Using Twitch to Find New Audiences for Classical Music Performances

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One of my earliest mentors in the broadcast industry once said, “The technology is the easy part. Creating great content to feed the technology – that’s the hard part.” This advice still rings in my ears daily, and it’s as true now as ever. As someone who’s been entrenched in making audiovisual technology work for decades, I’ve recently been challenging myself to develop my content creation chops. From shooting marketing videos and mini-documentaries to producing live streamed events, I’ve seen firsthand that this can be difficult. Fortunately, I’ve found that the satisfaction of being creative is equal to the hardship. In addition, I’ve discovered relief in having a collaborator, as “a problem shared is a problem halved.”

Recently, I joined forces with Steve Robinson (a seasoned classical music and public radio content creator) and Twitch.tv. With the addition of these two, my problem was now “thirded”. Our mission is to bring high-quality, live classical musical performances to a new audience.

Steve and I are fortunate to live in Chicago, a city rife with great classical music performers. For that reason, we thought that this would be a good place to start. Steve knows the talent, I know the technology, and we’re both getting to know Twitch. We felt sure that the combination of exciting performances plus a platform with millions of current users could be the perfect storm for something to take off.

We decided that our first broadcast in the newly created ClassicalCast channel would be a marathon concert of Franz Schubert’s piano music. This marathon concert would run seven hours long and feature about a dozen different musicians from Chicago.

There’s a long tradition in the classical music world of people gathering to celebrate and share Schubert’s music in an event called Schubertiade. We got approval for our idea from Twitch staff members, Kyle (Username Mos) and Justin (Username TheGunrun). These guys guided us through the process and encouraged us along the way.

The Schubertiade is an annual event hosted by Pianoforte Studios, a Chicago piano studio and showroom. This year was their 13th annual Schubertiade and it was hosted in their intimate performance hall with room for ~100 local music fans.

Broadcasting this event on Twitch made it easy to bring great performances to a larger audience, but now we had a problem. The local audience was sophisticated. They weren’t snobby high society, but music lovers who needed no introduction to classical music or Schubert. Our Twitch audience would consist of a variety of people, many of whom may have never listened to any kind of classical music. How do you put on a show for such a wide cross section of people?

Our solution was to add a live host (Steve) to educate and communicate with both audiences while interacting with the performers. From a technical standpoint, we wanted to use technology that would create beautiful, high-quality video and stunning audio. We chose a three camera robotic setup from Vaddio, large diaphragm microphones, and a professional mixing board. The audio and video signals fed into Telestream’s Wirecast product for encoding and streaming.

Twitch_Classical_Theo

With everything tested and ready to go, we broadcast our first live Twitch stream. Here’s what we learned:

Using Good Equipment Makes a Difference
The Twitch platform offers a great solution with the capacity to support streaming out to very large audiences. Content creators can optimize their streams by making sure they have good cameras, smart lighting, and decent audio. We put effort into having the right setup and our viewers loved the high visual and acoustic quality of our stream.

Knowing Your Audience is Important
We knew many members of our online audience might not be familiar with classical music. To address this during the event, Steve explained who Franz Schubert was, provided background, and gave the history of Schubertiade. We also knew that many members of our local audience were classical music lovers who may have attended this event before. To cater to them, Steve’s hosting helped fill the usual “dead time” between performances and kept things lively.

Interesting Content is Critical
A standard classical concert performance/broadcast, even with a host, can leave something desired. In future broadcasts, we’re going to try some different formats for bringing classical music content to this audience.

Technical Issues Can Always Happen
We had some initial issues to work out, including a configuration mistake which made our stream unfindable on Twitch unless you already had our URL. Unfortunately, I figured this out four hours into the show! After I corrected it, new viewers began to visit our channel, including some international ones.

Know Your Options
Twitch recommends three different broadcasting applications: Open Broadcasting Software (OBS), Xsplit, and Gameshow. However, there are other apps which can stream to Twitch, such as Wirecast. For our broadcast, we wondered if we should use OBS or Wirecast, which Pianoforte Studio was already accustomed to using. In the end, we chose to use Wirecast. During our broadcast, it worked pretty well, but we saw some minor “weirdness” too. I believe it was caused by Twitch preferring continuous bitrate (CBR) streams and Wirecast only being able to provide variable bitrate (VBR), variable frame rate (VFR) streams.

When you think about Twitch and how it might useful in the business video world, all you have to do is put on your marketing hat. Ask yourself, how might access to millions of viewers be helpful to your business? In a Fortune 1000 company, why not create your own Twitch channel where you feature your employees and their creative hobbies, putting a more human face on a big corporation? How could putting your company name in front of a bunch of young viewers impact your future recruitment success?

What we’re doing is taking a new platform, a new technology and trying to think outside the box. Given that Twitch Creative is new and needs great ideas, the time is ripe to give it a try. So, go ahead. Do something creative and let the world see you!

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About Author

At his core, Theo Economides is an educator and performer. By schooling he is an electrical engineer, with more than 30 years in higher education, broadcast engineering and collaboration technology. But a lifetime as a musician and stage performer is the foundation of his perspective on meetings and collaboration. For Theo, these interactions - especially those involving video - are improvised performances, and those who recognize them as such end up being much more productive in them. His Chicago-based company, Greenline Emeritus, creates and curates online educational content and marketing videos. The opinions expressed in Theo’s commentary are his own, and are not representative of Let’s Do Video.

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