Just days before the pandemic interrupted life in the Detroit metro area and around the world in March last year, Stephen Wogaman, president of the Chamber Music Society of Detroit, was talking on the phone with his brother, a consultant. in computer science.
His brother asked what Wogaman was planning to do about COVID-19.
“I said, ‘Well, I heard about it,'” Wogaman recalls. “He said, ‘You have to be careful.’
Soon he was. COVID completely turned the Chamber Music Society season upside down, as it did all over cultural institutions, forcing them to quickly turn to streaming and webcast performances, which they never had. done before.
But that change – which involved 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 he prepares for his 2021-22 season, which begins in September, they aren’t straying from the webcasts they’ve perfected during COVID. They will offer live performances but will stream them at the same time for those who wish to watch from home or from a distance.
“As we come out of this time – with caution – we see it as a way to expand our audience, to facilitate connections from audience members who may not be entirely comfortable coming back,” Wogaman said.
Concerts and live performances may be making a comeback 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 far beyond Michigan through streaming or those with accessibility issues.
“It’s an important tool and access point,” said Marianne James, executive director of The Ark, a well-known folk music venue in downtown Ann Arbor that aired its popular folk festival in January. . “It doesn’t replace live performances, but it’s something that can really go with that and give artists and performances more reach.”
But could streaming concerts deter people from buying tickets to see shows in person, as some worry? Time will tell us.
Dinner with the DSO
The Detroit Symphony Orchestra, a leader in webcast presentation, has offered digital concerts for years, but expanded its offering during COVID-19 to include its pop concerts. Anne Parsons, CEO of DSO, said several subscribers told her how much they enjoyed the concerts that were broadcast during the pandemic, sitting down to “dine with the DSO.”
“When we have these gigs, they’re one of a kind,” Parsons said, referring to the pop gigs. “They tend not to be captured and they should be – and shared with the world.”
For this year’s Concert of Colors, the Midwest’s largest free music festival that runs through Monday, the format was a mix of live, broadcast and broadcast performances. Last year’s Concert of Colors, which was fully streamed, recorded 162,000 plays and views.
“We don’t want to give this up entirely,” said Ismael Ahmed, longtime founder and director of Concert of Colors.
But like James at the Ark, Wogaman agrees that streaming is not an alternative to live music. He said there is “no doubt” that hearing music in person is the “superior” way to experience it, but the pandemic has caused bands like his to rethink their approach. in some ways.
“A webcast captures this incredible sense of collaboration,” especially when it comes to chamber music, Wogaman said. “And that brings you to the front row when you’re in your living room.”
Even before Wogaman got out of the car after that phone call with his brother – who works with Gartner, a well-known company that does IT consulting work – he was already thinking about the bedroom’s next steps. He called the manager of his next act in March and asked if they would rather broadcast their performance than perform live, offering to pay 40% of their fees.
“The following 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, who noted that it was is five times the audience they would have had in person.
Three weeks later, they aired another show. In total, since COVID, the Chamber Music Society of Detroit has broadcast over 30 concerts to date with over 60 other music presenters across the country on its CameraMusic platform, reaching audiences of nearly 200,000 across six continents. .
The Ark also launched a series of live concerts during COVID called the Ark Family Room series. They broadcast over 100 live shows.
“People really appreciated having access to this,” James said. “It was a great way to keep performers and audience members together.”
But it has been a learning process for the sites. The Chamber Music Society of Detroit has invested more than $ 10,000 in streaming material – they now use a live video streaming platform called Resi – and Wogaman has even started broadcasting streaming services at his Episcopal Church in Birmingham to train more.
“Personally, I learned to do it all – all the technical webcast stuff,” Wogaman said. “It’s not that we hired someone. We bought the equipment, we learned how to use it, we bought the licenses for the streaming equipment.”
One thing they noticed with the Wogaman Church webcasts is that people who didn’t normally attend church, or who could be considered recluses, “were suddenly much more connected than they were. never have been. Because they were able to attend the service. “
This approach could also help aging clients who cannot attend live shows for all kinds of reasons.
“For me, the most exciting thing about this ability that we have spent hundreds of hours learning and tens of thousands of dollars obtaining is now that we are able to do things that we cannot do. ‘Never even imagined possible,’ Wogaman said. “We flipped a switch and there it is.”
Every program that the Chamber presents this year, they will also be broadcast. They will also sell digital subscriptions for concerts and something called Digital Plus which will allow customers to attend two concerts in person as well.
In fact, the Chamber Society of Detroit now has so much streaming equipment – which Wogaman has driven all over the Midwest and East to broadcast concerts – that they are creating a set that they plan to set aside for them. non-profit groups.
Blessing and curse
The DSO launched its on-demand digital archive of performances called DSO Replay in 2015, making it the first streaming archive of any American orchestra. The orchestra was already a leader in webcasting its performances.
But not all cultural institutions have turned to streaming.
Streaming performances are not yet something the Michigan Opera Theater has looked at, said Christine Goerke, MOT’s new associate artistic director, “but I think it’s here to stay on course.”
“There are things that were made especially for streaming. It’s a different animal,” Goerke said. “Creating a piece designed to be filmed as if you were watching a movie? There’s another art form. It’s different from what we do. Maybe we’re creating something brand new.”
The Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD series shows its operas in more than 2,000 theaters across the country and in 70 countries around the world. But there is a downside to these HD shows, Goerke said.
“When these HD shows came on, it was a wonderful thing for people who lived far away, but it also reduced the number of subscribers,” she said. “They could just go to their movies instead of driving three hours to see a live show. It’s a blessing and a curse.”
James de l’Arche said the fear of deterring live audiences is something they also encounter with the artists they book. She said there was “general reluctance” on the part of some artists to stream their performances.
“Artists are really focused on wanting to be in a room with people” right now, she said.
Nevertheless, L’Arche is studying the performances it could still broadcast and the equipment it will need. He will likely begin with his free Artist Spotlight series when he returns this fall.
“We have learned so much and the public has come so far and accessed this technology,” said James. “A lot of people were reluctant like in ‘I won’t do this.’ Others have found that they really like this access. “