Even if live concerts return, stream here to stay in Michigan


Just days before the pandemic brought life to Metro Detroit and the world to a standstill in March last year, Stephen Wogaman, president of the Chamber Music Society of Detroit, spoke to his brother, an IT consultant, on the phone.

His brother asked what Wogaman was doing against COVID-19.

“I said, ‘Well, I heard about it,'” Wogaman recalls. “He said, ‘You have to be careful.”

Soon it was him. COVID has turned the season of chamber music societies and cultural institutions everywhere on its head, forcing them to quickly switch to streaming and webcast appearances, which they had not done before.

But that change – which included quickly figuring out what equipment was best for streaming, perfecting the audio, and figuring out how to create the best quality webcast – was a step forward for the Chamber Music Society.

Even as they prepare for the 2021-22 season that starts in September, they’re not walking away from the webcasts they perfected during COVID. They offer live performances but also stream them for those who want to watch from home or remotely.

“When we get out of this time – carefully – we see it as a way to expand our audience to facilitate connections from viewers who may not be entirely comfortable when they come back,” said Wogaman.

Live concerts and performances may again be happening in venues across the region, but streaming is here to stay in some venues, especially when it comes to classical, chamber, and folk music. Some say they can reach an even larger audience well beyond Michigan through streaming or with accessibility issues.

“It’s an important tool and access point,” said Marianne James, general manager of The Ark, a well-known downtown Ann Arbor folk music venue that streamed its popular folk festival in January. “It doesn’t replace live performances, but it can really accompany that and give the artists and the performances more reach.”

But could streaming concerts prevent people from buying tickets to see shows in person as some are concerned? We will see.

Dinner with the DSO

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra, a leader in webcasting, has been offering digital concerts for years, but has added its pop concerts to its offering during COVID-19. Anne Parsons, the president and CEO of the DSO, said she had several subscribers tell her how much they enjoyed the concerts streamed during the pandemic and sat down to “have dinner with the DSO”.

“When we have these concerts, they are unique,” said Parsons, referring to the pop concerts. “You tend not to be captured and should be – and shared with the world.”

For this year’s Concert of Colors, the largest free music festival in the Midwest, which runs through Monday, the format was a mix of live, streaming and broadcast performances. Last year’s Concert of Colors, which was completely streamed, had 162,000 listeners and views.

“We don’t want to give that up completely,” says Ismael Ahmed, founder and longtime director of Concert of Colors.

But like James at the Ark, Wogaman agrees that streaming is not an alternative to live music. He said it is “without a doubt” the “superior” way to listen to music in person, but the pandemic has caused groups like his to in some ways rethink their approach.

“A webcast captures this amazing sense of collaboration,” especially when it comes to chamber music, Wogaman said. “And it puts you in the front row when you’re in your living room.”

Learning curve

Before Wogaman even got out of the car after this phone call with his brother – who works at Gartner, a well-known IT consultancy – he was already thinking about the next steps the chamber would take. He called the manager of the next act in March and asked if they wanted to stream their performance instead of performing live and offered to pay 40% of their fee.

“For the next week, two days after the World Health Organization declared the pandemic, we had an audience of 3,000 people watching our first webcast,” said Wogaman.

They streamed another show three weeks later. All in all, the Chamber Music Society of Detroit has streamed more than 30 concerts with more than 60 other music presenters across the country on its CameraMusic platform since COVID, reaching audiences of nearly 200,000 people on six continents.

The Ark also started a livestream concert series called the Ark Family Room series during COVID. They broadcast over 100 live stream shows.

“People really appreciated having access to it,” said James. “It was a great way to bring artists and audiences together.”

But it was a learning curve for venues. The Chamber Music Society of Detroit invested more than $ 10,000 in streaming equipment – they now use a live video streaming platform called Resi – and Wogaman even started streaming services at his Episcopal Church in Birmingham to get more exercise.

“I personally learned how to do everything – all the technical stuff about webcasting,” said Wogaman. “It wasn’t like we hired anyone. We bought the equipment, we learned how to use it, we bought the licenses for the streaming equipment.”

One thing they have noticed on Wogaman’s church webcasts is that people who normally did not attend church or who might be considered trapped “were suddenly much more connected than ever before to service.”

This approach could also help aging customers who, for a variety of reasons, are unable to attend live performances.

“For me, the most exciting thing about this skill, which we spent hundreds of hours studying and receiving tens of thousands of dollars, is now being able to do things we never thought possible,” said Wogaman. “We flipped a switch and there it is.”

Every program presented by the Chamber this year will also be streamed. They’ll also be selling digital subscriptions to concerts and something called Digital Plus that also allows customers to attend two concerts in person.

In fact, the Chamber Society of Detroit now has so much streaming equipment – which Wogaman has been driving across the Midwest and East to stream concerts – that they’re creating a set to make available to nonprofit groups.

blessing and curse

The DSO launched its digital on-demand archive of performances called DSO Replay in 2015, making it the first streaming archive for an American orchestra. The orchestra has already been a leader in webcasting its performances.

But not every cultural institution is dedicated to streaming.

Streaming appearances haven’t explored the Michigan Opera Theater, said Christine Goerke, the MOT’s new assistant artistic director, “but I think it’s here to get in his way.”

“There are things that are specifically designed for streaming. It’s a different animal, ”says Goerke. “To create a piece that should be shot like you’re watching a movie? There is another art form. This is different from us. Maybe we can create something completely new. “

The Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD series broadcasts its operas in more than 2,000 cinemas across the country and in 70 countries around the world. But there is a downside to these HD programs, said Goerke.

“When these HD programs came out, it was a wonderful thing for the people who lived far away, but it also reduced the subscription audience,” she said. “You could just go to your cinema instead of driving three hours to a live performance. That’s a blessing and a curse.”

James von der Arche said that even with the artists they book they face a fear of deterring the live audience. She said there was “a general reluctance” by some artists to stream their performances.

“Artists are really focused on being in a room with people,” she said.

Nevertheless, the Arche is checking which services it could still stream and which equipment it needs. It will likely start with its free Artist Spotlight Series when it returns this fall.

“We learned so much and the audience went so far and accessed this technology,” said James. “A lot of people hesitated, like in ‘I won’t do that’. Others have found that they really like this approach.”

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