More and more artists and institutions are turning to live streaming as a way to stay active and connected. And to get their work and exhibitions out there. In case you’ve never given it a try before but are now considering it, we’ve put together this simple guide to live streaming your art.
Live streaming existed before Covid-19, of course. And aside from being an alternative to the current widespread shutdown and lack of access to public spaces, live streaming can be an effective medium for engaging an audience via real-time interaction and discussion. What’s more, it makes it possible to open that discussion up and make it more accessible to a wider, international public.
What do you need to get started? Here are some tips for this and more on live streaming your art.
Why live stream?
Live streaming can put artists in a vulnerable position. You might feel pressure to perform in ways that you wouldn’t otherwise. This might especially be the case if you are not accustomed to performing live as part of your practice.
But even if you are a performance artist, the idea of putting your work out there into the world instantly — no filter, no edits — can still feel daunting.
Don’t get discouraged. Regardless of your practice and media, there are reasons to consider live streaming your art. Moreover, there are ways to approach it that might help to further develop and extend your practice.
A process-based approach
Live streaming can be used to explore a process-oriented approach. Some Virtual Residencies that use live streaming, for example, focus more on process and the development of research. That is, rather than a final product. Approaching live streaming in this way might not only be helpful in relieving some of the pressure of the ‘live’ event. It could also help in further developing your practice and ideas. The possibility of instant feedback and discussion is built in.
Try to use the relative unpredictability of live streaming to your advantage. Be experimental and try out different things to see what works. Unlike being on a stage or giving a talk in a lecture hall, where the performer-audience dynamic is upheld, live streaming can allow you to take a more fluid approach, remain flexible, improvise, and promote interaction.
And that brings us to another aspect of live streaming: the possibility for interaction. Because live streaming is, of course, live, think about how you can make your broadcast interactive. Otherwise, why not just upload a video?
This opens up possibilities for collaboration with other artists and/or viewers. Which could end up taking you and your work in unexpected directions. It could also help to bring some fresh perspective to your own work. And could maybe even be a way to work through an issue or question you’ve been stuck on.
It’s also been pointed out that the discussion around online exhibitions and ways of making art virtually accessible due to the corona crisis is, in fact, an overdue one. In a current Instagram takeover of collective COVEN’s account, artist and researcher Laura Lulika writes that the issue of accessibility has long been in need of addressing by institutions and galleries. It’s of course a concern that extends beyond the current Covid-19 shutdown. And, as Laura Lulika points out, it has long been a focus for artists who have been housebound for reasons other than the pandemic.
Finding interesting and innovative ways to present art online can be a way of making it more accessible — both for artists and audience. Not only that, but the discussion around it also has the potential to be more widely accessed and participated in.
Live streaming can be done using a relatively simple setup and without much in the way of equipment. But, if you want to or it’s what your project warrants, you can of course take your live streaming to the next level.
Of course, there are the obvious options: webcam (whether built in to your laptop or a separate device) or a smartphone. If you use a smartphone and a steady recording is necessary for the presentation of your work, try to use a tripod or find a steady surface to stabilize it.
Though it can be kept simple, live streaming doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to your smartphone camera or laptop. It may also be possible to use devices that fit thematically or conceptually with your work. Urban anthropologist and performer Pêdra Costa has used a dildo camera to live stream images in their work de_colon_isation.
Aside from making sure your devices have sufficient battery to sustain your stream, there are other things to consider beforehand.
Different streaming platforms may have different recommended video format guidelines, e.g., for bit rate and resolution. So check this info out before getting started with live streaming your art.
In general, it’s a good idea to do a test stream beforehand, if possible. This could help you to avoid complications once you get going.
Do your best to prepare, but remain open to the fact that technical issues are always a possibility. Try not to let this interfere with your flow. You can make a back-up plan. Or even think about ways to work with it in case such errors do occur.
It’s also recommended to use another device, if available, to check the status of the stream while it’s live. That way, you can keep up with any interferences or issues that emerge.
Depending on the content being live streamed, lighting quality might also be something to take into consideration. Different content will of course have different requirements, but some basic pointers are to avoid unintentional and distracting shadows, or backlighting your subject, for example.
There is software available for use when broadcasting live that allows you to insert images, sounds, and transitions, etc., into your stream. Open Broadcaster Software (OBS), for example, is open source software that can be used together with live streaming platforms like YouTube (which we will get to next). It captures and mixes video/audio in real time, which means you can integrate other video scenes — if you’re using multiple cameras, for instance — or images and switch between them while streaming. The software also records and saves your broadcast, which can then be uploaded and shared afterwards.
Where to live stream
There are a number of options when it comes to live streaming platforms. Perhaps the simplest and most straightforward are social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, if you already have an account.
If you have an audience there, Instagram live and IGTV can enable you to reach them, even on the go. However, it may be a bit more limited in the sense that you likely have to rely on your phone to record. Instagram also does not automatically save live videos online. So if you want them to remain there, you’ll have to save and upload them back to your channel. Or save them to your story.
Facebook is also easy to use when it comes to live streaming, and again, it allows you to reach the audience you’ve built there. But using Facebook might also mean that it is more difficult to expand your reach beyond the followers/audience you already have. Also keep in mind that you will not be able to embed your video on other platforms — it will only be watchable on Facebook.
YouTube also enables live streaming and offers more options than the social media platforms. It lets you make edits to the live stream video directly in the platform after the stream has ended, for instance. Live videos also stay posted on your channel, if you choose, and are embeddable on other sites. YouTube is also compatible with software like OBS, which allows you to integrate footage from multiple cameras or weave images and audio into your broadcast.
Aside from the major social media platforms, there are also dedicated platforms for live streaming. Twitch is more geared towards gaming, but it does have a growing Creative category. And with such a big network, it gives artists the potential not only to reach a lot of viewers, but also to connect with new audiences.
Additional broadcasting software is required for live streaming with Twitch. However, there is also a mobile app version that allows you to stream directly — without the third-party software.
Like Twitch, Periscope is a dedicated live-streaming platform. But this one’s more of a mobile app. Again, that means it’s fast, easy and can be done on the go.
When choosing a platform, consider how and where you would like your video to live both during and after the live stream has ended. With certain platforms it’s easier to make edits afterward or to present your video across platforms, for example.
Also consider your audience: do you want to reach your pre-existing audience of followers, a designated art audience, or a broader public and many new viewers? On some platforms, you can even limit your audience to a more intimate group, if desired.
Live streaming art in times of Corona
In response to the Covid-19 shutdown, new platforms have emerged to showcase and bring exposure to live streamed content by artists. Such platforms could be a way to help build your live-stream audience. And, with these initiatives, there is often a built-in donation option or some kind of infrastructure to support and promote the artist.
Berlin (a)live is a platform initiated by the Berlin Senate and 3pc. It offers a virtual stage for live-streamed cultural events, and makes it possible for viewers to donate to projects directly. Live-streamed content can easily be added to the platform’s event calendar and listed on the website by users.
Quarant.Arts is an independently organized, artivist initiative. Following an open call for artists to submit works on video, the platform is organizing a live-streamed exhibition to run during the first weekend in May. The works will be streamed on the Quarant.Arts YouTube channel. And they will also remain there afterwards to allow further viewing and sharing to promote the artists and give their work visibility.
However you choose to go about live streaming your art and where ever you present it, artist Alexander Iskin offers another tip. Following his recent live-streamed performance arturbating at SEXAUER Gallery, we had the chance to chat with him about this. His advice? “You don’t have to entertain anyone”.
So, do your thing and try not to feel too pressured. Going live can be daunting, but keep in mind that you don’t have to shoot for presenting a finished work or producing a definitive outcome.
Experiment. Try out different things. Learn by doing and see what works best for you.