I’m pleased to announce the release of my new album “Salt and Sand: Rock Songs to Heal the Mind,” scheduled for Friday, February 4! Album artwork was expertly created by Lora Ferrie. This artist exceeded my vision for a “split screen” of the salt and sand on an icy highway eventually giving way to salt and sand on a summer beach.
Rock Songs to Heal the Mind
“Salt and Sand” is intended to spark conversation about mental health. I want you to pay closer attention to your own emotional life and those of your loved ones. The album’s tracks make up 3 chapters:
One: Seeing the Obstacles Two: We’re on this Road Together Three: Caring for You
Album Launch Concert Online
On the evening of February 4, I will give a streaming concert at Live Streamer Cafe. In it, I’ll perform all the songs in album order. 20% of digital album sales and tips will go to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
You can see the album’s official videos on the Videopage of this site.
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I had recently sung the praises of new live music streaming platform Sessions Live. I had witnessed the dramatic differences between Sessions and every platform I had tried before. Sessions had begun forging a real online community committed to developing and sustaining the careers of previously unknown artists. Its founders saw live, online performance as a valuable service it could provide customers.
In that spirit, The platform issued a modest bonus to all first-time artists for their first show. I took this as a signal that they took seriously the commitment to establish a sense of worth in live music performance.
Sessions encourages audience to tip artists and makes the experience fun on both sides of the camera. Also, the platform offers the artists bonuses as incentive to schedule shows ahead of time and then keep those appointments. Over the platform’s first 10 months, those bonuses increased for artists who elicited audience engagement and tipping,
A Tone-Deaf Announcement
Over the weekend I received an announcement that Sessions decided to dramatically scale back those bonuses. That decision included making far fewer shows per week bonus-eligible. Sessions had chosen to backpedal on their commitment to getting artists paid. This especially constitutes a blow to full-time online performers. Many of these entertainers invested in upgrades to their computers, audio equipment and video gear. These artists were raising their game to deliver world-class entertainment through Sessions.
The communications team mostly disappointed me with an announcement disguised as good news for artists. The email from Sessions framed the change as “an exciting makeover to the Rising Artist Leveling program.”
I felt as though the platform’s leaders could have shown more respect for our intelligence. They could have told us prior to announcing a decision that the existing bonus model was no longer working. A larger pool of artists meant that they’d have to make difficult choices. The leaders at Sessions simply argued that artists will make more from tips and need less from bonuses. They could have presented us with their concrete strategy for attracting more tips. They could have even told us what we as artists could do beyond what we’re already doing to help the situation.
Many artists presented a strong backlash. Some modified their streamed images to appear in black-and-white. Some changed their profile picture to a protest message. Sessions responded with a 2nd email essentially doubling down on the initial message. “Bonuses are bonuses,” they wrote, framing the compensation as discretionary pay that should not be counted on as if it were a salary.
What Sessions Could Have Said
The artist relations team at Sessions missed an opportunity to communicate that they get the gravity of the impact artists are feeling. They could have acknowledged the hardship for full-time streamers. These folks had already lost their in-person gigs during the pandemic. Then, they found new hope (and proof) they could earn a living performing in a new way. The bonus system in addition to the tips conveyed a strong assurance that live music performance has value.
A better message would have been “We’re facing some difficult choices and need your understanding. We need to rethink our levels and bonuses. Otherwise, we’d have to go out of business. We’d lose our ability to serve our audience and this special partnership we have with you, the artist. You’ve worked hard to achieve your current level as an artist. We understand the disappointment and frustration you may feel about the reduction in bonuses. However, our success still connects to yours; we still want to see you earn a living at this. So, we’re enhancing our marketing efforts to bring audiences into your shows. We’re using data to drive fans of the songs in your request list to your shows. We expect this to at least double the love you earn in each of your shows.”
How Artists Are Responding
I see this announcement having an effect on artists’ scheduling strategy. Artists who played a dozen bonus-eligible concerts per week plan to scale back in response. They tell me they will only play the few bonus-eligible shows per week on Sessions. They will use those other hours to diversify into performing on other platforms as well.
My performance schedule is essentially 3 shows a week. I am not as profoundly affected as my artist friends who do this full-time. However, I certainly feel their pain. Similarly, feel the sting of having the perceived value of my work decreased. My act faces the increased pressure to elicit tips. I must justify the investments of time and resources I make to supplement my family’s income. I hope the executive team at Sessions can inject some empathy into their current handling of the situation.
Every other platform I’ve ever used, whether designed specifically for concerts or not, relied 100% on me to supply my own audience. I’ve given shows where absolutely nobody had shown up. Sessions Live has concentrated on bringing an audience to the online venue. This audience appears large and diverse enough that if you put on a show, even unannounced, over the course of an hour, people will check out your show. If you keep showing up, you will grow an audience.
The artist’s Sessions Live journey begins by applying and arranging a brief audition. As an experienced artist, I really appreciate the quality control here. Sessions Live ensures that every artist shows musical proficiency and enough Internet bandwidth to entertain an online audience. I appreciate how this cultivates an audience expecting to have confidence in checking out any performer without having cringeworthy experiences.
I quickly passed my audition with the first verse of an acoustic rendition of “Here Comes the Sun.” After you pass your audition, Sessions emails you the information you need to get started. They also offer (at the time of this writing) a $25 bonus to perform your first show within 72 hours of receipt of the welcome email. You must perform at least 20 minutes to earn the bonus for that first show.
The Learning Process
The welcome email presents an artist with two choices: a one-on-one coaching session or Sessions University – an online collection of documents and videos establishing best practices and guides to get started. I opted for self-service in Sessions University because of a tight schedule. I also got surprisingly good help out of a YouTube search: artist tips by Alex Greif. This video below contains technical pointers that got me off to the races with an application that was entirely new to me.
So, What’s This OBS Thingy?
Unlike Zoom or Facebook Live, Sessions Live depends on artists using Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) to compose and arrange the stream. The artist then connects it to a browser-based Artist Panel through the use of a web address and a special stream code.
I first grumbled about having to get another, unfamiliar application involved. I would soon come to appreciate all that OBS can do in creating a professional, engaging experience for the audience. I’ve gradually enhanced my stream using OBS features as I’ve developed my show over the past 2 weeks. The Sessions University videos have indeed helped me get more out of OBS.
For my first show, I fired up OBS, started the stream and launched my first show from the Artist Panel. I played for nobody for the first song or two. Then users began to stumble in. This is the experience no other live performance platform had delivered before. I began to entertain new potential fans. These first users were not particularly chatty when I engaged them. However, I’ve seen them return to subsequent shows I’ve put on. My audience total that night was 7. It’s steadily increased each night I’ve performed. Over the course of 2 weeks, I’ve worked my way up to audience sizes of 20+.
Do You Take Requests?
The song list is quite a valuable tool for an artist. It gives you and your audience common ground for which requests you can accommodate. It’s also a reliable source of Love. And it gives you a good clue about your audience’s musical tastes. If you’re a new artist, take some time to fill your song list with the cover songs and originals that you’re ready to perform on a moment’s notice.
Full disclosure: I was a little over ambitious with my song list and ended up getting requests for songs I haven’t performed or rehearsed in years. This made me sweat, but I still managed to give an entertaining performance.
I was also growing as a Sessions Live artist and community member by supporting fellow artists. These musicians astonished me with how quickly they identified me as a fellow “streamer.” How? They observed that my user handle represented my full name. Artists generally identify themselves this way, while audience members tend to choose more informal handles. Rarely have I joined another artist’s concert without the performer asking me “Are you a streamer? When’s your next show?”
Since I started showing up at other artists’ performances, a fellow artist has always attended my show for at least a few minutes, sometimes very late at night or early in the morning in their time zones. All this without ever feeling like I’m shamelessly plugging myself. All this simply as a polite response to thoughtful, generous questions by fellow artists.
I should point out the “friend of a friend” who made me aware of Sessions Live was none other than Kris Pride, who can be found at sessionslive.com/KrisPrideMusic.
Bringing My Existing Following In
I had mentioned that up until I learned of Sessions, I mostly hosted Saturday night Zoom concerts. Zoom’s basic functionality made those concerts fairly heavily heavily gated. This suited the mostly small groups of my extended family and friends in attendance. Only those whom I’ve sent long, complicated Zoom links could even get into these concerts. I experienced plenty of stress at showtime though. Handling frantic text messages, emails and Facebook messages seeking the link sidetracked me a bit from performing.
After giving a few Sessions concerts on weeknights I felt ready to take a leap of faith with my family and friends who followed my music. I sent them my artist link (Good news – that link does not change from show to show!) and instructions to set up an account.
My core group of “regulars” from those Zoom concerts joined me for 80s Night. The logistics struck me as far easier than coordinating a Zoom concert and my nearest and dearest made a pretty smooth transition into Sessions. Some fellow artists attended as well. So did a passionate Sessions fan who leads crews for some top artists, who had shown super support for my past shows. In addition I saw several new and returning audience members who were seeking some Saturday night (or Sunday morning) entertainment.
It’s A Living?
So, has Sessions Live made a real impact on my livelihood in the first two weeks? Yes and no. Yes, compared to every other attempt I’ve made to give online concerts. No, compared to what I’ve earned performing in public libraries, festivals and town bandshells. Early trends suggest my modest earnings are growing exponentially, which is encouraging for the future.
The good-faith effort by Sessions to get artists paid is undeniable, starting with the $25 bonus awarded to every new artist who gives a 20-minute performance within 72 hours of being welcomed aboard. There are also modest bonuses for scheduling your concerts a few days ahead of time in the Artist Panel and then delivering on those scheduled shows.
I’ve noticed my ability to draw a crowd steadily growing over the course of these 2 weeks. Attending other artists’ shows helps. Returning to the same artist’s show again reinforces your presence. A fan of that artist may then find you when browsing for a show to watch. With my uptick in crowd size (still modest) has come an increase in Love earned per show.
The way I see it, I’ll soon be earning per show what I used to earn when I played at the neighborhood coffeehouse. Then I should be able to earn what I did at sports bars (minus the effort of hauling my PA system somewhere). With some well-placed promotional efforts I can envision ultimately earning what that physical library gig used to pay out. And if I can do that 3 times a week, it will make a difference my family can feel.
Tag – You’re It!
Now that you’ve gotten the benefit of my experience with Sessions, try it out. If you think live, online performing is for you, click Apply and set up your audition. I’d appreciate your entering my username jasondidner in the Referral field if you found this post helpful.
Please feel free to comment below on your experience with live, online performing so we can have a conversation about this exciting development in the music industry.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.