V.com weekend vote: Are you willing to pay for a livestream performance?

July 10, 2020, 4:49 PM · Each week, I receive a variety of e-mails announcing livestream performances. Some streams are free, others are not.

pay for streaming

As I review the offerings, my heart breaks for the performers who have lost work and are struggling through the pandemic. Many artists have watched their calendars go from full to empty, as spring, summer, and fall concerts were cancelled. Four months into the pandemic, we’re starting to see a few socially-distanced performances. But as reentry to concert halls continues to be on hold, “ticketed” livestreams are becoming more prevalent.

This week, I wrote about the live reunion of the Miró Quartet, who will perform all 16 Beethoven string quartets from July 16 to August 8. The price for a 12-concert pass is $120, which translates to just $10 per performance. Worth it? Ticket buyers will decide. I must say, I hope they decide it is. I personally think it’s as valid an approach as it is to charge for online lessons. Yes, there’s a difference between live and virtual. But there’s still great value being provided online, as well as the opportunity to reach a broader audience than ever.

Let’s take the Miro’s performances as an example. The original plan was for the quartet to perform in Washington state. I certainly would not have been able to attend. Now, I have the opportunity to hear this wonderful quartet perform live for only $10. In addition, I can download the scores from IMSLP (for free) and follow along — something I couldn’t do if I were sitting in a real venue. And I’ll have a better view of the musicians than from the “nosebleed” seats I can typically afford.

Don’t let my bias sway you. Trust me, I’ll be one of the first back in the concert halls when they are safe to reopen. I’m not saying streaming should replace in-person attendance. But it does have some upsides. What do you think? Please choose whatever answer corresponds best to your current thinking, then share your thoughts in the comments. It would be great if you would also comment on your livestream experiences to date.


July 11, 2020 at 11:30 AM · I'm not a fan of the streaming tsunami. The public doesn't need to pay for online entertainment content because through the miracle of Youtube and other online sites, we have always had the ability to watch/hear fabulous current and past performances without charge. In hindsight, perhaps individuals and organizations now regret having actively or passively permitted/encouraged the distribution of their work without monetizing it from the beginning. While individuals and small ensembles might be able to convince a percentage of the public to pay something for their online efforts, this is not a plan which can sustain performing arts organizations. Ours is a business, and like all others it requires considerable count-on-able revenues to remain viable. I would advocate for focusing on the creation (in appropriate increments) of the new world of LIVE performances for LIVE audiences while caring for everyone's health and safety. Without attention to this, and until the COVID crisis is over (if ever), there can be no sustainable business plans for large performing arts organizations. And without their survival, major orchestras and theatrical enterprises (and their repertoire) will become an asterisk about 21st Century world culture.

July 11, 2020 at 12:48 PM · Thank you, Diana, for focusing on this very relevant topic, especially today!

Obviously, in an absurd reality like this pandemic, we have no choice, but to enjoy streaming performances. But I will speak in general, pretending that this is all over and we are back to being able to go to concerts.

Of course, I agree with most of us, that life music is not to be compared to or replaced with anything. No equipment, regardless of how sophisticated it is, can substitute the physical vibration, which is what sound is. But, nevertheless, when we listen to recordings of Heifetz, Szeryng, Oistrakh, Casals, Kreisler, Rubinstein and Callas, we can clearly distinguish their sound from each other without ever having heard them live. So, the microphone can capture a great deal of the sound quality and individuality. And if there weren’t any microphones, what would we be like as musicians, if he had never heard those luminous musicians?! So, if the quality of the sound capture is professionally done, a recording or a streaming performance can deliver to you an experience that otherwise you wouldn’t be able to have, plus all the pluses that you already mentioned. Yes, I will definitely be willing to pay for a streamed concert. Would I still do it, if I could physically go to the same performance? Probably not:)

Miro Hristov

July 11, 2020 at 01:22 PM · A live stream would have to have multiple quality camera angles

July 11, 2020 at 02:12 PM · I said I would pay the same just because I think local orchestras are probably hurting right now and that would be a fairly painless way to be making a donation. I think the value of the performance is less than the value of a concert-hall performance -- to me -- but the orchestra's expenses will be just as great if not higher.

July 11, 2020 at 02:49 PM · I'm quite willing to pay to both see and hear a performance. That being said, I would much prefer (and be willing to pay extra) a DVD. Why, because computer audio sucks! I have a good DVD player, 60" flat-screen, Great Sony Amp and High End Speakers.

Yes I can route the live stream to my flat-screen but there is no way to take the sound from the screen to my amp and speakers so I'm left with the speakers built into the flat-screen.

Since a DVD is permanent and will have both production and distribution costs I will expect to pay more than just the ticket price (although we must consider that most venues now record all performances).

I love "Great Performances" which, with my setup, gives me both the visual and audio in high quality (and I can store it on my DVR) but these performances are rare and the musicians are/were paid.

If these groups produce a DVD I'll buy it in a heartbeat.

July 11, 2020 at 02:54 PM · I think if performance is going online, it should take more of a patreon type set up, with supporter sending monthly donation and having a chance to suggest the repertoire the orchestra will play in the future.

My problem is I went to live performance partly as a social event. The type and quality of the music, performer is only one factor. Getting to spend time with my friends and have an enjoyable evening is another factor. When the performance goes online, the latter factor becomes very awkward. Should we each get a drink from our own fridge and have a zoom meeting to talk about the concert?

I also think that the online performance should involve more pre-concert live-stream interview with some viewers interaction, or just as educational of the history and music we listen to, or occasional out reach like Q&A with your paterons to make it attractive.

July 11, 2020 at 06:45 PM · I’m paying full as if it was a “standard” concert. Online concerts/performances and even the ones available on YouTube for free requires them (musicians and all supporting personnel) to work. I’d feel really bad if I didn’t get paid for my professional job. Don’t you?

P.S. I’m one of those who thinks some of the online streaming music services are way too expensive like the “digitalconcerthall”, though.

July 11, 2020 at 06:47 PM · George Wells makes a great point to me. I hate being saddled for hours staring at a screen. It's not the same as sitting in a concert hall--many more distractions. The movie of the Guarneri Quartet, "High Fidelity", ends with them playing the final movement of Beethoven's Opus 59, No. 3, which I have watched over and over. But I would gladly pay for a DVD set of a Beethoven quartet cycle.

July 11, 2020 at 07:29 PM · I am so appreciative of these thoughtful, insightful comments! Please keep them coming! It is really valuable to hear your reactions, which I plan to personally pass along to music producers in my area who are grappling with these issues. (Francesca, I love "High Fidelity" and haven't thought of it in awhile. What a wonderful DVD!)

July 11, 2020 at 08:07 PM · Sitting at my computer is not the same as sitting at a live performance. So yes, I would pay for certain online concerts and would be happy to donate but they'd have to be special.

July 11, 2020 at 09:35 PM · I would gladly support the emerging efforts of live streaming performances, and I think it deserves our financial support. There is, however, one qualification for me, and it is a deal-breaker if it is not present:

It *must* offer hi-res (that is, CD-quality) audio, and it must be disclosed in the “fine print” before I purchase access to a performance. I don’t listen to compressed music, period. What currently passes as acceptable audio quality in the online marketplace is not acceptable for me. I understand there are bandwidth issues on both ends of the stream — cost on the tech end to generate the stream, as well as any data caps an audience member might be up against, but those issues will have to be worked out by the promoter and AV professionals. Perhaps tiered ticket prices can be offered, a lower charge for those needing to stream at a more narrow bandwidth and are ok with listening at a lower bit rate. Bottom line for me — I’m not going to be paying to sit through a performance of “tinny” audio.

I’m willing to pay the market rate for what it costs to produce and upload a streaming event, but as a listener, it’s all about the quality of the sound. Without high quality audio, I don’t see the point.

July 12, 2020 at 01:11 AM · I have no problem contributing money to a performance, however, let's not lose our perspective here. A performance is not an isolated event because the performer does her or her job. The audience is a major part of the event. Movies expect audiences that are not present. However, live performance in dance, theater, and music need people to watch and listen. Without a genuine, live audience, they are not singular. They lack the risks of success, failure, and spontaneity. Now, to be fair we live in a unique time, and we have no idea how long this will last. For the moment, we need to be careful, work together, and get through this so we can all return to the magic of a live performance. Therefore, give what you can. It's not the fault of the performers. This is their job, their contribution to our collective lives. Until things change - and I hope they do - if you are going to watch what they do - give them some money. All of us want this to end, but we don't want this pandemic to turn genuine human artistic interaction into a memory.

July 12, 2020 at 04:18 PM · I voted honestly - there was no simple vote for 'No, I would not pay', so I chose the nearest option, 'I might donate at the end'.

Of course, I know that I *ought* to pay but the fact is that this lockdown has depressed me and I am not listening to music at all. Plus, I don't normally listen to livestreamed music in any case, but either go to a concert, or listen to my own cds, or listen to You~Tube videos.

I am sorry that musicians are suffering, but I would rather contribute to an appeal by my local baroque group or sponsor the making of a cd by a group I admire (say).

I just know that I haven't got the concentration or willpower to pay proper attention to livestreamed music just now.

Truthfully, there's no substitute for being able to listen to a live orchestra or soloist in the company of a whole lot of other music lovers in the flesh.

July 13, 2020 at 06:22 AM · I would be willing to pay full price for a livestreamed performance IF they were to offer something that compensates for the lower audio quality, possibility of interruption, and loss of the live music experience. Although you lose something by livestreaming, I think being on the internet also allows for possibilities that are harder to include in a live performance. The educational component could be greatly expanded beyond the traditional offerings of program notes and a conductor's pre-concert talk. Q&A before or after the concert seems like a good idea. One possibility I've thought of that I'd definitely take advantage of at least some of the time if it were offered: live annotations available in a collapsible side window during the performance for viewers who want to see them, which could be written in advance and posted in real time. Also, multiple camera angles for viewers to choose from would be interesting for at least some people. I'm sure arts organizations can get creative and come up with other ideas for online presentation -- this is just what I could think of off the top of my head.

I selected the "full price" choice in the poll. For a livestream without additional features, I would probably not be willing to pay full price, but I would be willing to pay a substantial portion of it -- 75-80%, probably, and "a fraction" implies much less than that.

July 13, 2020 at 02:20 PM · Thanks again to everyone who wrote these wonderful comments! There are some great ideas here that I will certainly pass around in my community. And I'm sure others will do the same.

July 14, 2020 at 07:26 PM · Diana you wrote: "The price for a 12-concert pass is $120, which translates to just $10 per performance. Worth it?". My answer is "Only if you actually listen to all concerts" - I hope their marketing strategy is better than it appears to be!

July 16, 2020 at 02:44 PM · John: You raise a very good point. I should have mentioned there is also a per concert price of $20 and a six-concert bundle of your choice of concerts for $60.

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