May 17, 2020

Are Virtual Concerts The Next Big Thing?

Written by Anne Watson

When it comes to morphing live music to fit into our present reality, there is some crazy creativity going on. Whether we are deep into lockdown or just easing out, going virtual is getting viral. We are constantly streaming and getting super inventive at it. For example, in Cologne, Germany, they had a drive-in concert with 250 vehicles parked for a live music performance, projected on a drive-in cinema screen with the sound transmitted wirelessly into their cars.  

The Current Status

Creatives are inspiring us with their innovations and we are going where they take us. In a recent survey about live streaming music (conducted by Bandsintown), more than 70% of those surveyed said they would continue streaming once the large gathering ban is lifted. YouTube has led the charge in providing live experiences but other amazing sources are emerging such as Launchtrip+,curating all major virtual events happening around the world with its live streaming events guide. 

Even before we isolated, virtual music experiences were on the rise. Over the last few years, the increase has been over 20% (reported by CNBC). Now, streaming is ubiquitous and totally inspirational!  

Whether it’s single performances or events like Call to Unite or One World Together at Home, many artists perform for free and/or ask for donations for causes such as fundraising for frontline workers or supporting those out of work in the music industry. Events are promoted everywhere and thanks to Launchtrip+, they aggregate the most sought out in a centralized location. On a weekly basis, you can “virtually” see John Legend singing at his piano, hone in on Radiohead’s live streams, and check out Prince’s estate releasing his rarest videos. 

Most musicians have been incredibly generous with their performances but at some point, they need to get paid. Big name bands can handle revenue losses, though not happily, but not so much for Indie performers. The list of tours cancelling or postponing on Live Nation is huge and most musicians don’t expect to be back on stage in front of audiences until the Fall of 2020 at the very earliest (Bruno Mars is particularly hopeful!). Most artists are postponing until 2021 or even 2022. 

An estimated 50,000 salaried and contract employees and 200,000 part-time and seasonal workers who work for tours and festivals have temporarily lost employment due to the coronavirus. As the music industry has migrated to streaming and music sales have recently plummeted, touring has become critical for financial success. In order to make some money, artists are creating mini-concerts and sharing them exclusively via social media channels for small sums, about $25 per song. 

In April, South Korean entertainment company, SM Entertainment, and online platform, Naver, launched the Beyond Live concert streaming service for KPOP. Their inaugural event earned nearly $2 million from virtual tickets at about $30 a ticket. Some perks of the virtual event included infinite audience members (75,000 virtual viewers from 109 countries) that could also chat and video call with SuperM.

Virtual Reality As The Next Breakthrough

Virtual streaming is vibrant and growing exponentially. Before we all self-isolated, VR was making headway into the music world. Live Nation teamed with Citi and NextVR to broadcast dozens of concerts a couple of years ago. But, what made those experiences different from attending a concert was the point of view. Rather than being in the audience, the VR user was on the stage with the musicians looking over the audience. A writer from Ubisoft in Montreal said that in order to create a festival environment, avatars would have to be created for people. “It’s possible,” he said. Augmented reality and avatars will offer unexplored festival and music event experiences.

Henry Stuart, CEO of the award-winning, London-based company, Visualise, and sister company, Meta Camera, has been working on creating augmented reality experiences for years. Meta Camera makes high-end, 360-degree cameras for live streaming events and works with the biggest producer of live-streamed events around the world, MelodyVR. “It seems to me that people are kind of looking at much more long term… thinking about how they’re going to go to events and festivals in 2021 or how events are going to work in the future, how people are going to connect better remotely,” he said. 

Stuart’s already working with immersive content, 3D graphics, augmented reality, portals, 5G technology, and avatars. Visualise streamed a live Bastille gig by creating augmented reality graphics; people held up their mobile phones and saw “giant griffins dancing, birds circling, and buildings exploding all over.” “You could watch the band in this really pumped up, incredible, exhilarating way if you were there,” said Stuart. “But you could also watch the live streaming version that had the loaded graphics and that was being streamed all over the country.” And, we may be seeing more inventions soon — a full VR experience where we can feel a concert or festival in our living rooms. 

The Takeaway

As some lockdowns ease and people emerge into a new normal, we will most likely gather in large groups again, maybe in different ways. But here’s the thing, while we’ve stayed inside, we’ve learned that live music and live events can come to us and we like it.

There are lots of ways virtual concerts could go but one thing is certain, they are here to stay.  Virtual isn’t going to be all we have; it is going to be more of what we want.