Holograms and virtual reality: the future of live music is here
DJ's virtual concert is a game changer, but it doesn’t spell the end of bright lights and beer-soaked floors just yet
Never mind Maroon 5’s brutally underwhelming Super Bowl halftime show; the most important live musical performance this past weekend came from American dance music DJ Marshmello – and happened entirely virtually in video game sensation Fortnite.
For 10 minutes the developers of the battle royale phenomenon switched off the guns so players within the game could descend on the concert grounds at Pleasant Park. While only 100 players can inhabit a single Fortnite game, the Marshmello gig was the only show in town for those 10 minutes, meaning thousands of games focused on the music.
There are reports that more than 10 million players were online during the show on Saturday night. This would, hypothetically, make it the most attended music concert in history. Albeit virtually.
Given the stakes and its success, was this a glimpse into the future of live music?
Gaming is a $139bn industry and, while music may be more culturally mainstream, it was only a matter of time before an artist leveraged gaming’s vast popularity.
Traditionalists shouldn’t fear too much. The live music industry is in a decade-long boom, on track to reach a record high of $30.6bn by 2022, according to a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers. But what the virtual gig does is highlight the growing relationship between music and technology.
As interest in live gigs has grown, artists and production companies have sought to create experiences that go beyond the traditional concert. MelodyVR is an app developed by London start-up EVR Holdings that sells virtual reality gigs for £9.99. As you don the headset, you can choose different positions around the gig. On the front row, balcony or up on stage, bounding next to Kiss’ Gene Simmons or peering down at the crowd of a Fall Out Boy gig.
While most of the current gigs from MelodyVR have been pre-recorded, the company live-streamed Liam Payne’s concert at London’s Koko to headsets. And there are more plans to have you singing along in virtual reality at the same time as your friends are attending the real thing.
This is not an attempt to replace the sweat, thrill and electricity of watching a gig in person, but offering the opportunity for people to experience live music through technology.
It would be easy to scoff at the idea of someone sitting in their front room with a headset, but virtual reality concerts – and even potential Fortnite gigs – can give the less able-bodied greater opportunity to experience live events.
As the makers of MelodyVR are keen to stress, this rise in virtual concerts isn’t to replace live gigs, but to complement them. After all, without a live performance and the energy that comes from an electric audience there wouldn’t be any virtual reality shows to stream in the first place.
It is also unlikely that virtual reality will become a focus for live shows, owing to the inherent cost of a headset. “Clearly there are some barriers to that becoming a mass-market product, not least the cost of the headset itself,” says Dan Ison, UK lead partner for telecoms, media and entertainment at Deloitte. “Even notwithstanding the fact a ticket can require the fan to dig deep into their wallet, investing in the right sort of kit to get a high-quality digital immersive experience in your own living room is not something we see the uptake in.”
Much of the use of technology is at the events themselves, to make them more interactive and audience-involved. Elton John, for instance, has collaborated with the augmented reality app PEEX, which allows concertgoers to mix and isolate specific strands of a track while they are at the show. Wearing simple earphones combined with an app on their smartphone, fans can boost vocals, up guitar solos and generally tailor the live sound to their preference.
Some examples go even further, with entire acts borne of technology. From Japan, superstar Hatsune Miku takes her tour around the world despite the disadvantage of not being real. Hatsune is an anime character created by Japanese media company Crypton Future Media, whose voice and music is synthesised by a “Vocaloid” program. Her concerts project a holographic image of her on stage, performing one of her 100,000-plus songs, while her fans wildly wave glowsticks on the dance floor.
As well as virtual pop idols, holograms have even been used to bring superstars back from the dead. Special effects production house Digital Domain beamed rapper Tupac Shakur on stage during the 2012 Coachella concert, while a Michael Jackson hologram “performed” at the 2014 Billboard Awards.
And now, full tours are being dedicated to sadly departed artists. US entertainment company Base Holograms sent a Roy Orbison hologram on tour in 2018, while the company has an Amy Winehouse tour scheduled for later this year.
“Our daughter’s music touched the lives of millions and it means everything that her legacy will continue,” said fer father, Mitch Winehouse.
The reproduction of an artist’s likeness requires permission from the family estates, even if the moral quandary of holographic artists remains a valid one. But it is as just one of many ways that advanced technology is influencing live music. They are now industries intertwined, each boosting the other.
But, Ison says, the greatest influence of technology on live music concerts will come from the audience themselves and the devices in their pockets, live-streaming their experiences. “‘Gamifying’ the experience within peer-to-peer networks at some scale is really taking off,” he says.
“The trick isn’t necessarily going to be in high-cost virtual reality or the limitations of augmented reality, which isn’t quite there maturity-wise. It’s actually some pretty simple technology fed through a smartphone that takes the audience’s data, the artist’s data and the contextual data of the event and juxtaposes them together to give targeted messaging both before, during and after the event. I think that’s the win for all.”
While technology is becoming an integral part of the gig-going experience for some, it seems it will always rely on the connection between artist and its audience that has always been at the heart of music. It means you can enjoy Marshmello’s Fortnite concert for what it was – a clever crossover that gave a glimpse into the live music experience for millions of youngsters. It isn’t something looking to replace the bright lights and beer-soaked floors, but open up the doors.
As Marshmello himself said on Twitter after the Fortnite gig: “If you thought that concert was lit, try coming to a real show.”
– © The Daily Telegraph