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It’s time to monetise virtual concerts

in the groove:with Fred Zindi

“Prof Zindi, I know that you are good friends with my boss, but this information I am giving you is strictly between you and me. Please don’t put my name in the paper. This is to let you know that I have quit my band and I am now into tobacco farming, but I am still yet to tell my boss. This is because since April, he has not even made one single phone call to us just to find out how we are coping in this coronavirus pandemic era,” roared one bass player with a popular music group who wishes to remain anonymous after I asked him how their group was doing.

“He knows that we have not had a single concert since the outbreak of the pandemic. We have not had a single band rehearsal for the last six months, but he still considers us his musicians. Not me. We did a virtual concert on ZBC in April and were told that we would be paid for it, but up to now we have not seen even one bond note from those quarters.”

We wonder if ZBC paid for the virtual concerts in which they featured local artistes for public consumption. If they did, then why was this bassist not paid?

If not, it means that ZBC did not have a budget for such a programme. However, if ZBC had asked for donations from the public for such a programme, I am absolutely certain that some well-to-do members of the public plus some die-hard fans would have pledged to contribute something towards that virtual concert which featured their favourite artistes.

All ZBC needed to do was to advertise in advance that they were proposing to do an online concert featuring the likes of Winky D, Alick Macheso and Jah Prayzah, among others, on a certain date, but this concert would depend on public donations in order to pay the artistes. The response was bound to be good as Zimbabweans are starved of entertainment.

I watched the Coronavirus 1 Concert on Facebook run by a small group of musicians from the United States, which raised over US$10 000 in one night. This was done through their Go Fund Me platform and fans were willing to pay to watch these musicians on Facebook. According to these musicians, they made more money in one day than they would have made from three gigs. This, to me, instead of being on the Facebook platform, would have been better perceived if it was done through national television here in Zimbabwe.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the global economy and one of the most affected sectors is the live music industry — the very industry that brings your favourite artistes and idols to your city. This has been prevented from happening since the World Health Organisation’s regulations forbid the gathering of more than 50 persons in one place during the coronavirus pandemic.

Based on a small survey of 100 musicians in Harare and Bulawayo, 75% of them are thinking of quitting the industry because they are deeply concerned about how they are going to pay their electricity and water bills, their children’s school fees and how they are going to continue to put food on the table while waiting for the industry to open up again. Twenty-six percent of those surveyed are already experiencing loss of income. Some predict the outbreak could continue for seven months, while others fear it will last longer.

Although some artistes have gone live online, many of these “free” online events are merely casual livestreams that do not do justice to the thousands of dollars paid by fans to attend the actual offline concerts.

In order to sustain everyone who puts on live events as part of their livelihood, there is critical need to find effective ways to derive actual income from online concerts.

The most common way of putting on a virtual show is to take the entire offline concert and dump it into an online stream. A lot of artistes and their fans think that this is a simple exercise. However, it is not easy. It requires a lot of preparation bearing in mind the health regulations such as social distancing, wearing of masks and sanitisation. A digital experience is uniquely different from the experience of attending a concert. However, money can be made through digital performances if the consumer is asked to pay to hear their favourite band play. Just like with the old-fashioned juke boxes, one can select a favourite group and hear their favourite songs for a fee. The logistics of such technology can be put in place very simply in the same manner that Spotify, Itunes and other digital platforms make their customers pay for the music of their choice.

In Western societies, Big Hit Entertainment took advantage of what social media could offer — a channel for diehard fans to interact with the band (all the way down to a personal level) and offering behind-the-scenes access to their everyday lives, but for a fee.

Remember that the revenue derived from online events can never be on par with the revenue from an actual concert, just like paying for a licence to watch ZTV in the comfort of your home is a lot cheaper than buying a ticket to the actual event.

The same goes for the cost as well. It’s a lot cheaper to run a live virtual concert, but this doesn’t mean artistes should perform in their pyjamas in the backyard of their house. In order to get fans to bridge that (the willingness to pay for an online service), sufficient value needs to be delivered to make them want to pay.

Online streaming also offers many advantages, such as fan interaction and behind-the-scenes experiences that should be exploited. Artistes can also take advantage of the digital platform to advertise their products such as new music and fan memorabilia. They can also interact with their fans virtually.

Online concerts should do the same thing. For instance, if a fan wants to interact with, say, Jah Prayzah and find out more about his daily livelihood, they must pay for that service through livestream. Some examples include engaging in audience interaction via live chat — YouTube livestream comes built-in with this; replying to chats and comments, as well as encouraging song requests; conducting a live tour around an artiste’s home or studio, drawing the line between what is private and what is accessible to fans; introducing the artiste’s crew to the audience.

Instead of asking fans to pay for tickets, the virtual concert can be turned into a donation drive. Online concerts should not be just about songs and music.

They should also be about the experience that is shared with fans. Consider having different sections in a two-hour-long livestream, where at some intervals, fan interaction is prioritised.

Monetising is always difficult for online services and that includes online events. However, some have succeeded in this area such as the thousands of YouTubers around the world who are monetising from advertisements and paid subscriptions services such as Patreon.

Popular online gamers are even making a living live-streaming their gameplays on Twich.

In South Korea, a famous online streaming platform called Afreecatv.com offers individuals to livestream basically anything and be rewarded with virtual balloons that they can convert to actual cash (minus a percentage taken by the platform).

According to Afreecatv’s 2019 financial report, they paid almost US$20 million in commissions to all their online streamers, known as BJs (broadcasting jockeys). One streamer actually received US$100 000 worth of virtual balloons from an adoring fan!

To Zimbabwean artistes, I say it is time to swallow your pride and begin to monetise your virtual concerts! Yes, we can!
l Feedback: frezindi@gmail.com

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