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Meet DIUO: an ethical streaming platform for live music

Date: 9th October 2020

Founded by musician Andrea Cockerton, DIUO is a new platform that hopes to support musicians and live crews by providing high quality live streams for audiences at home. We talk to Andrea about the project, and reimagining the concert format for TV

Coronavirus has played havoc with the delicate musical ecosystems of many countries around the world, as artists and venues have had to cancel or reschedule their live performances. Early hopes that lockdowns would be quickly eased have been dashed, as governments continue to limit social interaction in hopes of suppressing the spread of Covid-19.

In the UK, this has had a devastating effect on the live music industry – a sector that contributes £5.2 billion to the British economy each year and sustains almost 200,000 jobs, according to Let The Music Play. The industry stands to lose at least £900 million if it remains closed for the rest of 2020, with up to a half of its workforce likely facing unemployment. British venues are set to lose five million visitors, while many music festivals – a staple of the UK’s music scene, which support 85,000 jobs – are expected to be lost.

While the forecast is bleak, people have been finding ways to adapt to the new normal. Along with virtual gigs and online events, we’ve seen new systems emerge to help feed money back to the creators and producers who have seen their livelihoods assaulted during the pandemic.

Cambridge-based musician Andrea Cockerton’s #LOCKJAM project was a particularly interesting response, providing an online platform for musicians to broadcast virtual performances to audiences stuck at home, and generate some much-needed revenue through a ‘pay-what-you-can’ ticket model. Launched in April, the plaform broadcast a wide range of performances during UK lockdowns, from events commemorating Pride month, to family-friendly sets from local acts.

Andrea has considerable experience putting on live events. As the founder of We Are Sound (a charity which dCS supports), she has organised various gigs in Cambridgeshire and London, including ‘In the Dark’ – an event series that allowed visitors to experience musical performances in complete darkness. As she explains to dCS, her #LOCKJAM initiative was motivated by a desire to help behind-the-scenes workers in the British music industry.

“I know small local production companies – freelance crews – that are stacking shelves in Tescos,” she says. “I can’t quite fathom why really established musicians aren’t doing more to help these people. It may be because record labels can be slow to move and are understandably risk-averse, but it feels like they’ve pulled up the ladder to the live industry. It doesn’t take much to be proactive, I think we can do better.”

Six months on, Andrea is hoping to build on the success of  the project and provide a longer-term solution to the problems facing the UK’s live music scene. “[#LOCKJAM] was a bunch of talented but unknown musicians trying to help others and now the concept needs to grow up,” she explains.

“The problem hasn’t gone away and isn’t likely to in the short-to-medium term at least – the music and the theatre industries are stuffed until we get a vaccine, because the way they do things makes them unviable at the moment, so the only way is to innovate and do things differently, and I think that there’s huge potential to create revenue within the music industry, while supporting the industry.”

Her solution is a new streaming platform called DIUO, which she describes as “somewhere between Spotify, Amazon Prime and Netflix” in its user experience and payment model. The idea is to create a means by which smart TV viewers can access high quality live concerts, either directly streamed to watch as the event is happening, or to stream later on demand. “DI means Direct Input to musicians,” adds Andrea.

The end user will be able to pay to view streams searchable by categories including genre, venue and song. “There’s already a strong group of smart TV technology platforms such as Amazon Fire, Roku, Android, Apple TV, etc,” says Andrea. “DIUO will translate across these different smart TV apps, starting with Apple & Android, and also be accessible online via tablets and laptops.”

Her hope is that the platform will offer an engaging experience for music fans who are missing the sense of connection that comes with attending a live event, while also helping to provide some much-needed income to musicians and live crews. “If you think about music, it’s a shared experience. Most people don’t like watching music on their laptop because it’s insular and alone – most like watching on their TVs, like you would live coverage of Glastonbury, as if it were BBC coverage of a music festival and a shared experience. The difference is that with this system, there will be a charitable ‘kick’ at the end. People pay and the money goes to the artist, but also a share would go to the wider music industry, to musical good causes.”

Curation will play an important role on DIUO: “It can’t be just another YouTube with someone singing in his bathroom,” says Andrea. “Initially we’ll be targeting independent labels & artists, cherry-picking who we would love to have on. The technical quality has to be high, both sound and vision. I think it needs to be done because there’s no place to go for brilliant live gigs. It’s like planting seeds that will help regrow the British music industry; it’s a circular thing.”

DIUO is now looking for 100 artists to sign up to the platform in return for a 10% equity stake – an initiative that Andrea hopes will help get the project off the ground. Over 60 bands have applied so far, including acts from Romania, Ireland and California as well as the UK, and applicants span a wide range of genres, from metal to folk and world music. “There are two reasons for launching it this way – the first is that it fits with our whole ethos, and the second is that we hope it will help publicise the platform by doing it like this”, Andrea explains.

“For the past few months we’ve been intensively talking to the market and now have three world-class and proven tech partners who will be providing DIUO’s backbone,” she adds. “We’re not trying to be all things to all people. Our focus is hosting live art streams and replays, and our value lies in the drawing together and hosting of what we hope will be a growing collection of live material. We’re also partnering with both local and global production companies to provide first class sound and video, should the bands not have their own preferred crews.”

Indeed, Andrea knows the technical side must be spot on – which is why DIUO will be offering specialist production support to performers on the platform.

“The thing about live streaming is you can’t just do a bog-standard gig that works on stage when you have an audience. When you put that on to a screen, it falls dead because there is no audience, so you have to think really carefully about how do you engage through the screen? How do you reach people in their homes and make them feel like they’re part of something? We’re recruiting musicians and crews to do that. Many live streams are static unless they’ve got mega budgets, but your average sort of touring band may not have that expertise [in putting on a great live show]. So we offer that. My background is in performing, so I know what works and what falls flat, and we’ve got a production partner who is based in Cambridgeshire, but covering events all over the country, as well as a global production partner. We’ll work with a lot of freelancers as well.”

Alongside recruiting freelance crews to help with production, DIUO will be employing out of work musicians to compere gigs. Andrea is also keen to introduce interactive elements to performances, such as live ‘question and answer’ sessions or features allowing audiences to go backstage with the band. “There’s much more potential for interactivity than meets the eye,” she says. “The users could even vote for what track bands should play as their encore, or choose the camera they see the performance through.”

Andrea’s experts will also be mixing audio while the performance takes place, rather than just broadcasting a live feed. “We want this app to be first class and nothing less, so that’s another reason for high quality production values. It’s not only got to look good, but sound the part too. This will be achieved by getting the right people in to record it and mix it. Some bands have asked if we can just take a feed from the room, but we don’t do that. We mix for streaming. If you go into the room during a performance, the band sounds really quiet because the only thing you’ll hear is the drum kit, plus the vocalists and any acoustic instruments. Everything else goes straight into the desk, so anything that goes out on the stream has been mastered for that purpose.”

dCS wishes Andrea well. There’s a large demographic of people who want to experience high quality live music in their homes, and DIUO caters for this, while also giving money back to the artists and crew to keep music sustainable. If you’d like to get involved, or know of musicians who might benefit from being part of this project, you can find more information at diuo.io