How To Host Your Holiday Concerts Online

Mike Lawson • MusicEd: Mentor Minute • October 28, 2020

The cool crispness in the air, the crackle of the fire, and the sound of your co-workers planning their holiday vacations: it’s all a sign you won’t get to fully relax until the holiday performances are over. And what might your performances look like this year? Will you even have one? And if you do, how can you make it truly an event, and not just another class Zoom call?

Do not fret! Here are some of my top tips for hosting your holiday performances online, whether you’re socially-distanced but in person, some variety of hybrid, or will be streaming on the internet.

Here is your mantra for hosting an online concert: you’re creating, not re-creating. Throw out the notion you have to have each group perform two or three songs as an ensemble and instead look at what you can do regardless of your circumstances. If you can pull together a virtual ensemble video project that’s great, especially if you incorporate all of the holiday trimmings you can: holiday lights, ugly sweaters, and snowy camera effects are all good options.

If you can’t pull together a full video, it’s okay! Turn your concert into a small-ensemble variety show. Mix and match small groups, and tie them together with videos of students reading narration or acting out a story. If your students are old enough, perhaps they can be the ones to write the story to tie the songs together.

For students who don’t feel comfortable playing on camera, have them use a free video editor to create a slideshow with their performance as the soundtrack. Don’t want to edit tracks all together? Have students play along with a backing track and then combine their videos into a collage of back-to-back mini recitals. Many ensembles are rehearsing in person and planning a socially-distanced performance. May I recommend that even if this is an option for you, providing an online streaming option is still an essential service. Your concert will likely have very limited seating, so that families may have to choose who gets to attend, and who will have to miss out. If you can provide an online streaming option, you’ll see your audience could be much larger than your in-person one.

Too challenging to get everything set up to stream live? Set up a few cameras at different angles and record your concert on all of them, then have fun creating your own video edit. Share this recording as an exclusive replay. Not only will this please the fans that were prevented from attending in-person, it is a great way to provide your students with an opportunity to self-assess their performance.

Of course, you may hesitate to stream your concert online if you’re worried about the legality of doing so. I am not a lawyer and cannot provide you with legal advice, so you will definitely want to do some checking, but I will tell you that there are many composers and publishers offering complimentary synchronization rights when you purchase their song.

Want a sample? Check out where you can download a brand new piece by Richard Saucedo that includes complimentary synchronization rights. Do your due diligence, comply with your legal obligations, purchase the rights if you must, but don’t let them stop you from providing this important experience to your students. If you’re a community organization or college ensemble, it may also be worth purchasing an annual ASCAP license as well to ensure you can legally stream the wide range of music covered in their catalogue.

My final tip is this: instead of playing your videos over a video conferencing like Zoom, opt for a more performance-centric webinar system, like Expertise.TV. This will prevent your audience members from being seen on the screen and potentially competing with your performance. Ask around your district and music educators association to see who may have a webinar system they are willing to let you use for this purpose, it really will make a difference; it’s like playing in a concert hall instead of your middle school gymnasium.

An experienced K8 music educator, Elisa Janson Jones specializes in helping music educators build, manage, and grow thriving school music programs and have long and happy careers. Elisa holds a bachelor of music, a master of business administration and is pursuing a doctorate of education in instructional design. Elisa has used her diverse skill set and passion for strategic thinking to help nonprofits, businesses, and music educators around the world. Her passion for professional learning and support for music educators is a hallmark of her work. In addition to her role at Conn-Selmer as senior manager of online learning, she serves as conductor of her local community band, a columnist for SBO magazine, and founded the Music Educators Creating Online Learning social media group that now boasts more than 46,000 members. Elisa is an internationally-recognized speaker, and has presented at national, state, and local conferences. She is author of The Music Educator’s Guide to Thrive, the host and producer of the Music Ed Mentor podcast, and has founded multiple online music education conferences.

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