How to organise an Online Festival, by Julia Stelman

By The Gigstarter Team on 10-06-2020

Organising online events with live music have been on the rise the last months. The nice thing about this trend is that it's possible to organise a festival yourself. Julia Stelman from Pittsburgh did exactly that and her 24FOR24 festival with Gigstarter was a huge success. Check out how she did it!

How did you come up with the idea to organise an Online Festival?

'I had bought myself two concert tickets in February for my birthday in April before concerts were conceptually cancelled due to the quarantine. At first I was bummed out. I instead of going to see my concerts I would celebrate my birthday alone with a mug cake and a Netflix marathon. Then I thought: ‘No. I need a better attitude!’ I’ve been following Gigstarter for a while on LinkedIn, and a week before my birthday they posted about doing online gigs and the possibility of hiring an artist for your birthday. So I thought: ‘I wanted to see a concert for my birthday and I don’t have anything else going on.’ So I put out a call on Gigstarter, I got a couple replies from some talented people, and then I thought: ‘You know what? I think I want this to be bigger and I want to get more people involved to support musicians during this challenging time.’

juliaJulia Stelman

Did you have any background in music or organising?

'When I was in High School, I wanted to coordinate music festivals for a living. But in college, I ended up studying statistics. This is the first time I’ve actually done something like this. But I have always loved music. I’m the biggest fan of ‘Discover Weekly’ on Spotify because hearing new artists is such a cool thing that technology has allowed us to do. Out of interest, I recently did a music-related project using data from the Spotify and MusixMatch APIs.'

You fixed everything in ten days, right? How were the preparations?

'It was crazy. Every time I resolved a problem, another one would pop up. At first it was a matter of: ‘I have this idea. I need to start crowdfunding. How do I do that?’. So I started a Facebook fundraiser, I wrote some emails, and it got going. Then I wanted to start hiring artists, but I wasn’t getting too many replies on Gigstarter. So I reached out to the Gigstarter team personally and we set up a Skype call and they agreed to reach out to artists on my behalf. That’s when the replies from interested artists started pouring in.'

Did you have to make a selection?

'I had to do a lot of organising. The only selection was just to check if the artists were serious, and able to make the necessary accommodations for a virtual performance. I also had to test the quality of the platform (Zoom) that I was going to use to stream the concert. Every artist who performed did a soundcheck to test the quality of the sound. 24 artists is a big number, but they didn’t make it hard. Everybody was down to go the extra mile and it made me excited to be in over my head on this project. I was happy to be able to do something that made a difference to so many people.'



Aftermovie of the 24FOR24 festival

Would you recommend people organising something like this to do a soundcheck?

'Yes. I would definitely recommend that. We used Zoom and one of the problems with Zoom is that Zoom is meant for talking in meetings and it’s not the best for multiple octaves at the same time. Some of the artists had really good set-ups and were really interested in doing it live. Unless there were problems with the Wifi, that’s what they did. But some other artists relied on a cellphone for access to Wifi, or a laptop microphone to pick up an acoustic guitar and voice combination, which did not work very well with Zoom. So we had to ask some of them to do pre-recordings.'

'In conclusion, make sure that when artists are performing, whether it’s live or through pre-recorded video, make sure the first thing you do is mute yourself and turn off your camera. Also, for the pre-recorded videos, make sure when you’re sharing your screen on Zoom, you check the boxes for optimising the connection quality for video and using computer sound. Also make sure you don’t accidentally share the whole screen. Just share the window of the video you wish to share.'

So Zoom has a function which enables you to share the meeting on Facebook?

'Yeah. It’s very easy. You basically just go to the three dots at the bottom of the Zoom window and there’s options to share to Facebook, Youtube or Facebook Workplace. We just shared it on Facebook. It went pretty well. Facebook has an eight-hour limit for livestreams. Most people don’t worry about that. We used pretty much every minute. The second day we went on until it was cut off.'

How was the festival for you? How did you feel about the whole weekend?

'I was prepared for everything to go wrong. I was counting on it. I had been working a lot and there wasn’t a single problem-free day in the process. But honestly? Things went pretty smoothly. I was able to relax and enjoy the music. I really had a great time just talking to some of the artists. I think the coolest thing is that two artists of the same city in the Netherlands got to meet each other and have a short conversation through Zoom on a concert livestream. That was super cool for me!'

Do you have some musical highlights from the festival?

‘There were some artists that only played covers. At first I was hesitant to go for that because I wanted to give artists a space to show off as not just performers but also as creators. But even the artists that ended up doing covers really brought their own artistic style. It was really enjoyable. It’s impressive when you recognise a song but it’s in an entire different style and still sounds amazing.'

Do you have some extra tips for people who want to organise an online gig or festival?

'Have a back-up on standby. Have someone who is talented, but also willing to happily be a standby artist and not a main featured artist. This artist needs to do a soundcheck as well. Make sure they know the situation and can be counted on. Having that definitely helped with my nerves, especially on the last day. I didn’t end up having to call him in, but it definitely gave me a lot of peace of mind.'

'We were a little slow on promoting it. There were many things I wasn’t sure about yet, so I didn’t communicate some details until very late. For example, from the start, using Zoom to Facebook was the back-up plan for streaming, but I spent a lot of time looking for another medium. Your first idea is probably the one you are going to go with. Just decide it so you can put it on the poster, put the poster out and focus on other things.'

'I made some typos or mistakes in speech that were mostly about the names of artists. I misspelled them or mispronounced them. Ask all artists how to spell and say their name, and practice multiple times before the show. If you can, it’s also smart to pre-rehearse your introductions of artists. It’s better to be a little more prepared.'

'Use a GoFundMe fundraiser. A Facebook fundraiser, too. I did only Facebook at first, but someone wanted to donate and didn’t have Facebook. When I started a GoFundMe after a couple of days, it really brought in some extra money. People were really excited and willing to donate and be part of this. I think that people in general are excited to be helpful. You just have to give them an opportunity to do that.'

'I found that some communities that I didn’t expect to be interested were actually very much excited to help once I reached out. For example, the Statistics Department at my university. I got a lot of professors and other people from the department to pitch in and donate at GoFundMe. They wrote to me about how excited they were about this festival. It was really neat to see that. Also, communities that you don’t expect to help out in one way, can still help you in a different way. For example, promotions!'

Would you recommend people to celebrate their birthday the way you did?

'Yes. It’s a lot of work, but we have a lot of time on our hands right now and it’s really rewarding. You also have a resource now. Reach out to me on Instagram if you’re interested in doing something like this and I’ll be happy to help you! It’s an awesome way to forget about quarantine for 16 hours, like me, (or at least 45 minutes if you only go for one artist). Either way, it takes your mind off of things. I was lost in the beautiful music.'

Is there anything else you would like to say to the readers?

''The Spotify playlist of the festival is still up, as is the Youtube playlist and the original streaming footage on Facebook. There You can still go back and watch it. I would like to thank a few people. I want to thank Johnathan Rice and The Unlikely Candidates: I will still go to each of your concerts someday! Thank you to Gigstarter, obviously, for being such a cool company and all the things you’ve done to help. It’s been awesome getting to work with you guys. I want to thank all of the artists and donors, of course. My sister, Becca, who has been a huge help organising the festival. In addition to all the artists who played, I would also like to thank my back-up artist, Brian. I’d also like to thank a couple of friends who helped me manually recruit some artists: Merche, Andy, and Marcel. Another thank you to Carnegie Mellon for giving students like me unlimited Zoom access. Thank you to GoFundMe and Facebook for making it easy to fundraise remotely! And last but not least, several performers donated their festival earnings to Renzo, a charity that helps stray dogs, championed by 24for24 performer, eddie lives. I won’t call them out by name, but they each deserve an extra special thank you, on behalf of eddie and all the stray dogs they’re contributions will be helping.'

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Tags: online gigs, organising