call-and- response going into the last song. And this gave Alyce several opportunities to operate the camera through the entire set while we made adjustments to the performances and added more movements to the show.
We wrapped up that second rehearsal with a ten-minute FB Live broadcast during which the band and I discussed the work that went into it.
So now you know about everything leading into the show and the Facebook Live broadcast. In Part 2, you will get a very detailed look at everything that took place during the show, problems that popped up, things that went exactly the way we were hoping as well as aspects of the show that could have gone better, and you will get to see the actual Facebook Live broadcast in its entirety as well as video of the performance shot from the floor.
Additionally, if you haven’t already grabbed yourself a free copy of my music business book, The $150,000 Music Degree, you can do so by jumping over to www.GiftFromWade.com.