Have doubts about the new virtual space for performances? Well, look no further. As a heavy consumer of music (and a music-deprived regular concert-attendee), I’ve spent a lot of my quarantine watching livestreams, as they’re the next best thing after live concerts. Whether it was watching Joshua Bassett strum his guitar and sing on 'Instagram live' or watching Charli XCX’s daily self-isolation livestream series with her A-list celebrity friends, there was always something exciting to watch online.

But first some background on me, my name is Ishika Jain and I’m studying Economics at UC Berkeley. This summer I had the chance to intern at The Music Fund where I get to combine my passion for music and data. The project I’m working on is to look at the new phenomenon of virtual concerts that have risen to prominence since COVID-19 put the brakes on so many real-world activities. There’s not much data available yet on virtual concerts so a lot of what I have uncovered is still fairly anecdotal, but these past couple months I spent over 40 hours sampling and analyzing almost 200 livestreams from across multiple genres to learn a lot more about the nature of livestreaming. Since it seems like virtual concerts are going to be the new normal for a while, The Music Fund would eventually like to make my analysis more scientific. But with the huge number of concerts I’ve watched, I’ve already come to some surprising conclusions. Here’s what I found.

Hypothesis 1: People who regularly perform will slowly lose viewers over the weeks, since viewers will get tired of watching the same act.

False

As the old saying goes, “too much of a good thing is a bad thing.” Well, not for music. 

As my hypothesis spells out, I expected average views of a particular artist to dwindle down with weeks of  performance. But, I was so wrong! Quarantine brought out immense desire for productivity and having fun at home. In the music industry, we see that artists have taken it upon themselves to stay productive by continuing to write and perform songs, with one group even performing seven times a week! 

For example, RAC, a Portuguese American artist, livestreams on Twitch every Monday, Tuesday, and Friday in quarantine. Generally, his shows are hours of him playing around with beats or showing his past remix work. In June, this is what his viewer count grew from 170 on June 1st to 6200 on June 30th.

Or, consider the Doobie Decibel System. This group has performed daily since March 16, 2020, racking up over 100 virtual livestreams. My analysis of these concerts only began at the beginning of June, so I can’t speak on behalf of their overall growth from Day 1 to now Day 100+, but they were able to keep their viewers coming back every day. 

So, what can you as an artist take away from this? Well, as a livestream-watcher, I valued consistency. For artists that performed consistently, I could rely on them to perform frequently, so I tuned in more regularly as they filled up my internal void from excessive boredom. And, even if your fans happen to be extra busy during the day, they might come to your regular performances as a way to unwind. A frequent comment I saw left on several lives went along the lines of

“Just got off work, but tuning in right now to kick off a fun night!” 

This is the dream – when your fans start integrating you in their schedule! So, whether it means curing someone’s boredom or tiredness from more work than usual, I suggest you keep performing because you’re likely helping your fans get through lonely and hard times. 

At the end of the day, or should I say quarantine, your regular performances will accelerate you down a highway to success. You would have made the best out of the current pandemic situation and utilized your talent to brighten up some people’s gloomy days in self-isolation. 

Hypothesis 2: Within a performance, views would noticeably dwindle down as humans naturally have short attention spans. 

False 

While tracking the views of around 100 randomly selected livestreams, I noticed that the general pattern of views was an increase until about 20 to 30 minutes into the concert.  

One of the most popular performers I watched was Fantasia. I had never heard of her, but after watching this American R&B singer’s stunning performance, I instantly understood the high and constantly increasing view count. Fantasia and her all female band sang some of her hit songs with their hearts out. Their energy, along with the energy of the many background dancers, radiated through my screen and kept me wanting more for the duration of their performance! Similarly, pop star Katy Perry experienced increasing views, possibly because of her sweet vocals, exuberant daisy outfit, or the fact she had some eye-catching visuals in the background. She also used a couple different streaming platforms: Instagram live and #BeApp. Here’s what both their live viewer size looked like relative to the initial audience size, along with 97 other artists:

*99 concerts are charted. Not all concerts have data for the recorded minute. SOURCE: THE MUSIC FUND

Now, as an artist, what can you do with this information? Well, for starters, the data seem to suggest at least a 30 minute show. Keep performing until most people are there!

Also, treat every moment like it’s the first moment – that magical moment when the countdown finally ends and the artist of your dreams is performing their heart away right in front of you. The reason for this comes down to the biggest contrast between virtual versus live concerts. In live concerts, people pay real money to get a ticket and commit to staying at the concert for its whole duration. But, this is not the case for online concerts. People can hop in the concert whenever they want, and similarly, leave with the same ease. So, in order to make sure all the newcomers enjoy their time and want to stay for the whole concert, treat every moment like it's that sweet first moment, and you never know... that new viewer might become your next loyal fan!

Stay tuned for a future blog post that will dive into more strategies regarding how to structure your virtual events to get the maximum turnout! 

Hypothesis 3: Online concerts are just for artists to make a living since their live shows are cancelled. 

Half-false

Turns out people want to bring good to the world – despite what the news channels try to make us believe.

A platform is a platform. And, a platform can be used for any number of reasons – spreading a message, showcasing a talent, raising money – amongst many others.  If an artist chooses to use their platform to generate an income, which is becoming increasingly common in the livestream world, that’s completely valid! Paypal links, Venmo handles, and Patreon accounts are all typically found in livestream descriptions.

However, it’s important to note the many online live streams were held to serve as fundraisers for serious causes despite the fact around 85% of the sampled concerts that occurred were free. While the country was still fresh in lockdown mode, generally fundraiser concerts were associated with the Covid-19. As #BlackLivesMatter resurfaced back into society, this movement also became a major focus in the music industry and another common fundraiser in livestreams. (On a side note, nearly every artist participated in #BlackOutTuesday and showed their support of the movement.) Lastly, although less common, artists have been raising money for other non-trending causes that are close to their hearts.

American singer Lauv has actively been using his platform for the issue of mental health for over a year now. In mid-June, Lauv partnered up with iHeartMedia and Statefarm to put on a live concert that doubled as a live fundraiser for his non-profit, Blue Boy foundation, which raises awareness for mental health – he raised over $70k. Or, take country singer Niko Moon, who was fundraising for St. Jude’s Children Hospital in honor of St. Jude’s day.

This brings up the question: Are online concerts staying once the pandemic ends? Well, it depends. 

While nothing can beat the experiential value and happiness that comes with performing an in-person live concert, it’s important to recognize the amount of expenses that come with an in-person concert. Even for a small concert, just venue expenses alone can add up to as much as $5K. Add on venue staff, merch vendors, and travel, and you have even more costs. This can pose as an obstacle when trying to raise money for yourself or for a cause you’re passionate about. So, the low expenses for online concerts are definitely a major plus. Another perk of online concerts is that they can feel more intimate than stadium concerts – especially when artists greet their viewers with their name on Facebook Lives or when artists guest fans on Instagram. 

Although there are several unforeseen benefits to online concerts, the overall verdict on whether they’ll stay around completely depends on the fans. Once the pandemic is over, would the fans want to watch concerts from the comfort of their own homes or do they feel deprived of that in-person concert high? That’s food for thought. But, only time will tell. 

From The Music Fund to all of you artists, we want to give a huge round of applause and virtual hugs for enduring through these unprecedented and unpredictable times. You are not letting the virtual aspect of performing get in the way of bringing smiles to your fans. Keep performing! And, if you’re looking for live music, check out The Music Fund’s virtual concert calendar.