Blog #1: Livestreaming Arts Events

Little Brown Notebook Blog Post #1: Livestreaming Arts Events

part of a series on “The Impact of the Coronavirus on the Arts” aimed at sparking conversations between artists, arts organizations, and community members
The complicated business of livestreaming. While the barriers to producing a livestream are few – anyone with a cell phone or an iPad and a good wifi connection or unlimited data can set up a Facebook Live event – the legal realities complicate matters quite a bit. In the coming days, weeks, and, potentially, months of event cancellations and social distancing, you may be wondering why some arts organization and artists are quick to offer a livestream option and others seem to be missing out on the opportunity.
Before we dive in, a quick note to mention that I’ve included a list of upcoming livestreamed events at the bottom of this post, among them an early music concert by Calmus Ensemble streaming from Germany at 1 pm Central Time today (Saturday 3/14).
The age-old challenge of “free.” For most artists, live streaming is offering your art, your work, your livelihood for “free.” Why the quotation marks? Just because you, the audience, aren’t paying admission or purchasing the art, doesn’t mean it is “free” as the artist/s invested a lot of time, training, and resources into creating that piece – whether it’s a midday concert at the library or a dance performance in a museum lobby.
In this moment, many artists have had appearances and performances cancelled so they are offering to stream concerts that have been rehearsed and that can no longer happen in person. Most are wisely asking viewers to consider donating to help the artists and organizations recoup some of the upfront costs of creating art AND the lost revenue from appearance fees and ticket sales. In a business so focused on the final product, the perfect performance, it’s important to remind everyone that creating art and being an artist are a business with business-expenses and budgets and real-life implications beyond the disappointment of cancelled performances.
Will viewers pony up and donate or will they enjoy the art and leave without supporting the artists? What does all of this mean for artists in a post-COVID future? Will it provide a new revenue stream to reach a broader audience or will patrons treat it like free music streaming services where art is consumed at no cost ad nauseam and artists see little monetary compensation?
If this piques your interest, check out the Reading List at the bottom of this post.
A few of the many legal considerations that arts producers are grappling with:
1. What is the content? While music and theatre written before 1929 is mostly in the public domain, most of the music and theatre created after that date is not. What does this mean? In the theatre world, we pay a lot of money to license a production for a live performance. This license, however, does not include the rights to livestream or film for later showing. You’ll need to contact the rights company to find out if you can get permission to do so and how much it will cost.
2. Who is on stage? You’ll need permission forms from everyone who is part of the performance. Also, is anyone on a union contract as performance contracts for groups like Equity and AGMA are for live performance and not for streaming or recording for a later date. This applies to actors and musicians as well – want to livestream a professional symphony? You’ll have to contact the contract representative to find out if you can get permission to do so and to find out how much it will cost.
3. Do you have a set, costumes, lighting, video, and/or props? You’ll need permission from all designers to share their work in video/livestream. Also, is anyone on a union contract as performance contracts for groups like Equity and AGMA are for live performance and not for streaming or recording for a later date. You’ll have to contact the contract representative to find out if you can get permission to do so and to find out how much it will cost.
Anyone see a pattern here?
This is why it’s such a big deal when PBS or The National Theatre are able to get the rights to broadcast Broadway musicals and why the promise of Broadway HD streaming of Broadway shows is so great. The Met Opera Live in HD programs may not be licensing the script and scores for works in the public domain (Mozart, Rossini, Puccini) and the Globe Theatre doesn’t have to get permission from Shakespeare but you can barely imagine the multiple layers of permissions needed for a broadcast of a performance.
In many cases the rights companies (MTI Music Theatre International, Samuel French, Dramatists Play Services, Rodgers & Hamnerstein, Tams Witmark, Broadway Licensing) who license the script and score do not actually own the rights to record for public presentation or livestream a performance. Check out this message from MTI(which holds thousands of titles) and make sure to click on the message from John Prignano, Chief Operating Officer.
As mentioned, anyone with a phone or iPad can livestream an event but where will that video live after the event and how much will quality matter to your current and potential audiences and funders? Maybe not but maybe so. For individual performing artists, many fans love the cellphone shot video updates they post to share a new song or experience on tour so it might not matter.
For others, like arts organizations, it may be better to hire a professional to set up the livestream and provide your company with a high quality initial product and archival recording of the performance. Consider the lighting, the audio, and the visual interest of watching a video with one camera vs 2 or 3 angles. In the short term of the coronavirus shutdown, audiences will be more understanding and less discerning. If this becomes an ongoing situation, that forgiveness may not extend as far.
Take advantage of the many unexpected opportunities you’ll have to see and hear music, theatre, dance, and the performing arts online. Yes, it’s the not the same as being there in person but it’s better than watching the same movies you’ve already seen 50 times on Netflix.
Donate and support the artists and arts organizations who are streaming events and activities. $10. $20. Whatever you can afford. Many have lost two months of income in a matter of days. It’s an unprecedented loss. Every donation helps.
“Live-Streaming Broadway Shows? The Tech Was Easy – But Oh the Drama!” by Christopher Zara for Fast Company, January 2018.
Broadway Licensing, a relative newcomer in the licensing industry, has secured approvals for producers to livestream productions for many shows in their catalog, if the performance has been cancelled due to the current COVID-19 outbreak.  Learn more.
Calmus Ensemble, a fantastic early music group, has watched their touring schedule evaporate so is offering a livestream (via Facebook and Youtube) concert on March 15 and asking for viewers to donate and help support the ensemble. It’s being broadcast at 7 pm Central European Time which 1 pm in Central Time (Madison, WI). I can’t get a direct link to the Facebook post find the announcement on their Facebook page and watch the program here.
The Metropolitan Opera will be rebroadcasting Live from the Met HD recordings nightly at 7:30 pm, starting on March 16 on their website and through the Met on Demand App with each opera available for the broadcast and 20 hours afterwards.  Learn more.
The Berliner Philharmoniker is offering a month of free streaming from their concert library.  Learn more.
The Boston Globe compiled a list of classical music concerts around the globe including several events on March 14.  Learn more.