If anything, this past year has shown us how to adapt quickly to an ever-changing situation. Arts organizations in particular have shown their resiliency by transitioning their performances, workshops and other events to online platforms, hosting socially-distanced events when possible, and coming up with other ingenious ways to allow people to enjoy a creative experience together in a safe way (à la Artistic Fraud’s “The Other Side of This,” part play, part treasure hunt, which took place last fall).
But going digital doesn’t come without its hiccups and things don’t always go according to plan. And as artists and arts organizations have had to reimagine how to deliver their works, they’ve learned some important lessons along the way.
On June 16, we’re hosting a free online workshop with Hugh Donnan and Steve Power, the CEO and Production/Video Manager, respectively, of the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra to gain some insight into how the NSO successfully transitioned to the digital sphere, and how others can put these lessons into practice. (Click here for more information.)
Donnan and Power were kind enough to take some time out to chat with us about the trials and tribulations (and successes) of going digital during a global pandemic, the beautiful outreach opportunities that have arisen as a result, and how to hit the right notes with audiences.
Business & Arts NL: When the pandemic first arrived here in the province, was it fairly easy or difficult for the NSO to transition to a digital delivery? What was one of your biggest challenges?
Hugh Donnan: The NSO is a very traditional organization, operating a 16 live-concert season between September and April. When the pandemic hit, we realized that we needed to find new ways to reach our subscribers and patrons. Initially, we went through our archives and created nine concerts of archived material. While this material was never intended for a public audience, our players and admin team were happy to be able to repurpose it and offer these concerts freely to everyone through Facebook and YouTube. We had a huge response to this – over 25,000 views of the concerts, so we knew we were onto something if we could find a way to transition to recording our upcoming concerts with high-quality audio and sound.
Steve Power: I had an idea of how we could do it relatively easily if we had the right equipment – a few cameras, tripods, computer upgrades. I knew that capturing the audio would be the most important and most complicated part of the process, so we brought in Steve Lilly, a highly skilled and experienced sound engineer who also could provide the arsenal of microphones and recording equipment we would need. Our biggest issue at the time was buying cameras. With the pandemic in its early stages, it became increasingly clear that live audiences were going to be out of the question for quite a long time. Along with the NSO, it seemed the entire country was trying to move to a digital delivery and every camera in Canada was back ordered for months. It took many hours and days emailing and calling every photography store in the country before I finally found a few I could purchase. I received them in the mail just weeks before we were set to record the first concert.
Business & Arts NL: What’s been one of the biggest advantages for the NSO with regards to taking their work online?
HD: This one is SO exciting. In essence, this pandemic has forced us to innovate and I feel we have taken the orchestra 10 years down the road to a place where now we need and have a digital presence for the first time ever. The biggest plus to this has been that with the new online concert capabilities, for the first time ever we can perform for residents clear across Newfoundland and Labrador. In the past, bringing the orchestra to other parts of the province has been a huge challenge due to costs and timing. Now with the online capability we have fans all across the province and even on the coast of Labrador. In addition, we have been able to build a new outreach program where we take our online concerts and offer them free-of-charge to seniors homes. This is such a great way for us to connect to our senior population – people who are previous subscribers and those who are now not able to attend our concerts. This has been so rewarding for us.
SP: Because we have had to rely on recording performances, it’s an advantage for us to have content to use for the NSO’s online presence. We know that great looking and more importantly, great sounding videos are important so we, and everyone, want to get as much stuff out there as they can.
Business & Arts NL: Are there any aspects of the digital experience that you plan to continue, even after the pandemic ends?
HD: For certain, digital is here to stay as a new arm of our operations – even after we get back to producing live concerts. For the 2021-22 season we plan to offer around one digital concert each month through single ticket sales as well as a bundled digital subscription. We really have built a fan base locally and beyond, so we want to keep this going in the coming season. Also, the outreach program I mentioned is so special – a really unexpected by-product of all of this. It is so great to be able to continue to reach out to our seniors and other isolated and underserved communities of people – such a great reason to keep this program running into the future!
SP: Being able to reach areas of the province we were not able to before is very important to us. We are the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra but touring with the orchestra is very complicated and very expensive. Having these materials may help us set up some infrastructure that could help facilitate visits to these areas in the future, something we would love to be able to do.
Business & Arts NL: What’s one of the best pieces of advice you can offer an artist or arts organization who may be considering taking more of their work to a virtual space, but aren’t quite committed to the idea?
HD: Make sure you have people like Steve Power and Steve Lilly in your corner! You really need the technical expertise to do this, and you need to make sure you are offering a top notch product – especially if you are going to charge people to attend. Also, don’t discount the ability to use digital means to reach out across the province and beyond. It really does offer the opportunity to connect to the entire province and country like never before.
SP: Try to learn as much as you can about creating the content you want to create. Doing as much work “in-house” as possible will save money and time in the long run. A video editor is not nearly as expensive as a video production team. Also, seriously consider the difference between live-streaming and pre-recording. Pre-records do take more time to prepare after recording, but they are far less complicated then live-streaming, require less equipment and do not depend on a solid internet connection in the venue.
Workshop: How to Go Digital: Tips from the NSO
Date/Time: Wednesday, June 16 from 1-2pm
Location: Online via Zoom
Registration: Click here