The Czech violin virtuoso Pavel Sporcl has started a livestreamed recital series from his living room.
Nothing unsual about that. But unlike the major institutions, who can afford to stream content online for free, Pavel needs to charge viewers in order to meet his expenses. Unexpectedly, he’s in profit.
In this exclusive article for Slipped Disc, Pavel explains how he does it, and how much people should pay:
It is unfortunately an obvious thing to say that this situation is very critical for so many of us in the music industry. Here in the Czech Republic they have closed all the theatres and concert-halls, and gatherings of more than 10 people are banned. We have all lost many concerts – at this moment I was supposed to be playing six concerts in California, then return for a competition jury and then more concerts. God knows how long it will take for these opportunities to come back and we are all losing money in the meantime. As with other industries, we musicians have to find ways to earn back a little of the money we are losing. And while streaming of concerts is now very established, a single musician charging viewers to watch his streamed concerts is not – but I’ve decided to do it, to see if it works. The early signs, I’m happy to say, have been very promising.
I started with a preview concert-cum-public-rehearsal last Friday, streamed directly from my own living-room. I’ve always resisted having any public film or photographs in my home, but in this situation where so many of us are effectively isolated, I wanted to feel close to the viewers, and I wanted them to feel close to me, and to the music. My wife agreed and helped me put it together. We didn’t want to endanger anyone by bringing outsiders physically into our home (not least because we have an older relative staying with us) so I couldn’t bring other musicians or a proper AV set-up. I bought a new microphone for my phone, used a backing track and we just did our best.
It was a great success. Two thousand people watched the concert live, and two days later we’re up to 51,000 views and hundreds of enthusiastic comments! I asked people to send photos of themselves watching the concert so that I could get a sense of them as well as them seeing me – we had lots of pics of people watching it in their pyjamas, some dressed up to make it an occasion, and there was a very touching picture of a grandaughter playing it to her aged grandmother in the hospital. Some of the Czech newspapers covered it, and what was very nice is that many of the viewers asked how they could pay for the concert!
Musicians are often expected to perform for free, but we are not in a war and we all have to make some kind of living. It’s no use sitting at home saying that the world is so bad to us – because we have opportunities, if we use our imagination and the technology around us. And incidentally, free streaming is not even free to the performer; it takes so much time to produce any kind of concert, to select and rehearse repertoire, to organise the logistics and, as in this case, to buy equipment one might need (I’ll buy some more equipment for the next one – I’ll use a video-camera instead of a phone – and will also use the services of my technician, working remotely).
While there are times when free concert streams can be in musicians’ interests (and archive videos on YouTube are a different matter), I still generally believe that the music and musicians are devalued if people are trained to get it for free. Audiences understand that there is so much work involved, but – as I saw from those messages of people wanting to pay for the livestream the other evening – they also understand that paying means they are actively involved. They help make the concerts happen, and just now they feel that they are part of something special in this horrible situation and that we are all in the same boat.
So I will hold two concerts every week, the next being this Wednesday and then after that they’ll be held every Friday and every Tuesday, with a low ticket-price of around seven Euros. Tickets are being sold from my website’s shop here and I’m happy to say that when I checked yesterday (Saturday) we had already sold several hundred tickets for this Tuesday’s concert. For the next one I will include the Bach Chaconne, some of the Paganini caprices, My own composition Kde domov muj (Where Is My Homeland?, variations on the Czech national anthem).
I even have plans for full concertos and all sortsof repertoire – even if it has to be karaoke-style with backing-track. And who knows, maybe this experimental series will bring in new audiences. Even if it doesn’t, I hope it’s a precedent to help my
fellow musicians and I, bringing comfort to our audiences – and some to us.