The Telephone Game of Live-Streamed Performances
It is a typical Friday afternoon – I’m rehearsing with my trio for our upcoming concert, which eventually morphs into a much-needed creative discussion about our future projects, unpredictable Covid restrictions and – most importantly – if we should wear matching outfits for the performance. All of us are blissfully unaware of what is to come although it is not our first live-streamed concert.
We soon receive an unexpected call from the manager of the event – he wants us to visit the venue, meet with the sound engineers and decide on the scenario for the event. This itself is not an unexpected request – after some very unfortunate experiences in the past, we very much prefer to have a clear plan of the event beforehand. The fact he wants us to meet three days prior the event is a bit unusual. I wonder if the sound engineers and camera crew also will be there and I suspect, they will not.
Once we arrive at the venue, we meet the event manager – a very energetic man in his early twenties. He wants to know how we want the stage to be set up, what microphones we want to use, the programme of the event up to the millisecond and many other things which, although important, could be discussed over the phone. We give him all the information we possibly can, but when it is our time to ask questions – about the sound, lights and other factors that could affect the quality of the performance – as I predicted, he announces that sound and light people will be here on Monday before our concert, and we can discuss everything with them then. So basically, at this point the only aspect we have agreed on is that the piano should be in the center of the stage and preferably tuned!
Monday comes and we are back at the venue for the sound and light check. As I predicted, the piano is still in the corner of the stage (the manager insists on keeping it there because it will look “interesting” on camera). After a long discussion, the piano travels to its rightful place in the center of the stage and then the real “fun” begins.
I notice that there are no microphone stands anywhere and the sound check should start in 5 minutes. I find the sound engineer and very carefully ask about the microphones. He seems offended by my lack of trust in his professional abilities, which is probably justified, so I return to the stage and hope for the microphones to appear.
The next surprise comes when a member of the filming crew announces that our music stands should be no higher than our waists. We try to explain that we would be very happy if we could actually see the music, if we want this concert to happen, so the stands will have to be as high as it is comfortable for us.
I understand that we all have different priorities here – we, musicians, are more concerned about the quality of the performance which means we have to see the score, each other, not be blinded by the lights, or put in awkward places for the benefit of the good camera view. The camera crew’s and sound engineers’ main concern is obviously the visual and audial part of the event, which is important, I agree, so we have to somehow find the middle ground.
The sound engineer finally makes his entrance holding two little microphone-like objects and happily approaches me and the flautist. I am still hoping to see a microphone stand, but apparently the sound god of this venue has something better in mind. He very enthusiastically tries to attach the microphone to my violin, telling me that it will look so much better without the stands in the picture. I must admit, he is probably right – it would look better, at least until I accidentally rip it off, so I try to decline as politely as I can. Thankfully, he does not seem to care enough to argue, and we finally get our stands. However, he insists on placing it behind me despite my warning that I will most likely hit the microphone with my bow.
After all this hopefully intelligent exchange of words, we can finally begin our sound check. Thankfully, the sound samples they play back to us are surprisingly good, so we feel like everything is sorted.
The concert begins and we try our best to think about the audience behind the camera, because we know it is there, although all we see are three cameras and a couple of sleepy camera operators. Of course, I hit the microphone at least three times with my bow and I see the sound engineer wincing every time, but I warned him this will happen, so I do not feel very guilty about it. As we go through the concert, the nerves settle, and we even manage to have fun. The only concern that still lingers is - what the audience hears and sees on the other side of the screen?
After the live-stream is done, I immediately try to catch some moments of the concert on Facebook just to make sure the sound quality was decent. I notice that the sound is not perfectly synchronized, but otherwise it all looks and sounds well. Now is the time to let out the breath I was holding.
Tatjana Ostrovska is Latvian violinist and researcher. She holds MMus degree from Guildhall School of Music and Drama and Mg. Art. degree from J. Vitols Latvian Academy of Music, and is currently a doctoral researcher at Guildhall School of Music and Drama.