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Live, & loving it

If the response to the live streaming of recently-concluded Bacardi NH7 Weekender is any indication, fans and festivals are lapping up the idea of live concerts on computer screens. The Sunburn to be held later this month will live stream from two venues. As the country's Indie music scene goes digital, Yoshita Sengupta meets the headbangers bringing about a digital musical revolution, one live event at a time

When you walk into a packed blueFROG on a gig night, chances are you won't notice the young man sitting next to the sound engineer , as he fiddles with his netbook and an external five megapixel webcam. If you do, you'd probably wonder if he is a programmer, there to make sure the band on stage has the right sound.
Think again -- he's the live streaming guy.


Management graduate Shadaab Kadri live streams concerts for
Lower Parel-based gig venue blueFrog.
Pic/ Dutta Kumbhar


Fresh out of college, Shadaab Kadri, who has his own band and is settling down to a full-time job with blueFROG, handling their social media and communication, is part of a growing number of such youngsters, who have decided to put their love of music and technology to good use, by live streaming concerts and gigs taking place across India.

Tell him that though, and he shrugs. "I am not really that tech savvy. I have basic knowledge that anybody else could have and most of whatever I know, which is enough to pull this off, I have learnt from my Bible, the Internet".

Like him, 24 year-old self-confessed geek Akash Sharma gave up his high-paying IT career to start the Traveling River Band (TRB) in Mumbai two years ago, and in March, decided to  start streaming TRB's performances live on Facebook, YouTube and the band's website. This after a stint with India's first e-sports gaming website Live2oWn, which he launched with friend Shrenik Patel in 2006.

"We organised a live cyber gaming event in Mumbai and wanted people across the world to be able to see the virtual action. That's when I thought of live streaming for the first time. When we live streamed the three-hour World Cyber Games at World Trade Centre at Nariman Point 2006, we got an overwhelming response with an average of 10,000-odd people watching the streaming at any given point," he recalls. That's when he realised the potential of the medium and decided to use his expertise to the advantage of his band.

Live gets bigger, better
While Sharma and Kadri stream performances at an individual level, the big daddies of the country's music scene have also discovered the potential of streaming. The 2011 edition of The Bacardi NH7 Weekender held in Pune last month earned a thumbs up from fans across the country, who couldn't attend the event, but could still watch multiple stages being live streamed on their iPads and office PCs.


Crowds thronged the Bacardi Black Rock Arena at the Bacardi
NH7 Weekender 2011. Pic/Shiv Ahuja


What's interesting, though, is that the festival's organisers hadn't factored live streaming into their agenda or budgets until Sameer Pitalwalla, senior vice president, UTV Interactive, stepped in. "We were doing a fairly elaborate shoot with 17 cameras for our festival documentary and that's when our partners UTV offered to use the same footage and go live. Going live from multiple stages and on multiple websites was a big boost to our property," says Vijay Nair, co-founder and director of OML, the company that organised the festival.

The six lakh hits, which the live feed of the three-day Sunburn music festival in December 2010 received, adds weight to that claim. And this December, they have decided to go bigger, investing about Rs 75 lakh to live stream the event from two venues with the help of 32 cameras. They are vociferously promoting it this on the digital medium. "In the last two and half months of promoting the festival (Sunburn Goa, 2011) online, we have already hit 120 million impressions," says Kunal Khambhati, the head of digital and merchandise, Sunburn.
To increase their viewership, the festival organisers have also tied up with YouTube to promote and live stream the event.

What it takes
Yet, Kadri is nonchalant. "At the moment, live streaming isn't really organised. No one is an expert. This industry is nascent in India and we don't have an established benchmark to look up to. It's all trial and error," he says.

From the look of Sharma's equipment -- a portable Internet device and a below-average Hyundai digital camera, apart from the music and sound equipment used for the gig -- it certainly sounds simple. Kadri's setup at blueFROG is no different. His equipment, a netbook with a broadband connection and a five megapixel webcam, takes up only one feet of space next to the high-end audio console.

It's not so rudimentary for the festival organisers, however, who are going all out to ensure that the streaming is world class and flawless. At NH7, apart from the 17-camera professional video production set up, Pitalwalla and his team arranged for high-end video and audio mixers, servers, multiple long cable lines, encoders and also got an Internet Service Provider to set up six internet lines that had a 1:1 ratio (dedicated internet line which was used only by NH7), and an additional, qualified live production unit. The Sunburn 2011 setup, meanwhile, promises to be even bigger, considering their camera feeds are almost double that of the NH7 weekender.

Why stream live?
Shailendra Singh, joint managing director of Percept, which runs the show at Sunburn, says the idea of investing this kind of money to stream the festival is a way of creating a respected international brand name for the property. "I can scale down the production and live stream from 15 cameras instead of 32, and 80 per cent of the people won't know the difference. But we will go the extra mile for the remaining 20 per cent audience in India and abroad and to tell the promoters across the country what we can deliver."

Kadri agrees, saying he began live streaming to spread blueFROG's reach to its customer base outside the city. "It's a free, add-on service for our regular clients and fans. At times, people have actually used our live stream to have a party at home," he says.

For NH7, this was an experiment that paid off really well, considering the festival organisers did not promote the live streaming till the very last minute, until they were certain that they would be able to deliver quality. For those who couldn't make it to the festival, the streaming was the best thing that could have happened. "I, alone, had about 70 to 80 friends in US and UK, who sat down and saw the event online," says Nair.

Sharma adds, "It doesn't require any additional resources. I have the technical know-how, so why not make use of it and give a little extra to our fans." Streaming also works wonders for brands that were associated with the event. "The brands were very happy because the streaming created a 360 degree arena for them. And it has given us the right kind of visibility in different markets. If NH7 decides to go to other cities in the coming years, the audiences there already know what they can expect from us because they have seen the festival live online," says Nair.

Profits? Not yet
While Nair and Pitalwalla are optimistic that live streaming will excite a lot of sponsors and even create profits, Singh isn't sure. "Despite the phenomenal reach of the digital medium, the advertisers don't take it as seriously as print or TV. With the number of online hits I got for Sunburn last year, I should be getting Star Plus rates (from advertisers), but I am not even getting rates that BEST buses get," he says.

Profit is not the primary motive for Artists Aloud (.com), which came up with the concept of webcerts (concerts on the web) in June 2010 and began a rockumentary series Thank God its Rock Friday, that is beamed live every Friday, says Soumini Sridhara, assistant VP. 

"The concept started with trying to create something which is cost effective and has a digital connection. The responses have been amazing. Someone on Twitter actually said that the best part about webcert is that you can watch it in your undies. So the point is not to make an immediate profit, but to make sure people keep coming back to the website," she says.

Where are the bands?
But not everyone is sold. Anish Menon, guitarist of Mumbai-based band Blakc, says they don't have the technical know-how. "It takes a lot of effort, logistics, equipment and resources," he says, citing the example of their NH 7 performance that was live streamed on their band page on Facebook on the day. "We got only about 40 hits. A property like NH7 has the viewer numbers and the resources to bring in sponsors, but it doesn't make sense for a solo band to do the same yet."

There aren't too many technicians available to take care of live streaming either. Sahil Makhija of Demonic Resurrection admits he has thought about it often but never got around to doing it. "It's not as simple as having a laptop, a webcam and a broadband connection. I'm sure there is more to that, at least to get quality," he insists.

He also thinks there is no point until they are flawless on stage and the technology is perfected. "At NH7 this year, we made a technical mistake in the first song itself and now, that's permanently online on someone else's channel. Someone who will watch us for the first time on that video will think we are a horrible band. And it wasn't even our fault. So till you reach a point that you are absolutely flawless live, streaming the event is risky. Plus we don't want to do a shoddy job. Because people watching the gig online are going to judge us by it, if the streaming doesn't look or sound like the live act, it's not good for us."

The handbook
Akash Sharma tells you how to set up you own live stream

Any computer capable of having video chat, with a broadband internet connection that has a minimum upload speed of 512 kbps

A good webcam is essential. Any digital camera, SLR or handycam can be used as a webcam by connecting it to the PC.

Create an account on any free online streaming platform like www.livestream.com, www.ustream.tv, www.ustream.tv, www.justin.tv.

Log in and create a channel, which is a self-explanatory stream link (www.xyz.com/irock). The user creates the channel on the stream sites, and the channel name decides the link.

These free streams are ad-supported. You need to pay them to get ad-free stream.

Different sites have different tags/ buttons like Start or Go or Live; they are big buttons prominently displayed on the flash player where you get the preview of your own feed.

Click on the start button and you are good to go.

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