So finally, 6 months after our last show in Paeroa, New Zealand, Ron and I finally got to play a LIVE gig, in front of an (online) audience!
We were so chuffed that Furness Tradition asked us to a show for them. It’s a festival I’ve played at before in Cumbria, but I knew they also put gigs on throughout the year, so it was wonderful that they’ve decided to push ahead and move them online.
We’d been a bit hesitant to do live streaming shows as a duo before this as we wanted to be sure that when we did it, the sound quality was top notch. Whilst we’ve filmed pre-recorded gigs for several festivals that have moved online this was our first online streaming experience as a duo.
When Furness asked us to do the gig they mentioned that they use a “down the line” sound engineer, and luckily it was someone who is a friend of mine, owns a studio and I trust (Pete Ord, great guy!). When we agreed it was before household restrictions so my thoughts were great, we should be grand as we’ve a small studio set up at home, and fibre optic broadband, so it’ll be great.
And then. Nothing is certain eh? New restrictions were introduced bahhhh!! In Scotland, we’re now not allowed other households in our homes. Whilst technically we knew a gig could be seen as work, and would be ok, we just didn’t want to have the stress of neighbours seeing/hearing and potentially knocking on the door when they realised what was going on, so we decided it was more sensible for all to find a neutral venue for the gig.
Luckily, I remembered about a basement rehearsal studio set up that some muso pals in Glasgow had posted about on facebook. They share the hire of the space and were offering it out for use amongst colleagues. We managed to book it for the gig time, and ended up also booking it for rehearsals… more costly than rehearsing at home, but it was very reasonably priced and well, we felt more comfortable about doing things this way with the current regulations.
It was the perfect place. Large enough that we could position the camera to have us socially distanced enough, but small enough that it wasn’t a big cavern and we therefore felt comfortable playing in it.
It was SO good just to even rehearse together again! The sets we’d been pre-recording for festivals had been relatively short but this gig was to be a full 2x45min show so it was just great to get back to crafting a setlist, and playing through it all.
Gig week was quickly upon us and so our minds turned to tech. Luckily my other (better?!) half Adam is a dab hand at sound tech having gained himself a degree in sound engineering. He’s a friend too of Pete’s who was going to mixing the gig so we had messages flying back and forth about how things we were to be done.
We struck gold… the exact equipment, name and model that was the top of the list of Pete’s options for sound… the studio had it! YHASS! An MR18, which meant we could plug in our instruments, connect an Ethernet cable, download the various bits of software to the laptop, and Pete would be able to remotely engineer the gig AND give us a separate monitor mix. It was spot on!
We went to the studio night before the gig to try it all out. I tell you though. Adam and I are both musicians, both of whom haven’t gigged since March. We’re blatently out of practice. We arrived at the studio and realised we’d forgotten half the gear DOH!! So had to drive back and pick up the laptops and the cables. We eventually got set up and tested everything and it looked like it was gonna be grand.
Next day we turned up and met Ron at the studio, set everything sound wise up and had a down the line sound check with Pete….
Everything was working a dream and it felt SO good to be playing through an actual PA again! We then worked on setting up zoom. I’ve the top iPhone that’s available just now (so glad I invested in that last year) and we managed to download Camo app, meaning we could use my phones camera (way better than my laptops) and connect it to my laptop, so we could be clearly seen and we could have the laptop facing us so we could see folk on screen.
The premium upgrade for Camo is great – it takes the watermark away and you can alter the lighting/exposure etc, meaning you can get things looking great for your audience.
Once everything was sorted we had some amazing takeaway food from the café upstairs and warmed up to play.
I think one of my most favourite parts of the gig was when they let the “doors open”. It went from 4 of us on screen (well our camera was off at the time) and little boxes and faces just started pinging up. We had a full house of 100 squares and it was lovely to be able to see familiar faces and names in them.
We were muted but they all started chatting to each other, both through the mic and the chat box. Folks were reuniting with people they knew on the other side of the country and it was lovely to be able to watch getting ready with a wee dram on their sofa and hear them nattering away!!
We had a wonderful MC, Les from Furness Tradition introducing us to the gig. This worked so well – it felt like we were at a real concert! He was also responsible for the mute all button!! He encouraged folk to unmute to clap us. This felt amazing! We’ve watched live streams where at times it can be a bit awkward with silence between sets, but this just warmed out hearts hearing folk clap and cheering after each number. Really made it feel so much more intimate and “real”.
We had folk in the audience from all over the world. Some we knew some we didn’t. I think one of the things I found most amazing was that from the folk I knew, it was just the widest representation of my life. Folk were in that we’d met on tour in New Zealand and Japan, harpists who’d heard at me at festivals in the US, students of mine in Europe, friends from all over the UK, family from Scotland, best pals in Glasgow, friends of my folks… a whole cross section of our lives all on one zoom screen. It was wonderful!
One thing I quickly realised though – I’d forgotten about how much adrenalin and a real live gig makes you dig in so much more when you play. When you practice, well, you don’t give it as much “wellie” as they say. It took a while for my hands to settle and I found during the first two numbers my hands cramped.
Also note to self… remember when playing standing up I THUMP MY FEET, and this is why I should always wear shoes!!! I took advantage of the fact folk couldn’t see my feet and just played in my socks as I was comfy. BIG MISTAKE. Second half, set of a 6/8 march and strathspeys and I suddenly realised my right heel was in agony! I nearly fell over mid set!
Thankfully my trainers were just out of shot, and well, it was an amusing story to tell the audience!
We kept our actual “off camera” interval short, just 10 mins as well, online gigs mean no bar of loo queues for folks! Our mc came up with a lovely idea of having a wee question and answer session though, so people wrote him questions in the chat window, and then he asked us them out loud. It was a really lovely way of interacting with the audience. We got some serious and some less serious questions, so we were all laughing by the end.
Things I learnt…
Online is a different experience when it comes to promoting the gig. Folk WILL in today’s climate make a last minute to come to your online gig, so we found we had to really push and promo it right up until the last hour.
We did a facebook live quick tune just an hour before and that boosted things. We found folk were even more so generous and helping us out by sharing and tweeting about the gig. We’re so grateful for this. We had no idea how many tickets would be sold, but the promo paid off, and so thank you to all who helped in this!
We really appreciated the tech involved, and I don’t think we would do a duo live gig that was ticketed without it. It really helped the audience have a good experience and added to our experience too. Knowing everything was in hand thanks to the team work of Pete and Adam meant we could relax and just be musicians. So much of life as a musician just now involves being able to handle tech, so it was nice to get back to what we’re good at and just concentrate on that.
We’re learning to live with the current restrictions and we managed to make this gig work because we had the tech and the studio to film in. We could keep socially distanced and there was only 3 of us in the space (from 2 households) which definitely helped. Anymore though and it would have been a challenge as we wouldn’t have been able to safely fit everyone on screen.
We missed the one-to-one audience interaction but having an MC who directed everyone to unmute and then “muted all” when we were playing and chatting certainly helped create an atmosphere.
I think this was one of the advantages of having a festival host our stream. It also meant they had their own audience to advertise the gig to. Whilst it was wonderful for us to have lots of folk we knew on screen, if you constantly do your own zoom gigs you really can only rely on your own mailing list and contacts for promo.
Hooking in with a venue or a festival means you get access to an audience who will trust that hosts judgement and will take a chance at booking a ticket. I know Breabach are soon doing an online tour where they’ve connected up with venues. This is a great idea as it means they can still expand their audience. Though it is harder to convince venues to do these gigs just now, and well you’ve competition from bands all over the world who are gunning for them.
I believe that getting the audience into the habit of paying for live streamed gigs is an important thing now. Things have been tough over the last 6 months for musicians and it is now very clear that will still have another year of this to go. We were heartened with the ticket sales though so it appears audiences are adjusting and willing to support artists. Artists – take the chance and charge for your events! It’s possible to do it well. Furness worded their ticket options very cleverly … a standard price, a cheaper if you’re struggling price and a if you’d like to give more price. It was very well done, in a self-regulatory way that made folk think before they bought.
The ticket sales have provided Ron and I with a welcome income, so please do support artists by buying tickets for online gigs. Merch sales are very much missed just now as there’s no easy way of doing this in online gigs. Please do consider visiting the artists website and buying direct from them after
There are advantages to online gigs… you only see whats on camera, so aye no posh shoes, and well no need to be tidy about things at the side of the stage!!
Also, whilst we missed the in person chats after the gig, it meant we could get cleared up uber fast. We luckly had Paddy Callaghans Trad disco for accompaniment in this as he was streaming for Liverpool Irish Festival! We quickly got home and later enjoyed a live gig ourselves as Celtic Colours festival were broadcasting as part of their Celtic Colours at Home festival. Fantastic!
So yes, we had such a blast. We got that live gig feel thanks to the clapping, we got the buzz of performing again, and wow, to play through a PA and know the sound was sorted was just fantastic!
We are planning to do another one early next year with a similar set-up. We’ll let you know about that when we know a date ourselves. For now though, back to filming the harp workshops, zoom lessons and pre-recorded sets. We’re grateful to have work that is still related to our performance.