I’ve crossed over some of my “real” work and my “fun” work here before with my “I’m Your Biggest Fan” series, and I can’t help myself from doing it again with some thoughts that have been banging around my head since this whole pandemic started.
Let’s begin with Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine. Stick with me here:
She talks about how after the “shock”, leaders will turn to ideas that have been “lying around” as remedies. In desperation, these now seem better options. And then these ideas get pushed through, or normalized.
So how does this apply to the music industry?
The main idea lying around that was quickly amplified was the livestream. Bands were stuck at home and venues were empty, so some livestreamed from home, and others were able to stream from empty venues.
While livestreaming music hit it’s first important historical moment via YouTube when it streamed Coachella in 2011, technology adoption, social media, and user interest have all intersected to establish slow and steady growth of services and apps such as Periscope, twitch, Facebook Watch, and of course YouTube Live.
The pandemic opened the floodgates for livestreaming. Suddenly they went from a “nice to have” to a “need to have”. It didn’t take long before live music listings gave way to livestream listings, and life went on.
There are many types of livestreams:
- Live event: You log on and watch the concert in real time along with other fans. Now, all or part of the event may have been prerecorded, but you do have some sort of “communal” experience with other fans via a chat function or something similar. Replays of the concert may be available for a limited time after.
- Prerecorded event available for a limited time: You watch a prerecorded concert at your leisure for a limited amount of time [days/weeks/a month]
In addition, there are also many different types of functionality within these livestreams depending upon the company: some have tipping, you can visit a virtual merchant booth, and/or have an interactive Q&A with the artist. These will be the key differentiators of these somewhat fledgling services going forward. I am brimming with ideas!
One of the pre-pandemic companies is StageIt, which has been around for over 10 years and implemented the tip function. Newer companies include Mandolin, Dice, and Moment House. Fans Live lets fans virtually be in the show via Zoom. Musicians need to play live and worried about the lag times of the tech? Aloha by Elk can fix that. Want to make sure you are getting the best quality sound experience in your home? Oda is here to help with that. Another player in this will be diuo, a smartTV channel coming soon that will host this kind of content directly to our TVs.
And then there are virtual concerts, which may still cause eyerolls, but they have been around quite a while. Here’s U2 playing a virtual concert in Second Life in 2008:
Fast forward 12 years and I have a PlayStation VR Headset sitting in the other room. The adoption rate of VR headsets has grown tremendously in the past couple years and the pandemic was a serious growth accelerator. Forecasts look like we are near the tipping point. So are you ready to go to your first virtual reality concert? LET’S GO!
Melody VR has been doing this awhile as a layer on top of live concerts. They are crafting an immersive experience within the concert- like a super duper front row experience. Then there are companies like Wave, where “the show must go beyond”. They use avatars and virtual worlds to create concert experiences. I’m not sure how it will be to headbang with a headset on but we shall see. There is a lot of Black Mirror level paranoia that we will turn into Ready Player One pod people once stuff like this takes off…oh wait…we have already done that so it go ahead and get your headset already.
All we have heard since essentially Day 1 of the pandemic is that live music venues were the first to shut and they’d be the last to open. And that set a tone for how everyone has felt about live music and what role it will play in our lives during this pandemic since then. We have collectively gasped about the death knell of the concert experience and that in and of itself has been some kind of weird communal experience everyone has gotten behind.
I spent the first 6 months of the pandemic in Texas before coming back to California [hey, someone had to balance out the mass Texodus!]. In the small town where I was living, they got live music outdoors back up and going pretty quickly. Even Austin had some shows going when numbers subsided. But when I got to California, I realized that pretty much nothing had ever opened here since the pandemic had begun. I live in the desert, and when numbers were lower there were a few outdoor shows to be found at Pappy & Harriets, but mostly, nothing.
You’ll hear in the news that there will be “so much pent up demand” for experiences that we are missing out on that these industries will bounce back as soon as this is all over. But let’s revisit the Shock Doctrine… play devil’s advocate… or I can simply speak from my years of experience in business and as a researcher: your live music experience is probably forever changed.
Psychology 101: absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder… it makes the heart go wander! In research, we use a projective technique called “deprivation”: describe your life without x. What do you miss? What do you think about when you think about x? Well, the more time there is between your last live music experience and the present, the more likely you are to change, grow, place different values on things in your life. People will have gotten married, had kids, changed jobs, moved… learned to live within a calendar that wasn’t dotted with concerts. It might be difficult to integrate them back into their life. Maybe they just remember the tall people standing in front of them, or the hordes on their cell phones, or that time someone threw up on their shoes. These concerts will now be fighting for space with livestreams, which will likely not go away.
Livestreams will continue because they will have gone from a fledgling industry to a mature one with lots of money behind it. Artists will like that they don’t have to tour as much! That alone will be incentive enough to not hit the road anywhere near as much as they used to. It will also democratize the concert industry in some ways, geographically, monetarily… I mean, how many times how people bitched about front row prices and Ticketmaster fees in the past decade? How about the secondary market?
And then there’s all of those poor, vacant, Legionnaires’ disease-inducing venues. The places I have written about here, full of character, with dirty, cringe-worthy bathrooms. On the brink of starvation, many have already closed. Now that the Save Our Stages act has passed, they’re now getting some help. But they’ll remain vulnerable. Will there be a buy up of these by a larger live music conglomerate [rumors abound!]? The thought of this devastates me! Hoovering up independent businesses leads to Starbuckin’ them. Suddenly they all look the same… and have clean bathrooms. It a g-d rite of passage to experience concerts at these types of venues, and they are slowly disappearing [I’m looking at you former White Rabbit San Antonio]. The pandemic may accelerate us towards the end of this as we sanitize ourselves into the starkness of the future.
So how do we propel ourselves into the future without disrespecting our past? I think we really need to evoke the spirit of good ol’ Rock & Roll here. It’s time for a rock & roll renaissance anyway…. we’ve been told it’s dead for far too long, now Miley Cyrus is making Metallica cover albums. As you put on hand sanitizer and shelter in place, remember about the level of personal risk you took every time you went to a rock or metal show. I got injured and sick after so many shows. I have scars. NIN fans always talked about getting NINfluenza after shows from sharing water bottles. And when you start getting presented with opportunities to go back….PLEASE CONSIDER IT! I’ve spoken with people who were huge live music supporters who can’t fathom going back anytime soon… yet they are getting on planes on the downlow, going to crowded grocery stores, etc. It’s time to start reprogramming ourselves to think that going to a concert can be ok sometime soon. I know I am.