Avoiding Virtual Event Pitfalls

Last week on Instagram R&B artist Babyface posted that he’d be doing a live stream on the weekend with Teddy Riley. You may not recognize them but if I said, “The guy who wrote all the good Boyz II Men songs is live streaming with the guy who did Michael Jackson’s Dangerous” a few more people might get that. Together they’ve had dozens of hits. If you’ve never looked into writers in this vein like Diane Warren or Max Martin I’ve added the brain-melting links.

Commander McBragg
“Did you know I invented the aeroplane?”

Everyone doing virtual events now has made me the Commander McBragg around here. For anyone not familiar with 1970’s cartoons (i.e. 99.9% of the people reading this,) McBragg was an old man with a moustache who would tell stories of his amazing adventures “That reminds me of the time I swam the English Channel…”

So, to McBragg, about 15 years ago I was doing a webinar with just over 400 attendees and everything went sideways. I don’t even remember what it was, maybe it was a bad invite link but 90% of the registrants couldn’t get in. This was startup life so it was one of those “failure is not an option” thing. It was one of those rare failures that even decades later is still not funny. The good news is that while I never cashed out my options for millions, the company has survived so at least I didn’t kill it.

I was thinking about that when I saw Teddy and Face crash and burn with over FOUR HUNDRED THOUSAND viewers on Saturday. After over an hour, they threw in the towel and took a second shot on Monday night which at least went off, not with a lot of “Can you hear me?” “I can hear you but you can’t hear me”, the Zoom dance which now everybody knows.

So what can we take away besides the coolness of me chatting technical support to Babyface along with Tyrese, Toni Braxton, Dr. Dre and 400,000 other people?

Getting Started

  1. For your first run, it can never be too simple. It’s easy to get excited and have grand plans – “Hey, let’s talk and share a whiteboard with this untested hardware too!” Teddy learned this fast, the first night he had a band and was ready to play, on the second try it was just him at the desk playing clips. Chris Martin got it right starting simple with #TogetherAtHome.
  2. Dry run a week before. Try to do a rehearsal that is as close to live as you can get. Use the email platform to send around the invites. Everybody in the same room they will be in for the event, using the same hardware, same mics and headphones, same laptops. The idea with exactly one week before is so you can do the same day and time. Oh, wait, everybody in the office is pounding our bandwidth at 1pm? Maybe the event should be at 3 or we should have IT give our traffic priority. Got a million followers on Instagram? Set up a dummy account to practice with.
  3. You can test, but only so much. Accept the thrill. As most software QA people can tell you, the only way to test 450k people banging around and doing the thing – is to have 450k people banging around and doing the thing. It’s not always the thrill of victory, everyone may see the agony of defeat. That’s ok. Be bold.
  4. Have a backup platform. I don’t know what the deal was here, I was surprised that they didn’t try to stream on YouTube or Facebook. Probably because that’s where the fans already are. That’s always been one thing we’ve been good at “Zoom doesn’t work? Try this hangout link.” “Zencastr’s not working for you? Here’s the Squadcast link.”
  5. Do the autopsy. Any time you crash and burn, go back and try to figure out why. And yes, unfortunately sometimes you won’t be able to, maybe the internet gods were just angry that day. If you do learn something add it to your checklist for the next one. After a couple of years you’ll have a comprehensive checklist of all the little things that can sink the ship. 

Getting Your Groove On

After giving up on Saturday night I went over to Facebook and Patrick Lamb was streaming and it was just him (Simple? Check.) sounding fantastic (Dry run? Check.) That made me think of a few things that were always in the software company live event promotion checklist that any musician could steal to get more out of there live streaming:

  1. It’s all about the promotion. Your number one goal is getting mobile numbers or email addresses from your fans. This way you don’t have the “My fans are all on Instagram” problem. You can send out email and text messages ahead of time “We’re going to be streaming THIS FRIDAY 8PM.” Don’t be afraid to give away free stuff for phone numbers and email addresses. BUILD YOUR LIST.
  2. Sell the space. Or even give it away free as you start. “If it’s your birthday this week or you want to ask someone to marry you I’ll throw it in the show!”
  3. Interact. You have the chat window, some better services allow you to have surveys, the very best ones let you download the results. This has been a proven tactic all the way back to B2B Confessions – you will not believe the kind of things people will answer when you have them on a live event. They’d never take a sales call but they are more than willing to tell you their budget and plans if it’s part of a survey before the show starts.
  4. ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS record and post. Think global – your fans are not all awake at 9pm, your favorite time to stream. And as much as they love you, they may love The Voice just as much (Monday night Babyface! Hello?) I always had events with less than 20 people that we would post and then would get thousands of views over the next few years. This is the real leverage, once you have a bunch of content in your library it just sits there getting watched and loved without you doing any work. Don’t rely on the platform to get it right, either! Record local, stream global.
  5. Clear, easy call to action. Not “Hey, go check out my merch page” it’s “Click this link and get this special offer for only today” if you own your songs “Venmo me $5 right now and tomorrow we’ll send you the mp3s from this session.” Hold your Venmo QR code up to the screen or print it on a card, that’s what it’s for! Independent musician Natalie Gelman does this superbly; she has a card with her Venmo and Paypal on it, stuck on a tripod over her shoulder the entire time she plays. Low tech, guaranteed to work every time.

Turning It Up to 11

Once you have those down here are some higher difficulty moves:

  1. Partner up. Find another artist and do an event with them – each of you mail your lists, maybe even offer up the mp3 of the songs afterwards (or link to a private YouTube video.) This is the fastest and easiest way to grow your list.
  2. Run social network ads.  The key here is targeting. You can run ads right in the hour before your event and target them: “Boyz II Men Fans, 35-55 years old, Philadelphia, Boston, Detroit” you don’t have to spend a ton of money. When we get back to a world where touring is a thing you focus just within 20 miles of where you’re going to be.

Have a great virtual event and as Christopher Penn says “Go break somebody’s leg!”

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