Nightclubs are turning to live-streaming to 'keep the party going' and ensure DJs are paid through the coronavirus shutdown

Nightclub managers are turning to live streaming. Image: Getty.
  • Nighclubs are hosting live streaming sessions as a way of keeping the party going through the coronavirus shutdown.
  • Business Insider Australia spoke to One Six One and Poof Doof about their new livestreaming initiatives.
  • Some of these nightclubs want to ensure they’re paying DJs so they continue to have an income.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Following the closure of nightclubs in Australia to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, business owners have turned to live streaming.

Several venues and organisations in Australia have taken to either Facebook, Instagram, Twitch or Youtube to live-stream DJ sets while still adhering to social distancing measures. Some of the venues getting onbaord include The Breakfast Club nightclub in Melbourne, The Stonewall Hotel in Sydney and House of Mince’s 24 hour live stream at Sydney’s Club 77 nightclub.

“A bunch of nightclubs and promoters were really quick out of the gate to start their streams online,” Kat Dopper, creative director of inclusive events platform Heaps Gay told Business Insider Australia. Dopper also sits on the Nightlife Advisory Panel with the City of Sydney and was the creative director of the 2020 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

Jane Slingo, executive producer of Australia’s Electronic Music Conference, and a board member of Music NSW, told Business Insider Australia via email it was “fantastic” to see the community so motivated and quick to keep their creativity alive online.

“By nature, those in the electronic music community are digital natives,” she said. “In this part of the music sector there’s already a history of live streamed events well before COVID-19 – global streamed events from the likes of Boiler Room, Cercle, Worldwide FM events. So it’s not surprising how quickly DJs and club nights have made a significant imprint on our feeds as life moves more permanently to online.”

Poof Doof and One Six One switch on live streaming

Melbourne-based queer nightclub Poof Doof switched to live streaming after business completely dried up following the coronavirus-related shutdowns.

Owner Anthony Hocking told Business Insider Australia the business has been operating every Saturday night for over eight years. It has put on shows all over Australia, doing seasons in Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane and Sydney. In November 2019 it even partnered with major venue group Merivale, hosting an event at its iconic Ivy nightclub in Sydney.

“It just went gangbusters,” Hocking said, explaining how there were between 2000 and 3000 people turning up each night. On top of that, Poof Doof was involved in a big season of Mardi Gras events before everything went silent because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“We were really lucky that we had such a great Mardi Gras campaign and a great summer because in a split second it was closed,” he said. “All of my promoters, DJs, performers, management team, everyone in the industry is just without work.”

But, to “keep the party going”, Poof Doof decided to take its service online by live-streaming on Facebook every Saturday. It also posts the full streams on social media afterwards so people can go back and watch during the week.

“We’re still going and we still haven’t missed a Saturday in eight years and four months,” Hocking said. The live stream goes from 9pm until 2am and is hosted by Jimmi the Queen. There is a multi-camera setup in the club, with DJs doing one-hour sets each.

And Hocking said it has been a success, with the company’s first stream two weeks ago gaining more than 32,000 viewers.

“People were…getting dressed into drag at home and they were sending photos of their outfits,” he said, adding that there was a lot of positivity online, “which was fantastic.”

One Six One nightclub in Victoria also made the switch to live-streaming. It held its first live stream DJ set on Saturday night from 6pm until midnight, with four different DJs.

Zok Szoeke, special project manager at One Six One, told Business Insider Australia the club did a callout on social media asking for music requests people wanted them to play. He added that the event even started at the early time of 6pm because parents wanted something for the kids to dance along to as well.

Over Friday and Saturday, the nightclub had around 500 viewers in total, with between 30 and 60 people on at any one time.

One Six One is going to be doing the live stream once again this Saturday but with the social distancing rules constantly shifting in the past, Szoeke has a plan if there are more changes.

“The goalposts do keep shifting a little bit,” he said “If that happens, we will be running it from home.” And Szoeke aims to get the DJs to work remotely as well.

Szoeke also mentioned his hopes to make live streaming more interactive, with apps like Zoom and Houseparty allowing users to see each other. “We’d love to be able to hook into something like that where we can have our audience on screen in front of us maybe,” he said.

The challenges of monetising live streams

Dopper highlighted some of the main challenges facing venues who utilise these live streams.

The first is being able to navigate the different types of technology it requires, especially for those who are new to it. The second is how to monetise it, “whether it’s sponsorship dollars or click per view or crowdfunding,” she said.

“It’s going to be quite a saturated market as well because everyone’s doing the same thing,” she said.

Slingo also raised concerns around the difficulty of monetising these events. She said it is “setting a precedent that artists, creatives and technical crew should offer free labour to produce these streams during a time when the music sector has been particularly hard hit by the crisis and desperately need to be paid for their work.”

Nonetheless, Slingo said the 24 hour House of Mince managed to raised over $9,000 via a GoFundMe, which the promoter is splitting equally among all those involved with the stream.

Poof Doof pays its DJs and performers, with Hocking adding that it was about providing some income in the queer community.

“All of the DJs and all the drag performers, they’ve all lost their booking,” he said. “There’s just absolutely no cashflow whatsoever, so at least we can pay some DJs, pay some performers and then we can deliver a really fun product to people in their homes.”

The company has also set up a PayPal donation link on the stream, with people sending anywhere from $5 to $20 to support the artists. Poof Doof’s partners including Red Bull and beverage company Lion are also going to support the live stream while the club is shut.

“I’ve been funding [it] up to this point, but it looks as though our partners are going to contribute to the costs of running it,” Hocking said.

One Six One didn’t hold its livestream for free on Facebook. Instead, Szoeke set up a Vimeo page which cost viewers $2 per stream – all to ensure DJs were paid.

“The idea was we could pay the DJs,” he said. “And if it builds, we can split the profits amongst the DJs playing and at least give them some work. If it takes off, we could do three, four nights of it – if there’s a demand for it. And that will mean we can put our whole roster effectively back on where there’s no paid gigs at the moment.”

There are concerns about licensing laws when live-streaming over Facebook

Szoeke pointed out his concerns about licensing when he considered doing a livestream on Facebook.

“We did think about Facebook, because that’s where everyone’s doing it,” he said. “But we’re also mindful of copyright and we want to pay music licences. That’s something I don’t think is being really enforced at the moment but we’re aware that there’s copyright involved here and everyone in the chain needs to get paid.”

Slingo also raised the licensing issue, pointing out that there should be a model in place that ensures the streams are licence-compliant.

She said APRA AMCOS – the music rights body that licences organisations to perform and play music from its members – currently has blanket license options for the publishing rights for live streams on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. The organisation also added an update to online licensing amid the coronavirus outbreak, with advice for both commercial and around non-commerical streaming online.

However, Slingo emphasised how complex licensing can get, especially during this time.

“There’s the master (recording) rights, which is particularly prevalent in DJs performing on live streams,” she said. “PPCA [a non profit organisation that represents record companies and recording artists] don’t have the same blanket license options as APRA, instead referring to the record labels for licensing clearance for use of recordings.

“If you can imagine the number of records one DJ plays in a two hour set, and multiply that by full DJ lineups on livestreams, it’s a minefield.”

Nonetheless, Slingo saw this issue as an opportunity for the music industry to create a new – and much more simplified – payment model for licensing.

“I hope that the various copyright owners and respective copyright collection societies work together with the clubs, venues and artists to create a new world remuneration model that’s manageable and fair,” Slingo said.

“Simply applying a pre COVID-19 license payment model to the period we are in now isn’t the solution in my opinion. Already so many are confused at best or not aware of what they need to get in place to ensure they’re license compliant. The licensing process needs to be dramatically simplified.”

Trying to keep audience alive with no source of income

Dopper said artists are a “resilient” bunch and are used to creating their own work. But with their work being completely gone right now, it has become a challenge.

“We’re used to working on minimal budgets and creating our own work and we’ve done that for a long time. So that’s not really new to us,” she said. “But having all our work completely wiped out pretty much for the remainder of the year, it does mean that we have to really think on our toes.”

Dopper said the biggest factor for her now is on how to stay connected to the audience Heaps Gay has worked so hard to build, without a source of income.

“An artist friend of mine explained it really well actually,” Dopper explained. “He said it’s like most of us have built our houses on quicksand. Because we’ve worked so hard to build these audiences and we want to come out the other side as a business or as an artist and still have those audiences. Seeing all of our work just disappear, it’s pretty sad.”

Slingo also shared the same views about audiences, especially the long term effects of people at home having access to so many content options.

“Many artists, venues and promoters have very healthy social media numbers,” she said. “Many are more niche but very important to their local club or electronic music culture. I worry about artists or collectives that don’t have a massive digital footprint looking to streaming as a lifeline and having low viewer numbers or lack of engagement as factors that compound the anxiety already being experienced by so many.”

“Right now, it feels in some ways like a tsunami of a race for attention from so many individual parties, during a time when the viewer is more heavily distracted than ever by the COVID-19 updates on their news feeds.”

Looking ahead to the future is a hard thing to do for nightclubs and those in the arts industry as it is hard to know when the social distancing rules are going to end and forced closures are going to be reversed.

“That’s going to be the biggest impact on the arts industry, that we can’t plan,” Dopper said.

“I don’t know when I should be booking in venues to do big events.”

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