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13 Tips for Watching Online Jazz Shows

JT’s Lee Mergner shares the lessons he learned from his week of jazz binge-watching

Cliff Barnes, David Throckmorton and Dan Wilson
Cliff Barnes, David Throckmorton and Dan Wilson performing live stream from Akron, OH

A short time ago, I spent one week—seven days and seven long nights—watching as many online jazz shows and events as I possibly could. I then reported on each day’s viewing in a series of posts for jazztimes.com. Looking at the experience purely as a fan or consumer, I came away learning much about how best to enjoy these virtual shows that are currently so ubiquitous. I thought readers might appreciate some tips from a veteran of the streaming wars.

1) Don’t be tethered to your phone, laptop, or desktop. For the most part, the important thing is to listen, not to watch. If you’ve already spent hours of your day sitting in front of a device, you don’t need to continue the torture. Just turn up the volume and go about your business.

2) Use a Bluetooth speaker or headset if possible. For most of us, the sound coming out of our computers is not real great. Although the audio fidelity of live streams varies, you can be sure that it will sound better coming through some sort of speaker or headphones. Bass players will particularly appreciate it, since the low end largely disappears with onboard computer speakers. In addition, an external speaker makes it easier to break free of the aforementioned shackle to the screen and device.

3) Consider sharing to your TV. Not all the streams will be worthy of such a treatment, but some are produced on a par with many television shows. Whether through Chromecast or Roku or whatever platform, the presentation will seem more special when shown on a big TV.

4) Shut off other devices connected to your WiFi. This is especially key if you’re sharing to your TV. Generally, most technical glitches happen on the user end because of the large file size of the stream coming into a limited bandwidth.

5) Pre-register as a member or log in early. There are so many streaming models and platforms out there. Most want you to join as a member and that can take some time, often 5-10 minutes. Get out ahead of that logjam.

6) Use the same username and password for all the streams. I know that IT people will flip out reading that piece of advice, but if I have to come up with one more unique username and password, I’m going to revert to another language.

7) Have your credit card info readily available. Heck, I can hardly remember where my wallet is these days. Whether to pay for a particular stream or to contribute to a tip jar (Paypal or Venmo, usually), you may find yourself scrambling to find the appropriate credit card. Old news to longtime online shoppers, but an adjustment for brick-and-mortar types like me.

8) Look for artists, venues, events, or organizations that you like. Facebook tends to be the one place where information about streams is announced on a timely basis. Websites are often oddly dormant and filled with outdated information and links. Nonetheless, the idea is to seize this unique opportunity to enjoy (and support) the music and people that you’ve patronized in the past.

9) Offer (constructive) input or feedback. Let the host or performer know what you enjoyed and why. If they solicit questions, ask something; if they ask for requests, make one.

10) Confirm the show’s starting time and length. Things can be a bit more fluid in this space and time. I went to the page of one jazz club’s stream that was supposed to start at 7:30 p.m., but it didn’t begin until 30 minutes later. Waiting in line at the grocery store seems appropriate, but sitting in front of your computer waiting for a show to start seems less so.

11) Check to see if you can watch it later. Many of the paid streams remain available for viewing for a given amount of time (usually 48 hours or so), which can lessen the stress of putting aside the activities of daily living for a leisurely enjoyment of music. Most performances streamed on Facebook remain on the host’s page for a long time (unless it was a Premiere).

12) Be an advocate. If you enjoyed a stream or performance, let your like-minded friends know, however you like to communicate: phone call, text, email, tweet, or Facebook post.

13) Contribute a little if you can. Jazz artists and organizations have been dramatically affected economically by the pandemic. If you can spare a little, whether for a donation/tip or purchase of some merch, then contribute whatever you can. Remember that many jazz artists have neither a safety net nor a Plan B. Some are even selling their instruments just to pay the rent.