Role: Feature Artist

This post is part of a series intended to become a Mermaid’s Tavern Guide to Zoom Singing publication for folk arts organizations, feature artists, session singers, and online audiences for folk music. We welcome comments below.

As a Feature Artist, you are the performer for the event, just as you would be for a live performance in the real world. You have a live audience! You might feel a bit lonely or self-conscious playing or singing to yourself in front of a camera, but your fellow Zoom participants are here to see and hear YOU and to enjoy the event with you. It’s a good idea to get all your tech together and have a tech rehearsal before sound check, just as you would for any live performance. Then all you will need is a quick tech check and it’s show time!

What You Need

  • A computer or laptop (not a tablet or smartphone) running Windows or MacOS
  • Reliable internet access with high bandwidth: a wifi location close to your router is better, a wired Ethernet connection is best. For details, see Getting Best Quality Sound.
    • Digital Studio Gear including a web camera, digital microphone, and lighting. For details, see Studio Gear.
  • A basic Stage Setup with a real or digital background, contrasting clothing, and any instruments/props. For details, see Stage Setup.
  • The latest version of the Zoom app, set up for Best Quality Sound. For details, see Getting Best Quality Sound.
  • The link to join the event (the same one the audience will use)
  • Links to your website and tip jar (for details, see Tip Jars)
  • An introductory bio to give to the MC who will introduce you
  • The name and contact information for the Zoom Starter and Zoom host for the event
  • To mute/unmute yourself, it helps if the Zoom Starter] or Zoom Host makes you a Zoom co-host. You do not need to take on any of the Co-host duties, so you can focus on performing.

What You Do

Before the Event

  • Review your computer, internet, studio gear, and stage setup using the recommended guidelines in the linked articles. If you think you may need to buy or borrow gear, get started on that right away.
  • Discuss your tech setup with the Zoom Host, who will reach out to you for an initial check-in. Most organizations do not yet have digital gear for you to borrow or rent, but fortunately a basic digital microphone and webcam are relatively inexpensive ($50-150) and widely available.
  • Walk through the article on Best Quality Sound, starting with adjusting your mic position and making sure you have the correct Zoom audio settings. WARNING! Some of these need to be set each time.
  • Send your introductory bio to the MC or Zoom Host who will be introducing you. Keep it short and simple. Read it out loud and edit it until it sounds natural when spoken.
  • Review the sample Running Order as an example of what to expect.
  • If you move between sitting or standing, and/or change instruments, during your show, plan your set to minimize repositioning your camera and microphone. Starting out standing and moving to sitting is often easier to manage, since you’re angling the mic and camera from up to down.

Preflight Tech Check with Zoom Host
Several days before the event, the Zoom host will contact you and walk through What They Need to fulfill their role. You will want to cover:

  • CAMERA A built-in webcam is OK, an external USB webcam is best. Using smartphones and digital cameras as webcams introduces complexity and can take extra time, so we recommend their use only for experienced artists. See Studio Gear for details.
  • MICROPHONE A built-in microphone is OK, an external USB microphone is best. Using an audio interface and multiple microphones also introduces complexity and can take extra time, so we recommend their use only for experienced artists. See Studio Gear for details.
  • AUDIO SETTINGS You should enable Original Sound and walk through the settings in Getting the Best Quality Sound.
  • LIGHTING At a minimum, you should have a light to one side illuminating your face (a key light). A second light on the other side to fill in the shadows (fill light) is better. An overhead light slightly behind you (rim light) is best as it completes basic three-point lighting. An room light for the background, that is off camera and less bright than the first two, will make the “stage” more cheerful and easier to see.
  • BACKGROUND A solid background is least distracting and provides best contrast. If you choose not to invest in a black backdrop and/or green screen, you can use a quilt or bedspread as a backdrop. Make sure that the camera angle does not bleed beyond the background. A plain digital Zoom background can work or can create ghosting effects, especially with instruments: test before using. We do not recommend digital backgrounds for instrumentalists.
  • CLOTHING Solid color clothing that contrasts with the background is best. If you decide to wear a shirt with writing on it, make sure that you do not have the option set to mirror your camera as the audience will find this distracting.
  • WEBSITE Provide the MC and Zoom Host the homepage link to your website to paste into the chat during the event. If you do not yet have a website, provide your email address so the audience can contact you online.
  • TIP JAR Provide the link and/or email address to the your tip jar to paste into the chat. If you do not yet have a digital tip jar, see Set Up an Online Tip Jar.

For more details, see Role: Zoom Host, Studio Gear, Getting Best Quality Sound, Stage Setup, and Set Up an Online Tip Jar.

Don’t be disappointed if your Zoom Host finds some opportunities for improvement during preflight tech check. Be glad you caught them early! Review the recommended articles for best practices that will give you the confidence to be your best on the day and focus on your performance.

To Start the Event

  1. Show up at least 30 minutes before the event start time, and join the meeting.
  2. Let the MC and Zoom Host know that you are there and ready for tech check. The Zoom Host should make you a Zoom Co-Host so you can mute and unmute yourself.
  3. Work with the Zoom Host to confirm that each presenter’s video, audio, and lighting are correct and functioning. Pay particular attention to mic and camera placement so you do not need to reposition them during the show. You should see and hear exactly what you expect the audience to see and hear. For details, see Zoom Host, Studio Gear, Stage Setup, and Best Quality Sound.
  4. Confirm with the Zoom Host whether you give permission to record the event. If all artists agree, the Zoom Host will start the recording. If artists do not agree and the event is already recording, ask the Zoom Host to stop the recording.
  5. Plan and practice what to do if something happens that prevents you from continuing your performance (network drops, screen freezes, power outages, &c). Ideally practice leaving the meeting, returning, being reassigned as Co-Host, and continuing the show.
  6. Take a biobreak, get a glass of water, adjust your clothing, and do whatever else you need to do BEFORE the doors open. As soon as participants arrive, you are onstage.
  7. As the doors open, welcome the first arrivals and chat with participants until start time.
  8. Check in with the MC and Zoom Host and agree when to Mute All and start the event.

During the Event
9. Take your cue from the MC who will introduce you and cue the Zoom Host to unmute you to start your set.
10. Make sure you are unmuted before you leap into action. Check that the mic does not have a red line on it before you hit the first note. Take a deep breath and stay centered.
11. Remember the folks you chatted with? They are a real live audience here for you, to see and hear you perform. They are just as excited about your show as they would be if you were in the same room. Maybe they’re even more so, because they might be too far away or otherwise unable to come to your gig. They are your studio audience, and you are live on camera.
12. Have you ever been on the radio? Most artists have. Livestreaming is just like radio or television with a studio audience. Relax, focus on your performance, and enjoy the show. After all, it’s What You Do. Have fun!
13. Worried that this is all new to you and you’re an old dog learning new tricks? No worries. Younger performers have more experience with tech, older performers have more experience with audiences. No matter your age, you are a great performer, and that’s why you’re the Feature Artist. Just Do What You Do, and you’ll be fine.
14. Try not to fuss with your gear between songs unless the Zoom Host makes a suggestion. Repositioning your mic will make bumping noises. Repositioning your camera will put fingers in the audience’s eyes. Shifting your chair will require more repositioning. If you have to make small changes during the show, like moving from standing to sitting or switching instruments, be mindful of working with a live mic and camera, and keep your movements small and smooth.
15. Audiences love shoutouts! If you see someone you know, mention their name and say hi. However, try not to hunch over the keyboard or peer into the screen as it can create an up-the-nose camera angle that is most unflattering. If you have the luxury of a second monitor, put Zoom Gallery View on the big screen so you can see more of your audience.
16. The Zoom Co-Host is monitoring the chat and will relay any requests or audience comments to the MC, who will pass them on to you as needed between songs. Don’t try to follow the chat yourself, as you have your hands full performing. That’s as it should be.
17. The MC should give you a two-song heads-up before the end of your set.

To End the Event
18. Take your cue from the MC to wrap up your set and leave the audience wanting more. Encores are rare on livestreams since the audience is muted, and it’s the MC’s call. Assume your last song is your encore and plan accordingly.
19. Don’t be shy about your website and tip jar. Audiences may hate to be sold to, but they love to buy, especially just after a show they have enjoyed. The MC and Zoom Co-Host will have dropped your website and tip jar links into the chat several times during the show, so you can mention that as well as speaking the links yourself. This is also helpful for mobile and dial-in users and the visually impaired, all of whom are just as likely to buy your music even if they can’t click a link right now.
20. Thank the MC, the Zoom Host and Zoom Co-host, the sponsoring organization, and above all the audience. None of us would be on a livestream if it weren’t for live audiences online.
21. Take your cue from the MC whether to move into a breakout Meet the Artist session, chat with the audience in the main room, or stay on for a cast and crew debrief after participants leave.
22. As a general guideline, do not leave the meeting when any audience members are still present. Ending the meeting is the responsibility of the Zoom Host.
23. Say goodnight to the crew, leave the meeting, and congratulate yourself on a job well done. You are an excellent Zoom Feature Artist!