Concert Window 101: Elegant Live Performance Streaming
I’ve written about the platforms StageIt and YouNow, where indie artists can stream a live music performance and even make money doing so. Concert Window was launched in 2011 by Harvard grads and musicians Dan Gurney and Forrest O’Connor to provide the same service. Still running a bit under the radar because they’ve only been live for about 9 months, Concert Window is gaining praise and growing quickly through word of mouth buzz in the indie musician community.
Last week, I attended a streaming performance on Concert Window by Austin singer-songwriter Alex Winters. It went so well that I thought it would be interesting to interview Alex about her experience and try setting up my own artist profile.
Alex and I met through GoGirlsMusic, and while she was here in Seattle recently, she mentioned she was about to do her first Concert Window performance. I signed up on the website ahead of time as a viewer so I could tune in. One of the things I noticed right away was that I could watch Alex’s performance on my iPhone while away from my desktop. I think this is a smart feature, and no doubt increases audience views significantly. Mobile is where it is at.
After a few minor glitches on both her end (Alex’s PRO TIP: “When you’re ready to broadcast, hit the BROADCAST button!”) and on my end (my AT&T phone signal was weak at first), I was able to enjoy her concert on my earbuds with no problem. Note that all the viewer features of the desktop version are not there on mobile, such as chat and tipping.
This post has three parts. First, an interview with Alex about her experience with Concert Window. Second, my walkthrough of setting up an artist profile and a performance on Concert Window. Last, I give my assessment of some of the features that make the Concert Window platform stand out.
Interview With Musician Alex Winters
AW: I had been thinking about trying out an online broadcasting service for quite some time, and I kept hearing good things about Concert Window. What really closed the deal for me was that they are an online venue created and run by actual musicians. They built the service specifically for musicians – it’s not just another streaming service to upload random stuff, it’s a specific service for a specific thing, and I really liked that. So my concerts would be inline with other concerts – not lost in a sea of everyone else’s random video uploads.
I also really liked the fact that when we did the Invasion of the GoGirls 2014 showcase during SXSW, and Madalyn [Sklar] was having an issue with her broadcast, they had a person in the area who physically came to the venue to help troubleshoot the problem. A real live person! That impressed me.
I also noticed that with that broadcast, as well as my own, they had someone from Concert Window pop into the broadcast [online] to make sure everything was running smoothly. The support personnel are really paying attention and are willing to help anyone having an issue. This means that if one of your attendees is having a problem, you don’t have to stop your show to try and help them out, so you can relax and just do your thing. I don’t know of any other online service that provides that kind of one on one support.
Q: Can you describe the setup process for your concert? Was it easy or hard?
AW: The setup process through Concert Window was ridiculously easy. I provided a few simple details about myself, a picture, then all I had to do was pick a date. That was the hardest part! Then it was simply a matter of getting an area cleared and setup in my house where I could be comfortable performing from. I used a small PA system, a mic and mic stand, and a stool to sit on. I put some fabric up on the wall behind me and some book shelves to the side for just some simple scenery (something better than a blank wall), and that’s pretty much it.
Q: What was the sound setup on your end? I saw that you had a vocal microphone and it sounded like you had some reverb on your vocals – did you use an amp? Also, did you go direct into the computer? Was your guitar direct in? What kind of computer did you use? Microphone? Video camera? How about your internet connection? Give us all the tech details!
AW: Almost no tech at all really! I used my own PA (a Fender Passport 500) to run my guitar and vocals through so I could add a little warmth and reverb and I pointed the speakers towards my MacBook Pro (last year’s model). I didn’t plug anything into the laptop, I just pointed the speakers in its general direction. I used the built in web cam on my laptop as well. As for my vocal mic, I use an Audio-Technica M4000S, and I played a Luna brand guitar.
I didn’t plug anything into the laptop, I just pointed the speakers in its general direction.
Q: Can you tell me what you liked and didn’t like about the Concert Window experience? What are some of the features that you felt made the experience a good one for you?
AW: There really wasn’t much to dislike. I got to perform from my home for some super great folks, with barely any setup or teardown. After the show, I touched base with several of the attendees and they all said that aside from the video being a bit fuzzy (due to my internet connection), that it was a great experience. My favorite feature has to be the tip button. There’s a chemical reaction that happens in your brain when you get praise, and applause and cheering gets a fairly high dose of dopamine running through your system. This makes you feel good, and makes you want to do the thing again that gets you the praise. Seeing someone’s words on the screen that say “yay!” and “great song!” makes you feel really good, but seeing them hit that “tip” button gives you an extra high dose. To quote Lady Gaga, “I live for the applause, applause, applause!”
Q: Have you used any other streaming concert technologies like StageIt or Google Hangouts? How would you compare them with Concert Window?
AW: I’ve attended Google Hangouts before, but have never given my own live broadcast through their service. In my experience, the quality wasn’t as good, and it doesn’t have the same controls that Concert Window does. I thought it was nice that Concert Window had a microphone limiter so that you could make sure that you didn’t overload your mic. Concert Window also has a nice little control panel that allows you to test your video and sound prior to the actual broadcast so you know what you’re going to look and sound like to others.
Q: How did you promote your show ahead of time to your fans?
AW: An email to my subscribers, as well as a Facebook event, and regular Facebook and Twitter reminders each day for several days before the concert. I also posted an Instagram pic just before the show. In addition, I hand-picked a few folks and did shout-outs to them because they had expressed interest in seeing me perform. They in turn re-tweeted and shared the posts to their followers, which is much appreciated as word of mouth is still the BEST way to get your name out there.
Q: Did you make any money from the performance?
AW: I did. Aside from ticket sales, I also received several tips throughout the performance. [Alex told me later she made about $40 - not bad for a first-time, 35 minute show! More below on Concert Window's revenue split.]
Q: What tips would you give other artists considering a concert with Concert Window?
AW: Click on this link and pick a date RIGHT NOW: http://www.concertwindow.com/create-a-show/65rzif224ba. There is no reason not to do this. You don’t even have to leave your house, so why wouldn’t you?
Q: Is there anything you would do differently next time with your streaming performance?
AW: Just have the better internet connection and a separate webcam.
Q: Any feedback for the Concert Window developers?
AW: Nope, they have a very simple interface which is nice, clean, and easy to use. I wouldn’t change a thing!
Some Basics About Concert Window
- Fans view 551 minutes per show (I assume this means average number of fans viewing a show, times average length of concert)
- There are 45 chats per show
- There are 272 shows in the next 30 days
Let’s get the artist compensation side of Concert Window out of the way (from their website FAQ):
How does the money side work?
After your show, we add together all the tickets, tips, and subscription revenue, and take off minimal credit card and bandwidth costs (about 40 cents a ticket). From there we send you two-thirds of the total and we keep one-third. We pay within 24 hours of showtime via PayPal or check (you can specify on your Artist Dashboard). There is zero cost for you to set up a show and we absorb the PayPal/check fees.
One third plus a ticket fee seems a bit higher than I expected, but I love that Concert Window gives musicians their money so fast – and that they use PayPal and absorbs those fees. These two things make this platform on its way to being a winner just by themselves, in my opinion.
Viewing A Concert
All the upcoming shows are listed on the Concert Window website. I noticed that, like StageIt, there are a variety of artists at many different stages of their careers, from just starting out to highly experienced. Artists stream from their living rooms as well as directly from live performance venues like house concerts or clubs. For example, Jonathan Edwards, someone I used to listen to a lot in the 80s, is streaming a concert tomorrow night from a venue called Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, NY. Caffe Lena has its own profile on Concert Window, and has quite a few upcoming streaming concerts.
It was very simple to set up an account with Concert Window using my credit card. Many shows are pay what you like (which they recommend to artists as the default option). I also liked the fact that Concert Window doesn’t have it’s own monetary denominations, like StageIt (which I find confusing because you have to divide everything by 10 to get real US dollars). Buying a ticket, setting a show reminder for myself, and actually tuning in to the show was easy. Concert Window sent me several reminders via email with a link to Alex’s show beforehand.
Setting Up Your Band Profile
Before you create a show date, set up your band’s profile on Concert Window. Concert Window walks you through the process step by step, including adding a band name and picture, musical genre, and website and social media URLs.
Creating A Show
Now you’re ready to schedule a show.
The test broadcaster is quite helpful and pretty easy to navigate. It has a number of options to adjust video and sound quality depending on your internet speed, and allows you to live test what you will look and sound like when broadcasting.
One of my pet peeves about StageIt is that in order to test your own show, you have to buy a ticket, and also you can’t do it from the same computer you are using to broadcast. These are things Concert Window has fixed in their implementation.
They also have a very nice Help section in the test broadcast which addresses a number of common tech problems.
I was using Windows 8 and the Chrome browser on my laptop when I did my test broadcast. At first, my audio wasn’t there and my video was black. It took me a little while to realize that Windows 8 had popped up a box at the top of the browser window asking if I would allow Concert Window to use the built-in laptop camera. Once I checked Yes and refreshed the browser, the trial broadcast picture and sound worked fine.
I also really like that Concert Window has a tech chat page, so as Alex mentioned in her interview, if you get stuck, you can live chat with a tech support person.
After you’ve set up the event, there is one extra step to publish it to the Concert Window website. Then you get a link you can promote via your email newsletter and social media channels.
Some Likes And Dislikes
In addition to the nice features I’ve mentioned above such as mobile viewing, viewer payment scheme (much simpler than StageIt), ease of setup, tech help chat, and the free and simple test broadcast options, I also like that you can do a private show, for example just for Kickstarter backers, on Concert Window.
It’s notable that Concert Window allows venues to create a profile. I like that viewers can search not only on a particular artist to follow and receive show reminders for, but can follow and tune in remotely to all the performances from a particular venue like Caffe Lena.
Concert Window’s referral incentive system, while a bit complex to understand in terms of compensation (it borders on being an affiliate program), could end up being a brilliant way to stimulate word of mouth about the platform among musicians. I have not seen a lot of PR on Concert Window, but it seems to have taken off in the musician community, probably due to the referrals.
Alex also mentioned that they just added a feature that allows performers to send special perqs to their top participants. The platform is evolving, which is a good sign for any music tech startup. There are so many companies that have come and gone trying the serve musicians in the new music industry model. I feel Concert Window is off to a good start and has a bright future, let’s hope it sticks around.
I like that all Concert Window employees are musicians – I’m a big fan of eating your own dogfood (as we called it at Microsoft), or making sure the software developers use the product themselves. I think it makes for a better product.
Overall, I felt that the Concert Window user interface was well thought out, and the interface and options were elegantly programmed. The platform seems robust, and tech support is a chat window away.
Some downsides: Once I was signed in to my artist profile, I had a hard time finding the longer FAQ on the website that was there before I created my profile. I had to go back to Google to search for this FAQ, which covers, for example, compensation, tech setup basics, cover song licensing, what happens if the show doesn’t happen, and more.
Also, it seems that all upcoming shows are listed on their website main page. This means you have to scroll down forever to see the bottom of their main page – this includes their About page, social media buttons, press and blog links. Not great for press who want to easily find information about the company.
Comparing Concert Window, StageIt and Google Hangouts
Overall, though, I think Concert Window has improved many things over the StageIt experience.
Unlike Google Hangouts, Concert Window was built to host musical performances. Google Hangouts require the performer to toggle into a “Studio Mode” option. Studio Mode mutes the other Hangout participants in order to devote the necessary internet bandwidth to the performer.
Viewers in Concert Window are limited to communicating by chat, so all the bandwidth is made available to the performer, and the results are higher quality audio and video. Concert Window is also just miles easier to set up than Google Hangouts, which, while cool, remains in the realm of the techie, and seems better suited to video conferencing or group chats.
Like Google Hangouts, Concert Window shows are viewable via mobile, but cannot be set up or initiated via an iPhone (or other mobile phone). I have not tried either Hangouts or Concert Widow from my iPad, which may be a better option for both – the new iPad cameras are fantastic. In general, I would like to see all of these services move to a 100% mobile option for broadcast as well as viewing, after initial profile setup via the desktop.
So, if you haven’t signed up for Concert Window yet, use Alex Winters’ referral link http://www.concertwindow.com/create-a-show/65rzif224ba (it costs you nothing and gets her come extra bucks!)
Have you tried Concert Window? What has your experience been with it? Do you have other suggestions for streaming performance platforms? Please share your comments and suggestions below.