The Future Is Digital
The big day is here, the concert you’ve been waiting. Adrenaline pumps through you as the band starts to play. The guitars shred and bass thumps as the lead singer’s voice carries you away. You begin to jump in place in excitement until there is an angry pounding on the door. Your downstairs neighbor is annoyed with you pounding the floor. This may be the future of the concert-going experience.
COVID has changed many aspects of everyday life and those changes will continue to be felt for a long time to come. Digital concerts and performances were already an emerging avenue before the pandemic, but like many things, this adoption has been accelerated. iHeartRadio put on the Living Room Concert for America on Fox, bands such as Clutch have live-streamed mini-concerts, and others such as the Koffin Kats have put out edited versions of similar mini-concerts. Upcoming live streaming events include a career retrospective from Josh Groban and All in WA a COVID relief concert to benefit Washington state featuring artists such as Pearl Jam, Sir-Mix-A-Lot, and Dave Matthews Band.
As life begins to return to normal, one of the last things to return will be large gatherings such as concerts. As many bands usually derive a large portion of their revenue from touring, they are now seeking alternatives. One can expect to see more virtual concerts in the future. Even when concerts return to full venues, many artists are exploring ways to continue streaming. As Neil Fallon, lead singer of the rock band Clutch, said in a livestream on April 23, 2020, “I know this is weird, this is weird for us too. But we were thinking once we get up and running with this and we go back out on the road, there is no reason to not do it continuously. Maybe live stream shows, especially for those people who live in parts of the world who don’t get to see live shows very often.”
And that offers a glimpse at the first stage of the future, crowd-less concerts. Live streaming pay-per-view has been a small part of the music business for some time now, but social distancing guidelines have it poised to become the main show. Venue operators and concert streaming promoters are planning to start streaming from venues across the country as soon they are allowed to have the minimum number of people needed to run them. These concerts would be traditional concerts just minus the crowd. To make up for this, they are looking into enhancements such as intercutting fans dancing along at home with the performance. They are also working on geo-locking these events so they are repeatable, meaning that each pay-per-view would only be available to people in certain regions. Also, like in the traditional performance space, there is discussion of creating scarcity to allow for charging premium pricing to certain events. Finally, there is talk of adding exclusives available only to the viewers of the stream such as new merch or drops from businesses associated with the act like fashion or cosmetic lines.
Currently, many of the performances are a solo musician or band in the same location playing, but as technology improves and latency is lowered, the possibility emerges for performers to collaborate and play together from anywhere in the world in real time. In the near future, super concerts of big acts playing together may become common place as the logistics become as simple as streaming together. With the removal of latency, guest performers joining your favorite act can become a regular thing.
Video games are another place that could shape the future of live music. Already an event called Electric Blockaloo is multiday streaming concert events featuring 300 performers playing on stages created in Minecraft and Travis Scott performed a concert in Fortnite. In addition to traditional games, VR is a technology that has been on the verge for 30 years, but as the technology continues to get more affordable and user friendly, it too can be another way to bring the live music experience into the home. With improvements to the technology, you may soon be able to attend a concert with your friends, looking around and seeing the full venue, and never leave your house.
While there is a lot of uncertainty in these times, one thing is certain--music will always be here for us, even as the delivery system morphs and adapts.
Written by: Adam Savage