Performances During Covid

Baltimore Classical Guitar Society pre-concert interview with Elizabeth Nonemaker and the Beijing Guitar Duo

As I write this in February 2021, everyone I know is tired of quarantine and wishing we could get on with life. We are warned, however, that it may be another 6-12 months before this dream can be realized.

A significant amount of Tonal Vision’s business revolves around performances. During Quarter 2 of 2020, normally our busiest time of the year, our business dropped by >80% vs. 2019 as a result of Covid quarantines. So, if your business or organization is like ours and lives or dies on performances, how can it adapt? Following are suggestions from our experience and some of our clients. Note that copyright requirements can differ for video vs. audio vs. live-streamed performances.

Move the performance outdoors

When the pandemic hit, we could no longer live-stream our “Mice in the Attic” music series from our studio. A few musicians had the equipment and experience to record their own performances, but many did not. We ended up recording the performances outdoors, then posting online. Likewise, one of our dance company clients, Feet of Fire in Salisbury, MD held their 2020 recitals outdoors and others are planning this for 2021.

Watch-outs and observations:

  • Outdoor performances only work if the weather accommodates, and may not be practical during colder months
  • Audiences, if any, will require extra space
  • Audio will be more difficult because of increased ambient sound
  • Filming will be more difficult if there is bright sun
  • Live-streaming will be more difficult if good internet isn’t available

Record individual performers separately then edit together

Early on, the pandemic inspired heavily-edited performances like the “Stayin’ Inside” music parody, dance performances like the Houston Ballet’s “Dancing with Myself” and even Zoom-inspired music videos like Thao & The Get Down Stay Down - Phenom. Closer to home, The Meantime filmed their June 4, 2020 “Mice in the Attic” performance separately and the Baltimore Classical Guitar Society began its 2021 concert series with the Beijing Guitar Duo performing separately/together.

Watch-outs and observations:

  • Zoom recordings are a popular choice, but most recordings will be a maximum of 1280x720 pixels, and many will default to 640x360. For best results, be sure you can record in true HD before attempting to use Zoom.
  • If music is being performed, excellent microphones and audio recording equipment are critically important.
  • Charging to “attend” the performance can be tricky and/or expensive. The Baltimore Classical Guitar Society sold tickets in advance. On the evening of the concert, attendees viewed a password protected video on the site, then moved to a Zoom chat with the performers. Afterward, we converted the concert video to a Vimeo On Demand page and emailed individual “promo codes” so ticket holders with schedule conflicts could watch later. After 72 hours, we took down the VOD page.
  • Decide in advance if you want your audience to feel they are watching a live performance. Live streaming is often quite expensive and even “pseudo-streaming” can increase cost and complexity.
  • YouTube and Facebook allow users to designate a video as a “premiere” and schedule the time when people can watch it together.

Record the performance indoors, edit, then share

This is perhaps the easiest approach and can yield very high-quality recordings. For example, we filmed Morton Street Dance Center’s “Virtual Nutcracker” in their studio with no audience; afterwards they shared it with the families via DVD and online. InSeries recorded “A Fairy Queen”, a podcast opera /radio drama series adapted from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, in 5 cities in 4 countries on 2 continents. (Tonal Vision recorded the Baltimore portion of the performance.)

Watch-outs and observations:

  • In a testament to the value of filming then editing, some experts recommend that artists pre-record their shows, edit and mix the audio and video, then live stream the edited version.
  • While filming a single indoor performance may be simpler, minimizing health risks requires strict safety protocols, including wearing masks, cleaning protocols, social distancing to the extent possible, and contact tracing. Last year, The Flaming Lips pioneered a unique twist, using inflatable human-sized bubbles to defend themselves and fans against Covid while finding a way to play live. (CNN news review; Video)
  • If you need to conserve resources, plan to compensate with extra time and creativity. What would normally be a one-hour performance can easily span a full day and require sophisticated editing techniques to compensate for having filmed in a tiny space without theatrical lighting. During postproduction of the “Virtual Nutcracker”, for example, we needed to take out the ceiling and add lighting effects throughout.

Live stream the performance

At a time when everyone is quarantined and working from home, bringing your performance to your audience is a no-brainer. Meetings and conferences have been doing this for months. Benefits include being able to reach a broader audience, interact with your audience, and even create new types of experiences using the technology.

For music performers, live streaming is highly recommended. With today’s technology, even solo performers and small groups without deep-pocketed financial backers can engage with their audience and receive substantial tips.

Dance and theater can be more challenging to live-stream because of the number of performers, but organizations are finding ways to do it. Venues are also keeping works alive by offering views of archived performances. Theater groups have gotten creative, with Zoom-based interactive experiences.

Watch-outs and observations:

In summary...

Do what you can to allow your performance to happen safely, but do it well with attention to detail. Up-front investment in outreach, entertainment value, financials, legal requirements, video, audio, lighting and set design will pay off. Advance production vs. live streaming is a trade-off: editing and pre-review adds value, but at the expense of loss of immediacy.

Please feel free to reach out if we can answer questions or be of service.

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