Engaging with a Virtual Audience when Physical Audiences aren’t an Option

We’re always told that the audience is one of the most important aspect of any performance. The audience can drive choice of repertoire, choice of clothing and overall energy of any performance. So what happens when performing for a physical audience is not an option?

Well, that’s a question a lot of musicians are facing with the current pandemic situation we all find ourselves in. Professional orchestras came to an abrupt seasons end, college ensembles put at a standstill, recitals heartbreakingly cancelled and the list goes on and on. The worst part of it is, no one knows when this will end or when people will be able to gather. This is am utter nightmare for professions, such as musicians, who count on people gather in order to be able to work.

There are two options: either take time off of music/ performing and really reflect on the times and being an artist OR embrace the change and use our creativity and intuition that inspired us to be musicians to find unconventional was to continue to deliver music to people via the world wide web. *Disclaimer—I want to be clear, if you need to take time off for your mental health during a time of crisis, such as this, please DO.

On April 6th, I gave my senior recital from a living room. Just me, a microphone and a computer. I had no idea what I was doing. It was my first time using Facebook live. I’m not a knowledgeable person when it comes to technology, but I did it. I jumped in head first and gave a full recital to, what physically looked like, no audience. Was is flawless? Absolutely not. I had technical difficulties in the middle, audio wasn’t to the standard I like, the video wasn’t clear, and the list could go on and on. Yet, the reception of my recital was something I never would have even dreamed of in a live recital situation. I had over 100 viewers, people could react in real time, it reached people it NEVER would have reached had I done it live, and I’ve gotten feedback that I kept the audience engaged.

A virtual recital can sound daunting, and in some ways that feeling is justified. There are many different things to think about that wouldn’t be a concern during a live performance. The biggest concern is pertaining to an audience. How do we engage an audience that isn’t physically there? Audience interaction may look different, but it’s definitely not nonexistent. In fact, it is more audience oriented than a live performance. Here are some tips to get you started on an audience-oriented virtual performance.

-Most importantly, be yourself. A virtual performance gives the audience a unique perspective of you as a performer in your living space. It’s a more intimate setting where the audience member feels like you are sharing more of yourself than just the music itself. It’s somewhat like modern day Schubertiades! Tell jokes, relevant stories, etc… Really embrace the casual setting. Your personality will enhance the performance more than you think and make the performance authentic.

-Audio is more important than video. Ultimately, music is an art to be heard. Make sure you have a decent audio set up. Unfortunately, your computer or phone don’t typically offer the best audio set up. Your audience is less likely to pay attention if they’re having to give hyper-attention just to figure out what you’re playing. Some affordable microphones to consider are: Blue Yeti, Shure MV88 Portable Microphone, and Zoom iQ6 Stereo portable microphone. *Disclaimer— I am no audio expert. Please reference other audio experts and online resources to make the most informed choice for audio equipment.

-Choose your performance space and spice it up. The kitchen and front porch tend to have the best acoustics. Bathrooms have decent acoustics too, but be mindful of your background if that’s where you choose to perform. A toilet may not be the best aesthetic. Once your performance space is chosen, add decorations. Hang a banner in the background, surround yourself with plants, find ways to give yourself various backgrounds through the use of technology… Whatever aesthetic you want portrayed to your audience, create your performance space to be as such.

-Ask questions during your performance for your audience to answer in the comment section. This can be as simple as asking how their day is going, what they think of different pieces, or if they have any questions for you. Many times your audience will actively comment emojis and comments anyways to let you know they’re watching. Keep them even more engaged by asking questions. Along with questions, if you want to make sure your audience is still with you in the middle of the performance, ask them to comment a specific word or question. For example, you could ask the audience to comment their favorite candy if they’re still tuning in.

-Interact with your audience. Before the recital begins, if someone comments and you’re waiting for more people to tune in, give them a shout out. Say hi to your family. Thank the audience for watching. This will create a more warm and casual space unique to virtual performances. You would never dream of pointing someone out in a live performance, so why not take advantage of it now!

-If screen sharing is available: create intro videos or slideshows to enhance and embrace the technology you now have to use. Screen sharing availability will all depend on what platform you decide to have your recital on. Explore different settings and different possibilities of different platforms to make the most of the program you put together. A word of caution, make sure your graphics are enhancing and not distracting.

-Explain your pieces to your audience. Many times your passion for the pieces shines through your explanation for them. So explain them to the audience. Tell a brief history and what the pieces mean to you/ why you enjoy playing them.

-Remember your purpose for choosing music in the first place. Performances can be hard. Virtual performances can be even harder. It’s important to remember your sole purpose for becoming a musician. Remember that music can make major social impacts. Being a musician is not a title to take lightly. You have the opportunity to tap into someone’s emotions, control time, and create something truly beautiful and life changing for your audience. During a time of crisis, musicians are needed more than ever for emotional support. Whether you realize it or not, you being a musician and sharing your craft is essential.

Audience engagement and interaction may look different, but it’s still a driving part of your performance. Have fun with the new opportunity in front of you and embrace it. For me personally, I was really dreading giving a virtual recital until I really embraced the fun I could have with the living room setting. I played most of my pieces from a rocking chair!

It is a very trying and overwhelming time to be alive. Please use your musical gifts as a way to enhance the lives of those struggling from isolation, loneliness, mental health issues, etc… Remember this is all uncharted territory for musicians and everyone is still learning how to adapt. Be patient and be willing to make mistakes in order to learn. We will all come out of this more creative and more resourceful than ever!

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