I’ve Been Giving Online Concerts for 16 Years. This Platform Is the Best I’ve Seen.

Sessions Live Brings Artists and Audience Together Online Like Never Before

The potential has long existed to combine the power of live musical performance with the distance-bridging possibilities of online chat. In 2004 I tried my hand at PalTalk, an online audio/text chat platform at the time. Here, an artist could stream audio of a performance while the audience could chat their appreciation. Generally, performances were in an online “open mic” format with performers taking turns. There was little regard for audio quality or musical competence in those forums.

My actual setup in my home studio as I livestream on Sessions Live.

Along the way, I’ve done my share of Facebook Live mini-concerts and Concert Window shows (the latter no longer exists). I’ve tried StageIt, which had my audience in fits with browser plug-in issues. Then we moved to Zoom, which has become a general-purpose staple for households and workplaces everywhere during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Ultimately, I learned that a friend of a friend was using Sessions Live. This new platform’s founder Tim Westergren, formerly of Pandora, sought to forge new connections between musicians and audience. My early impression is that he and his team are succeeding wildly. Sessions Live essentially combines online music performance with game elements that serve as icebreakers and build community in the virtual performance space.

A screen capture from my 80s Night livestream performance on Sessions Live in January 2021. My Sessions Live web address is sessionslive.com/jasondidner

Part 1: The Audience Experience

In Sessions Live, an audience member’s experience begins with visiting sessionslive.com and/or downloading the mobile app. One would then set up a user account, starting with entering an email address and creating a password. The new user is randomly assigned a “moji.” This is a cartoon character that will appear in the “party” section of a streaming concert alongside all the other concertgoers’ mojis.

To take things a level further, a new user on the mobile app can then upload a photo as part of his/her profile. If you created your profile in a browser, you’ll need to log in on the mobile app to upload a photo. If you don’t upload a photo, you’ll be represented by your moji in the chat section.

From Sessions’ home page you can browse artists to check out their concerts. Just scroll through the many artist photos; they all represent live shows happening now. Give one of them a try. You might also have the web address of a specific artist so you can jump right into their show without browsing. For example, my artist URL is sessionslive.com/jasondidner.

Given the global nature of Sessions, you’ll find plenty of live concerts 24 hours a day, since it’s always prime time somewhere! I’ve noticed that Sessions has really taken off in the Philippines. I’ve come to appreciate the level of musical talent in that country over the past few weeks.

If you’re in the audience, you interact with the artist and fellow audience members primarily two ways: chat and “Love.” Love is the currency with which the audience supports the performer. One unit of Love in Sessions is about one cent in US dollars. On the Shop tab in the concert space you can stock up on love to contribute to the artist.

Tip: When you buy love in a mobile app, Apple or Google (depending on your device) marks up the price of the love you’re purchasing. The same amount of Love will cost you less when purchased in a web browser.

Sessions Live #1-ranked artist Martyn Lucas (at the time of this writing) performing a duet with Brad Emanuel, as viewed in a web browser. A spinning star appears on the bottom of the party section of the page among all the audience’s “mojis.” Love sticker options are arrayed across the bottom of the page. Chat appears on the right side of the page. The Songs tab in the right panel will open a list of songs audience members can request.

From the Audience with Love

There are 3 ways to send the artist Love:

  • Click the Songs tab and request a song from the artist’s song list. The current minimum for requests is 10 Love. You can increase the amount if you like. The performer will not complain about this!
  • In the Party section, tap on a sticker across the bottom. Stickers are arranged in value order. Vote stickers are special because they’re counted toward an opportunity for top vote getting artists to perform in the occasional mini festival hosted by Sessions.
  • In the Chat section, you can attach any denomination of Love to a chat comment.

Catch a Spinning Star

At random intervals you’ll notice a spinning gold star appear in the Party section. When you tap that star, you let Sessions know that you’re actively engaged in the concert performance.

This innovation solves a problem that has long plagued streaming services that attempt to reward artists for number of viewers. The system is otherwise too easy to game. If you stream a playlist or performance with every device you own (or imagine a data center operated by shady programming), you can drive up play counts for artists who haven’t truly earned them. Worse, that opens up markets for artists to pay for fake streams.

Since it takes a real live human to catch those stars, Sessions gets a better measure of which artists are really drawing a crowd. The platform then rewards the artist accordingly.

Join the Crew

Joining your favorite artist’s crew produces perks for both you and that artist. As a crew member, the more you engage with Sessions – catching stars, requesting songs and giving Love, the more choices you unlock for the appearance of your moji in the Party section. You’ll also appear in your crew’s leaderboard, catching extra attention from the artist you champion.

The stars you catch and the Love you give that artist will count double toward his/her artist level assessment and place in the artist rankings, which opens up greater opportunities to perform in higher-profile settings. Also, as a crew member, you can give love to other artists and catch stars in those other artists’ shows. You and your artist will benefit from that engagement when you’re in a crew.

You can only belong to one crew at a time, but you can switch between crews at will.

Follow Up

You can follow as many artists as you like. Following a more established artist can result in you receiving messages from that artist in your Sessions Live inbox about when their next livestream will take place.

Undeniable Quality

Since every performer has to pass an audition to become a Sessions artist, you’ll find a consistent high quality no matter whose performance you choose to watch. Auditioners are looking for musical competence and suitable Internet bandwidth for streaming, so audience members get consistently entertaining experiences. When you browse the artists in Sessions, you’ll find Broadway quality singers accompanied by backing tracks, acoustic performers and some fully instrumental performers.

Here’s a YouTube playlist offering a sampling of these artists, leading off with yours truly:

Let me know what your experience is like as an audience member in Sessions Live, using the comment section below.

Continue to Part 2 of this story: The Artist Experience.

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