Having just ditched advertisements, online live video company Livestream has shaken up its range of services. We spoke to Matt Howe (senior director of music partnerships at Livestream), who took us through the various features, best practices and interesting ideas to make the most out of the platform.

With the online live video space looking increasingly crowded (see Google Hangouts on Air, Justin.tv and Ustream to name but a few), we asked Matt why Livestream should be the platform of choice for musicians. He claimed that the company offers the best producer and viewing experiences, with the latter being further enhanced by removing all advertisements.

As of now, the company offers two paid-for plans: New Livestream costs $45/month, and Original Livestream starts at $350/month or $3,228/year ($269/month). They both include unlimited usage, 720p broadcasting, cloud recording for on-demand replay, real-time chat with moderation, and an iOS app for fans to watch broadcasts on the go. The more expensive tier allows for streams to be embedded on any website (or Facebook page), as well as the removal of all Livestream branding. It also features analytics, privacy features (password-protected streams and territorial restrictions) and phone support.

The company also has a free service, without any of the above features. Broadcasts can only be viewed on Livestream.com – which requires users to have a free account and is meant to work more as a social network. In turn, recordings are only kept for 30 days; this goes up to a minimum of one year in the case of paid-for plans.

When discussing the best practices for using Livestream, Matt explained that upload broadband speed is crucial. A 2-3 megabits-per-second uplink is the minimum recommended, going up to 5 mbps for HD broadcasts. It’s also best to make sure that the connection is solely dedicated to the broadcast (you don’t want other network users to start syncing their Dropbox accounts in the middle of your show). He also added that it’s always good to have an extra pair of hands. “Artists should put all their efforts into performing at their very best – or at entertaining their fans in whatever way their show is meant to be,” he said. “Even if you don’t have the resources for a professional production crew to handle all the gear, you can always ask a friend or two to look after the computer, the connection, the camera(s) and the webchat.”

It’s also worth mentioning that in addition to its range of online services, Livestream also sells various hardware tools, including a $495 broadcaster for bypassing PCs entirely, and a new $8,500 dedicated portable studio with multiple camera inputs. Those with smaller budgets can still use their own computers with Livestream’s free software.

When discussing some of the most interesting music broadcasts, Matt pointed out a few case studies reflecting a variety of budgets. The DIY side shows several ideas, including concert broadcasts (WyntonMarsalis); tour rehearsals (JenniferHudson); backstage fan chats (Kreayshawn); and private house parties (KFlay). Big acts such as Slash and JoshStone used the platform for broadcasting full-on live concerts, while BenFoldsFive introduced their new album via Livestream Sessions.

The latter is the company’s own initiative for producing events in-house at Livestream’s NYC studio. We asked Matt about the sort of pre-requisites for taking part on Livestream Sessions, and he explained that they’re looking for acts with a significant internet fan base; this means followers in at least the tens of thousands, showing online engagement. Also, the studio itself is rather small and right next to their offices, so the number of performers and decibels need to be kept down to a minimum (10-piece brass brands and thrash metal heroes need not apply).

On a final note, running a couple of test broadcasts is a good idea. You really want to make sure that your broadband speed, as well as all of your video, audio and computer gear are up to the task – not to mention the crew, performers, location of choice etc. To this effect, it’s worth bearing in mind that Livestream also offers a premium trial account.

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