Streaming L(o)ive In The Time of COVID-19: What’s the future for DJ live streaming?

Weeks have passed, and DJs the world over have settled into the reality of sheltering in place. As efforts to combat COVID-19 push on, the masses are staying at home. Clubs have shuttered their doors, bars and restaurants are no more, and non-essential businesses are closed.

But in this primetime of social distancing, there has been a light for many music lovers and creators. It’s come as no surprise that livestreaming has become incredibly popular; a new Streamlabs report shared that Twitch viewership has reached an all-time high for hours both watched and streamed.

Twitch total watch hours graph
via Streamlabs

The correlation is obvious on everyone’s social feeds: the amount of DJs livestreaming online has skyrocketed. Any and every bedroom DJ has realized that with the right gear setup (or even without one, really), they too can broadcast to the worldwide web. Artists have started sharing their passion on Facebook, Twitch, Youtube, Instagram Live, and beyond.

But at what point do we hit peak oversaturation? Are we entertained, or are we just bored? Will this benefit the global DJ community, or will it become too much? How long will we see this trend stick around, if at all, once the world goes back to normal?

How Much DJ Livestreaming Is Too Much?

The endless red “live” buttons you see scrolling through Facebook nowadays have become a bit overwhelming.

Nine different DJs streaming on Facebook on the afternoon of Friday, April 17th

It’s like going to a slew of nightclubs (some great, some not) every night, for weeks on end. Production looks fantastic in some places. Some spots have their sound dialed in, others sound distorted and blown out. Many streams are high resolution, but some remain blurry.

You’re not sure what you’ll get with each DJ’s livestream, either. Do they know how to talk to a camera with no one around? Are their personalities or performances the same as they would be on a main stage at your favorite festival?

The burnout point is a noteworthy consideration, too. After a certain amount of consumption, as is with many new forms of entertainment that come about, people eventually lose interest. It’s like downloading a new app and trying it out for a few days, and then forgetting it exists and deleting it a week (or in our case, maybe months) later. It happens. Burnout is real.

Will Streaming Stick Around? Here’s Where This Could All Go…

In the long term, ravers will return to the dance floor. DJs will return to the decks. Normal people living their lives outside of the houses will continue to do so. We won’t all be stuck at home staring at our screens, looking for something to watch, yearning for music to dance to. And that begs the question: will people still want to watch their favorite DJs livestream?

There are a few different ways we could see this going.

Option A: No Quarantine, Less Livestream, Back To Real Dancefloors

In reality, DJ livestreaming probably won’t last at its current capacity. The cultural concept of choosing to dedicate time to human interaction and stray from screens and social media was obviously—and understandably— thrown to the wind with COVID-19. That likely means, though, that it’ll come back even stronger than ever.

Photo by Sarthak Navjivan on Unsplash

Let’s be honest: nothing can replace that indescribable moment when you find yourself in the middle of the dancefloor moving to a talented DJ, appreciating the sounds filling your ears and the people surrounding you. Club culture has thrived for years because we thrive on experiences like this. And when we can return to nightlife once more, people will step away from their screens and spend their evenings engaging with music in the way they know best. Ultimately, the popularity of livestreaming is being fed by the masses because they’re stuck at home. Once they’re able to leave their homes, viewership will decrease and people will seek out in-person musical endeavors instead.

It’s not just the viewers to consider here, either. The artists who are filling our feeds with their livestreams will go back to their gigs. From global mainstream artists to local DJs around town, those playing to their webcams now may not continue to do so once the shelter-in-place is lifted. Many artists depend on the cash flow that comes with performing, and livestreaming doesn’t pay out at the same level.

Option A sees the quarantine period as livestreaming’s peak, and predicts that it’ll die down when life goes back to normal. That said, it’s important to keep in mind that many major names in the electronic scene (Anjunabeats and Monstercat labels, Tomorrowland, the Cercle event series) have major livestream presences that existed prior to this, and will continue to do so regardless.

Option B: Streaming Stays Strong

If there’s one thing that time spent social distancing has proven, it’s that content dominates. People love watching notable producers talk about secret Ableton tricks, getting an “insider’s look” at studios, and watching sets streamed straight to their own living rooms. Perhaps this spike in livestreaming is here to stay. Option B predicts that this pattern will stay its course even after we return to regular.

Artists that are making names for themselves with livestreams have arguably chosen the best time to do so – now’s the time to craft a consistent and entertaining brand, and capitalize on maintaining that momentum. Many may choose to continue moving along this path, as fans will see this as a more personal way to get to know their favorite DJs.

Livestreaming may also lead to a spike in popularity for pre-recorded YouTube videos from artists as well. The door to online content possibilities has opened wider now more than ever, especially as music lovers realize how much they appreciate the availability of online content from musicians they admire.

We’ve already seen success with artists like Marc Rebillet (above), whose noteworthy fame came from his looping-on-the-fly videos that have dominated the internet. Rebillet has moved to livestreaming videos as of late, but it’s unclear if he’ll stay this course, or head back to solely his video production prowess.

Option C: A Balance Between The Two

This third option sits in the middle of Options A and B. Here, we see a decrease in livestreaming popularity, but artists who’ve found popularity with their livestreams will continue to do so.

Those dedicated to the dancefloor and distanced from their screens will return to their favorite nightclubs, renegades, and festivals. But for larger names across the industry that can often only be seen on main stages, the personal aspect within the livestreaming opportunity is a fantastic way to build fan loyalty in ways beyond just the music they play.

Option D: Mainstream Takes Over

In the case that livestreaming does stay prominent, there’s a strong case that the same thing that has occurred in mainstream music culture would happen here. The major labels and “mega” artists will take over the streaming DJ sets game and gain mass followings, crowd the feeds, and be supported—and rewarded—by the livestreaming platforms. We’re already seeing indications of this with major names like Gabriel and Dresden and Diplo (see his stream with Dillon Francis below starting at 33 minutes).

One major downside to this is that overcrowding by mainstream DJs could lead to smaller artists becoming discouraged and less willing to participate. The creative up-and-comers may turn away from livestreaming because it’s so dominated by names people already know, and this just becomes another platform for just the “famous DJs.”

Option E: A Fair Way To Pay + We Fix Copyright

Maybe we’ll see more of this type of leniency in the coming weeks.

It’s worth considering the extent to which our quarantine will last, and what the impact of moving all DJ sets to livestreams for a number of months might have. Maybe this could shake out out to be beneficial for the livestreaming artists and labels – both small and large – in the long term.

Although copyright takedowns have continually been an issue on streaming services like Facebook and YouTube, there’s a chance that these platforms will allow their users to share copyrighted music with the masses, just like they would in a nightclub.

Typically IRL, nightclubs have their own entertainment licenses that allow artists to play music that you may not own the rights to. Livestreaming is obviously a different type of performance – one that the algorithms and licensing organizations haven’t caught up with. But perhaps the streaming giants recognize that for the time being, with no real end in sight, this is the only way to experience musical performances from artists we love. And with that, perhaps they’ll find a way to allow DJs to play copyrighted tracks.

For now, it’s unclear how long COVID-19 will maintain a stranglehold on the music world. The livestreaming will likely continue at full force until then. As for the fate of this new form of entertainment after it’s all over, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Want to join the hoards of DJs streaming on the interwebs? We wrote a pretty damn good how-to on livestreaming DJ sets.

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