Feature Story

Tech helps actors and artists perform while in lockdown

by Jason Deign

Tech helps actors and artists perform while in lockdown

Performing arts professionals are swapping bright lights for consumer technology.

Technology is helping actors and artists stay in touch with audiences under lockdown. For many in the performing arts, homegrown live streams and recordings are taking the place of usual shows and concerts.

Artists around the world have already taken to livestreaming, and music mag Billboard has a constantly updating list of virtual concerts taking place around the world. Cisco and AppDynamics have already raised $11,000 for artists and charities with their own virtual concert. Free to anyone online, these livestreams are not just the domain of big-name acts.

In Barcelona, Spain, front man David Brown’s band Brazzaville cannot tour, so he is streaming weekly from Facebook and Instagram. Some bands in the city have even used streaming as a way to increase their audiences. A prime example is the Stay Homas, a group of three flat mates from different bands.

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This group shot to fame after streaming a new original song every day, with nothing but their mobiles, a guitar, and percussion. The band has since been snapped up by Sony Music, and it has caught the eye of major artists such as Michael Bublé, who has covered the Stay Homas song Gotta be Patient.

Mobile tech is also helping TV program makers to keep shows going under lockdown. Catalonia’s most popular comedy show, Polònia, faced going off air as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. But the team behind the show instead opted to put the program together every week using consumer technology.

“If you had asked us a few months ago whether we could do the program from home, we would have said ‘no’,” says producer Marc Martín.

Doing away with a TV studio was no easy feat. Apple iPhones and interior lighting took the place of professional cameras and lights. Scriptwriters had to forsake the buzz of the writers’ room for video conferencing sessions. The gamble paid off, though.

“The audience loved it,” says Martín, “Since then, we’ve been getting more ambitious with each episode.”

A silver lining for the TV sector is consumer technologies now offer high-spec audio and video. Streaming platforms are commonplace, and many production processes are based on network technologies. Thus, one of the biggest challenges in producing programs under lockdown has been getting the TV talent to adapt to working from home.

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“It’s the toughest situation I’ve ever seen in my life,” lamented Catalan comic and TV host Andreu Buenafuente in a recent interview.

Though for a lucky few, streaming to audiences is nothing new. The Berlin Philharmonic, for instance, first embraced streaming in 2008— long before anyone had heard of Spotify or Netflix. The Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall had a million registered users before COVID-19. While lockdown is hard on artists, the Digital Concert Hall is at least keeping fans engaged when real concert halls are closed.

Germany’s lockdown laws allow small groups of players to work together in the concert hall. So, the Philharmonic can continue using its digital recording and streaming equipment. And there’s even a chance the service could bring new fans into the fold.

The Philharmonic has given away 700,000 free 30-day trial subscriptions since lockdown began. “We’ve been in the streaming market for 12 years,” says Stanley Dodds of the Philharmonic’s media board. “That puts us in a unique position when people can’t go to a concert.

“I’m responsible for live broadcasts within the limits of what can be done,” he says. “It’s music for small groups of players, but we’re keeping the live music going.”

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