By Dave Marcello, Head of Artist Growth
Growing consumer demand for unscripted, real-time performances requires an entirely new skill set for up-and-coming musicians.
Picture this: A musician takes a seat, does a quick mic check, tunes her guitar strings one by one, organizes various other instruments and gear around her, then slowly looks up at the audience to begin her performance. You’re probably envisioning a small theatre or maybe a local coffee shop with a crowd of music fans facing the stage, ready to sway and move to the beats. But it’s 2016, and the lines between in-person and online entertainment have become significantly blurred. This isn’t a live performance in the traditional sense; instead of a stage, the artist is in her apartment bedroom, and instead of theatre seats, the audience members are on mobile phones and laptops.
Digital video is completely transforming the way we view and interact with the world, from communicating with friends and family to keeping ourselves entertained. Mobile video now accounts for over half of all mobile data traffic and experts anticipate that number to increase toward 75% by the year 2020. A relatively new video format — live streaming — is quickly gaining popularity as it redefines the relationship between creators and consumers.
YouNow is a live streaming platform on which anyone with a webcam or smartphone can broadcast themselves to a massive audience. The site and app boast over 100 million user sessions a month and 50,000 broadcast hours a day. At any given time, you’ll find broadcasts of teenage twin sisters doling out makeup tips or a voice-impressionist-slash-comedian taking requests from his audience as he attempts new impersonations. Unsurprisingly, many of the most popular broadcasters are musicians, and YouNow features a real time chat environment where these artists and fans are connecting in unprecedented ways.
With some musicians making $10,000 a month and others getting signed to label deals thanks to their exposure on YouNow, live streaming clearly offers opportunity for artists to build and engage their fanbases in a unique way.But can live streaming platforms like YouNow really move the needle for musicians? Is it just a fun activity or can it become an essential part of an artist’s marketing toolbox and actually create revenue for the industry?
The YouNow team enlisted Audiokite Research to explore these questions and more in a first-of-its-kind study of live streaming’s impact on creators and consumers. Musicians have always understood the importance of developing songwriting skills, instrument mastery, performance abilities, and even promotional know-how. But to be successful in this world of direct and real-time connection to their audience, a new set of skills is required. The findings from this study helped to create a musician’s playbook for live streaming success.
The Audiokite YouNow Music Study
The results painted a consistent picture: there is an overwhelmingly positive sentiment from music-focused consumers towards YouNow and live streaming in general. The data collected demonstrated that when musicians live broadcast, viewers express a high likelihood to take commercial action because of the experience. Additionally, we found consistency in the rankings of each broadcast activity type amongst music fans, along with distinct parallels to those of the music creators, allowing us to highlight the most effective ways for musicians to utilize live streaming.
Three separate surveys were administered in which participants were shown various YouNow broadcast clips and prompted to provide feedback. There were over 4,350 participants, all U.S.-based and sourced through Audiokite’s pre-screened panelist pool.
Consumers are likely to take commercial action as a result of experiencing live, music-themed broadcasts. More than 80% of music consumers stated they are likely to take commercial action after watching one of their favorite musicians broadcast on YouNow. Specifically, over 86% of fans are likely to seek out more of the artist’s/band’s songs and watch another live stream from the artist.
Sentiment towards live streaming is overwhelmingly positive, particularly for its off-the-cuff nature. The “unscripted and spontaneous nature of the platform” is the element all study participants — consumers and musicians — singled out as their absolute favorite. The average rating for this element is 7.43 out of 10, with 10 representing “Highly Enjoyable”. Over 66% of the most frequently noted feelings associated with watching YouNow broadcasts are positive.
The majority of the top rated broadcast activities relate to playing music. Three out of the top four rated broadcast activities are centered on playing music: “unreleased song exclusive”, “cover song”, and “original song”. The broadcast activity to which both consumers and creators had the most favorable reaction is playing an “unreleased song exclusive.”
Live Streaming Playbook For Musicians
For a musician to utilize live streaming effectively, there are definite do’s and don’ts that should be considered from the start, as the study data has revealed. From the most (and least) popular activities to the skills and styles a performer needs to adopt, below are some guidelines for both new and seasoned broadcasters.
1) Music trumps all.
We learned that three of the top four rated broadcast activities all relate to playing music for both consumers and creators, with “original songs” as the favorite activity for both sides. As a musician experimenting with live streaming, the first activities to master should be song playing ones. Music is the thread that binds performer and audience and is the most organic way to communicate with fans from the get-go.
“The song seemed good, I wanted to hear more of it. Plus, they were actually playing music instead of talking about it, which was nice.” — survey participant
2) Let your personality shine through.
Live streaming is as close to a face-to-face meeting with fans we have today, and that means the performer is more of a focus than the art being performed. After analyzing thousands of anecdotal comments from the study, it is abundantly clear that the best musician broadcasters are: consistent, flexible, comfortable with mobile, creative, interactive, personable, and above all else, authentic.
“I loved the way the broadcaster interacted with the audience and made them feel part of the show. Kind of liked watching her be silly for a little while.” — survey participant
3) Be spontaneous…
Intrigue and interest seem to be the prevailing themes of the study results. As previously noted, “interested” is a feeling most often associated with watching YouNow broadcast examples, referenced over 7,100 times, and the “unscripted and spontaneous nature of the platform” is the primary attraction point for both consumers and creators. Fans are excited by the “realness” of live streaming and musicians should take advantage of this unique aspect by responding and reacting to the audience’s vibe as appropriate.
“I really liked the chance to be involved, get to know the artist and actually get live, not scripted answers. It makes the divide between artists and audience seem smaller.” — survey participant
4) …but have some general structure to your broadcasts.
While both consumers and musicians singled out YouNow’s “unscripted and spontaneous nature” as their favorite part of the platform, some of the remaining data conflicts with this view. Again, the top rated broadcast activities all involve performing previously written songs; not much spontaneity there. The third most frequently noted feeling is “bored.” Musicians rated “songwriting with the audience” as the second best activity for engaging with their fans on YouNow, but listed seven other broadcast activities they’d prefer to try before it. Fully unscripted live broadcasts can be daunting for both musicians and fans. To keep the audience engaged throughout a live stream, musicians should have a broad plan for each broadcast, while always leaving room for impromptu activities and interactions.
“The impromptu format can lower the bar of quality. I really did not understand the point of the broadcast.” — survey participant
5) Audience interaction can be a fickle beast.
The three broadcast activities rated the lowest are primarily audience-broadcaster interactions: “guesting/split screen,” “impromptu audience topics,” and “audience Q&A.” “Guesting/split screen” is the lowest rated activity across the board and the only one associated with an “irritated” feeling. Live streaming differentiates itself by the direct connection between audience and broadcaster, so this data is quite noteworthy. Our assumption is that the 1% rule comes into play here, where the vast majority of viewers do not intend to directly participate in broadcasts, and so these types of activities are of less interest to them. For first-time broadcasters, be aware of your audience’s reactions to these types of activities and consider slowly testing the waters in small doses during your regular song playing broadcasts.
“I generally don’t like when streamers interact with members of the audience because it kinda leaves out everyone else who is watching.” — survey participant
6) But participation comes in all shapes and sizes.
Around 70% of viewers on YouNow participate in broadcasts in some manner. Not all fans will want to sing a duo on camera or post dozens of comments during a broadcast. We observed many audience members using YouNow’s virtual gifts — thumbs up, tips, hand claps, even marriage proposals — to express themselves. Musicians should take note of this and recognize the need to treat fans individually based on their preferred methods of engaging.
“I love the idea of being able to influence what an artist is singing in the moment.” — survey participant
7) Live streaming is the new backstage meet-and-greet.
Regardless of a fan’s level of participation in a broadcast, nearly everyone loves being recognized by his or her favorite musician. “Chris Williams, iHeartRadio’s chief product officer, said that the appeal of YouNow is that it recreates the radio tradition of having meet-and-greets with artists at scale.” Musicians should take every opportunity to personalize interactions with broadcast viewers.
“It feels like I’m getting something that non-fans are not getting. Makes me feel appreciated and special.” — survey participant
8) Integrate calls-to-action.
When teen pop singer Jacob Sartorius released his newest single on iTunes, he held a YouNow broadcast in which he prompted his fans to buy the track. He tracked the purchases in real-time and gave live shout-outs to all those supporters. As a result, “Sweatshirt” reached #10 on the iTunes charts that day. We observed this type of direct call-to-action across several broadcasts, which seemed to efficiently focus the audience as a single unit. Musicians should look at ways to integrate community actions like this, whether it’s to increase YouNow channel subscribers, vote on their favorite song, or download a new track.
“Live streaming is a good way to get people interested in the rest of the song/album.” — survey participant
It is important to observe that there is a learning curve that comes with experiencing live streaming for the first time. Succeeding as a live broadcaster requires a distinct skill set, and the consumption experience as an audience member is a unique one. There are aspects of live streaming to which media consumers are not yet accustomed. Most social platforms today are primarily filled with scripted, pre-planned information sharing. Conversely, live streaming is filled with go-with-the-flow moments that may, at times, come across as chaotic or filled with too much down time for some viewers.
With 93% of consumers being likely to tune in to watch their favorite musician live stream and nearly 80% of surveyed musicians interested in trying live streaming, we expect YouNow to continue its rapid growth in the music category as its broadcasters expand their on-camera capabilities and fans become increasingly more comfortable with participating in a real-time interaction.