The second in a series of profiles in which musicians, comedians and other performers discuss livestreams and the art of interacting with virtual audiences
Singer-songwriter Ryan Smith doesn’t have the same type of live gig experience as some musicians.
“I'm basically at the brewery or the restaurant or the farmer's market. I'm the guy there that if you want to listen you can listen, but you can ignore if you want,” he said, and laughed. “And I’m OK with that.”
Smith, who also side-gigs as a wedding DJ, would have been entering his busy season when stay-at-home orders hit. Instead he found himself performing on Facebook Live in his basement.
“I started it for therapy,” Smith said. “It's hard when you play a couple of times a week in public — and it starts to get more this time of year — to go to not playing. ... I found myself, for a couple of weeks, kind of freaking out. I had gigs in early March, but I hadn't picked up a guitar. So I was like, I should really do this. Maybe it will make it better.”
So Smith streamed from his basement with his 8-year-old laptop camera mostly for friends and family, piggybacking his public Facebook page and his personal page.
In his live gigs, Smith mixes a series of covers and originals for audiences who typically aren’t there specifically to see him, but this experience has been different, as he’s found some of these livestreams are reaching people who don’t know him at all.
“The stream the other night was shared by someone curating these in Missouri, like the livestream events,” Smith recalled. “So I started showing up as shares on these other sites. I mean, it was like 10,000 people that the post got to. And I don't have 10,000 Facebook followers.”Get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter
For Smith, at least, taking requests and reading comments have made this virtual experience more interactive than many of his live gigs. He’s connected with college friends he hasn’t heard from in a decade. A planned hour-and-a-half set turned into three hours because he kept getting requests.
Asked how virtual audience members could show their appreciation, Smith says sharing the stream is always welcome, as are likes and comments. He doesn’t keep a close eye on the number of viewers, though.
“I try to ignore [that number] for the better or worse, because sometimes I think, 'Oh, my god. There are too many people.' And sometimes it's like, 'Oh, it's only…'” Smith said.
But this new brand of interaction actually has Smith giving thought to continuing this even when live gigs can happen again. “There are a lot of conversations people are having right now about how this whole thing is going to change us as people,” Smith said. “For someone like me, three months ago the idea of me sitting at home in my basement and doing a stream on the internet where I play to Facebook seemed completely dumb."
But then he found there was, in fact, an audience for it.
“I think maybe things are different,” he said. “Or maybe we're just realizing things we didn't know people wanted.”