Megan Slankard is no stranger to finding creative ways to work. At just 10 years old, she learned to play the guitar, and just seven short years later, Megan and her brother used their parents' computer to produce her debut album, Lady Is A Pirate. At 18, she cut her teeth on tour with British songwriter and former Dire Strait’s guitarist, David Knopfler. Today, she balances her time between her solo career, her band, Megan Slankard & The Wreckage — a “belligerent indie rock and roll” band based in San Francisco, — and to tie it all together, her Patreon, which she launched back in 2014.
“I realized there are two parts of me,” says Megan on how she would describe her music to a new listener. “One is the one who wants to be in like a Led Zeppelin-version rock trio, and the other one that just wants to use every instrument that’s available to mankind: one belligerent rock and one sad orchestra.”
And now, during the era of COVID-19, her creative, DIY spirit is becoming a huge resource — she's finding alternative income sources in a time where live performances have been halted or postponed indefinitely. Megan had just wrapped the recording of a double EP with Nashville producer, Alex Wong, which she was planning to release this spring. But efforts to flatten the coronavirus curve, like shelter-in-place and the banning of large gatherings, have put her plans on hold. Not only did her EP get delayed, her future live events, festival dates, and even an entire tour, were canceled.
“I have a whole storage unit full of T-shirts and other merch,” she says. “It’s going to be there for a while.”
Now, using live-streaming and Patreon, she’s making up for the lost income and connecting with her fans who can’t see her perform live. In addition to recording monthly songs for her patrons (she’s produced 64 to date), she’s giving her patrons access to live-streamed jam sessions and virtual concerts on Instagram and Facebook Live.
Given her experience on the subject, we asked Megan to tell us how she is using live-streaming in place of live events, and to share some tips for other musicians and performers considering the same move.
Before you plan and set up a live-stream, figure out how to let your fans support you. Here are a few options:
- Patreon: Like Megan, if you have a Patreon page, make sure to plug it during your stream. If you don’t have a Patreon account, you can learn more about setting one up here.
- Merch: For those that have merchandise, another way to make money during your live-stream is to promote it during your stream, and direct your viewers to your online store.
- Tip Jar: For more casual social media events, set up a PayPal or Venmo account and add the link in your event description.
- Crowdfunding campaign: In the comment section of your live-stream, and on air, mention your Kickstarter campaign or GoFundMe.
- Affiliate or partner earnings: Some event and live-stream websites offer affiliate partnerships, ad opportunities, and commissions based on how many viewers you draw in.
Different events require different kinds of equipment, but live-streaming works with anything, from a computer with a digital audio workstation to simply just the camera and mic on your phone; it all depends on the type of event you want to create.
When doing a more casual live-stream on social media, Megan sticks to the basic microphone on her phone or the built-in audio on her laptop. If she’s doing a full concert, she may use extra equipment from her home studio. Sometimes, she’ll even break out fancy instruments and lighting. “But that’s just me!” Megan said. “People can really use them however they want to. It’s really all about trying to get creative, whatever your means are.”
There are a lot of different ways to live-stream. Here’s a quick breakdown of some popular platforms:
- Crowdcast: Create private live-streams for your patrons or set up a separate account for another crowdfunding or fundraising platform.
- Stageit: This online venue allows you to set up live, interactive concerts that fans buy tickets to in advance. Pay out from the platform is anywhere from 63 percent to 83 percent, depending on the amount of money you make in ticket sales.
- Twitch: A platform for streamers to build communities, check out analytics about your audience, earn money in an affiliate partnership program, and get tips (bits) from your fans.
- Facebook Live: Go live to a page, group, or event and invite anyone directly through your custom link. You can schedule live-streams in advance, share replays, and engage with viewers.
- Instagram Live: The “Stories” feature only streams in real-time, but it allows you to save, share, and connect with viewers. And you can invite a friend or guest to join your live video.
- YouTube Live: Keep things simple with a webcam or your phone or get fancy with encoder streaming. One note: you need 1,000 subscribers to be able to stream via mobile.
The platform you choose also depends on what sort of event you want to stream and how you want to get paid. Stageit is useful because it allows you to live-stream and monetize all on in one place, but according to Megan, the payout may take longer and there may be more of a time commitment. For social media live events, Megan says, “I just put up my virtual tip jar.” While she’s focusing mainly on Facebook and Instagram Live at the moment, she said she may switch to Stageit as a long-term strategy if her summer events get canceled.
Megan’s biggest tip for live events as an income stream? Consistency. While it’s fun to pop on sporadically, you want to promote and plan for a live event like any other tour or concert. Let people know your live-stream schedule in advance so they can plan ahead. It’ll also really help your income by drawing in bigger numbers.
Megan schedules one weekly live-stream on the same day, at the same time. To add some variety, she creates different themes for each event and keeps them about 30-60 minutes long. Here are a few ways you can promote and prepare for your live-stream event:
- Add a countdown timer to your website
- Before and during your live-stream, post on social media with the time and link
- Create a Facebook event
- Make a physical poster to perform in front of that contains payment information
- Tease your live-stream by performing a song and posting it on social media
- Add a call-to-action at the end of your live-stream, and in between songs, talk about your Patreon, merch, etc.
We’re living through some stressful times, and Megan’s an advocate of only taking on what you can handle. “There’s nothing wrong with being like, ‘I’m just going to do this,’” Megan says:
“Don’t push yourself to do things that are going to make that worse. If you don’t have the bandwidth to live-stream, you don’t have to. There’s no right way to make art, the only wrong way is not making it.”
You don’t have to create a complicated plan for your live-stream. A casual event on your phone with a virtual tip jar is all it takes. If you struggle with performing or asking for money, you can always pre-record your videos and put them up on YouTube with a payment link. And remember: whether you’re trying to make extra money or not, live-streaming has other benefits, like giving you face time with your fans, and building your brand.
Not sure where to start? Reach out to Megan on social media, she’s happy to give you ideas or answer questions. She also encourages artists to reach out to fellow creatives, learn what they’re doing, and brainstorm collaborations. After all, as Megan says, “it’s all about connecting people and making music.”
Want more tips? Check out the workshops on live-streaming we did with Megan, and Sav and Katie from the folk/punk band, The Accidentals.: