A New Path Forward for the Music Industry
An Empty Red Rock Amphitheater
Unique Times - Early 2020
Festivals all over the world are being canceled, postponed, or reimagined due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Since the dawn of the internet, there have never been such far-ranging closures, travel restrictions, gathering prohibitions, government-mandated lockdowns, and stay at home orders. Seemingly overnight, the world has changed. The world has adapted. Many people are 'working from home' as a result.
Two of the most startling visual representations of the drastic change experienced across the world include:
- The Decrease of Pollution in China as Seen from Space
- The Decrease in Percentage of People Traveling Within Cities Across the Globe
The drastic changes in society have caused many artists to rethink their approach, dust off their online marketing skills, and rekindle those email lists. Gone are the golden days of the recording industry when artists could make money from physical sales of CDs, Tapes, and Records. Are the golden days of touring gone too? Many artists have turned online for answers.
It seems as though this is just the beginning. The door has been opened for a while but people are catching on to the possibilities afforded by high-speed internet and the creations of talented computer software engineers who make the whole process happen seamlessly. While earning money online is not novel, it is becoming more widespread and mainstream. Festivals are popping up online. Artists are streaming from their homes, and people are finally tuning in to be apart of the live events happening left and right. Bands are playing to in-person crowds of zero while streaming their sets to thousands. Large organizations are amplifying the movement even further and some are even raising money for charities on top of that.
A New Frontiers - Online Festivals
Let's take a deep dive into a recent online festival. Beatport hosted an online festival, ReConnect.
The festival featured 33 hours of uninterrupted music, featured artists from around the world streaming from their homes, and raised over $180,000 in the process. Get this, the cost of a ticket was $0!
Not even Live Nation's greedy little hands could tack on a $10+ digital 'convenience' charge. According to Beatport's' website, all of the money raised was donated to the WHO’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund as well as the AFEM (Association for Electronic Music) Members’ COVID-19 Hardship Fund. Although, on a different page there is the "Bridges for Music" organization that is cited as a recipient of donations. Regardless, the money was definitely donated to several charitable organizations.
How did they do it you might ask? They corraled a top-notch list of acts and leveraged the artist's networks to promote the event. Sure Beatport has its own reach but by collaborating with artists, who promoted the event and their set times, amplified the awareness for the event and leveraged geographically diverse 'influencers'. The event was an Electronic Music Event and According to Alive 365,
ReConnect reached over 8.5 million people!
Hey Boomers, only 400,000 people attended Woodstock, for reference. That is over 21x the size of Woodstock! The nature of the event is completely different than traditional concerts with artists live-streaming their sets from their homes. It was an intimate party. Families, friends and strangers alike tuned in on their preferred platform. Twitch, a gamer-centric live-streaming company helped provide the servers and tech so that millions could take part in the event. People tuned in on YouTube as well. All the while, live chats and donations streamed in. It is an incredible feat for technology and artists alike that people were able to come together on short notice and "ReConnect" the world through music. It is perhaps the largest music festival ever to have occurred. A list of the largest concerts top out at 3.5 million people and the largest festival tops out at 3.1 Million attendees.
The Initial LineUp from ReConnect featured electronic musicians and DJs from around the world and included: A-Trak, Agoria, ANNA, Axel Boman, BLOND:ISH, Bonobo (DJ set), Carl Cox, Chris Liebing, Destructo, Duke Dumont, Eats Everything, GRiZ, La Fleur, Nastia, Nicole Moudaber, Nina Kraviz, Nora En Pure, RÜFÜS DU SOL (DJ set), Sébastien Léger, Themba, Todd Terry, TOKiMONSTA, UMEK, Wax Motif, Waze & Odyssey, Gorgon City
** More artists played. The initial 24-hour lineup above.
What does the future hold?
So back to the questions... 1. Is this the start of a major shift in the music industry? 2. Will live-streaming events continue to reshape the music scene? 3. How long before VR (Virtual Reality) / AR (Augmented Reality) live-streamed events become commonplace? 4. Will music and musicians benefit from such shifts in 'attendance'? 5. Will new forms of art emerge from the remote presence? 6. Can I still dance with people at a show? 7. Will Music Creation Change? 8. Will Music Die?
I will attempt to answer the following questions and provide my predictions for the future. I know the only thing I know about the future is that I don't know it... Yet. I will take the questions in stride and embrace the uncertainty. My predictions to the above questions are addressed in order.
1. I believe this is the start of a new shift in the music industry. No longer are we going to movie theaters to enjoy the entertainment but we now stream it from our phones, TVs, and tablets. Concerts, especially the largest artists and acts, will have a majority attendance from a remote location. Currently, most artists have an 'in-person' audience of 0, so you could argue that it has already happened. However, I would like to believe that live in-person events will come back as strong as they were in 2019. Another major shift in the music experience is already underway, moving from in-person to a remote live experience.
2. Live-Streaming Events will continue and will complement the live in-person experience for years to come. By the year 2030 there will begin to be a noticeable absence of in-person attendees at events. To compensate for this, events will begin offering 'digital perks' at live in-person events to slow the shift. This could mean AR (Augmented Reality) art installments at live events only available for in-person attendees. In short, there will be in-person perks offered only to those who attend physically, in an attempt to motivate people to get up off their couch and dance.
3. This answer hinges on the word "commonplace". I must start by referencing a great quote. "The future is already here, it is just not evenly distributed"- William Gibson. This is a question of human behavior not a question of technology. According to recent stats (from early 2020) the world has a human population of 7.8 Billion people and 3.8 Billion people are not yet 'online'. So is the internet commonplace now? Some might argue yes. So perhaps commonplace, for the purpose of this article, represents a ~50% market share. To get back to the question, it is already possible to have a VR conference. Here is an article about a virtual reality conference that the writer attended in 2018. So in short, yes. VR and AR music events are coming. It is just a matter of time before the equipment evolves and the price point is lowered so that many people can enjoy and attend the digital experience. Live stream events in the regular 'flat' format will take over first before VR / AR live events. When the technology finally arrives and is standardized with common formats, like mp4 videos, and can be played on a myriad of devices (Magic Leap, Google Cardboard, Oculus VR, Apple VR, Android VR, etc) live-streaming on a 2D 'flat' screen will be old fashioned, like watching a movie on a Black & White TV. VR has been like a mirage, with interest peaking in 2016 (according to Google Trends as of the writing of this article). My estimated time frame for a majority of content creators to start making the switch from 'flat' videos to 'VR' content is 2030. I predict that a key technology will be the 'flattening' of the content from 'VR' to the current standard formats so the older executives can justify the switch because the content will be 'backward compatible' to run on legacy technology like your brand new smart TV.
4. I certainly hope that musicians benefit from the evolving technology but expect the future to be similar to the past. When the record labels suffered, from the transition from physical to digital sales, so did musicians. I think that derivative works will be sorted out using technology and therefore musicians will earn more money from future recreations and remixes of their work. I suspect that the future transition will be another difficult transition for many artists but ultimately, I believe that artists will end up leveraging their global audience and benefit from doing so.
5. I believe that artists will work together to create immersive experiences. Android Jones, a renowned digital artist has collaborated with top tier electronic musicians, to create 3D visual experiences accompanied by octatonic sound. One of his signature pieces is called Samsakra. I suspect that in the future visual artists will become as important as the audio arts. Creating a unification of experience will be the result. Humans are visual creatures and visuals will become more intertwined with music as 3d spaces are created and enjoyed. To take this one step further, there should be a term invented to represent a group of cross-disciplinary artists who perform together. I imagine a DJ and a visual artist will create works together with one working with pressure waves and the other working with light waves in a harmonic duo. There is no need to limit to two people and groups of the visual form are just as likely to form. These artists could sell tickets to their virtual experiences so, in theory, they are opening up their presentation to the minds and homes of anyone in the world.
6. As clothes become smart, filled with sensors and our digital worlds begin to merge through VR and AR, I do think that you could dance 'with' someone from the other side of the globe. 5G is purported to bring latency down to under 12 milliseconds. Some even speculate that that number could be as low as 1 millisecond. With a virtual avatar in a VR / AR environment, is seems feasible as though you could truly dance together without noticing a time delay between your movements. One critical difference is, you won't "step on anyone toes" or bump into someone, for in the virtual space mass does not actually collide. However, you may get a haptic response, like a rumble pack on Nintendo 64.
7. Music is already created, recorded and modified digitally. While analog techniques are likely to be used for an effect, a majority of music is already digitally altered. This trend will continue and I predict many new digital instruments will be created. One innovative example created by a small team here in Boulder, Colorado is Specdrums, which enables you to drum on different colors and create different audio frequencies based on your digital program. Musicians and DAWs (digital audio workstations) will begin to support and create quadraphonic and octatonic sound. What is 16 called? How many angles can sound come from and still be distinct? The bitrates of audio files will likely increase but sample rates will not likely increase much (as the Nyquist sampling rate and Nyquist Frequency dictate) as a higher sample rate is only applicable to frequencies beyond human hearing.
It would surprise me if virtual events leveraging VR and AR do not start popping up this decade. With 5G just around the corner, faster connectivity speeds are here to stay. New Software Languages and Platforms will emerge as tools for artists and businesses to leverage. When Apple's rumored AR / VR Glasses come out and Googles "Glass" project comes out of hibernation, more devices will hit the market incentivizing business, developers, and content creators to leverage the platform. Consider the fact that a mobile app was not created until the iPhone. The AR/VR devices are in their infancy (think Motorola's Razor, cool at the time but not that functional compared to modern smartphones) and many different twists and turns are coming. Eventually, when things get standardized, I suspect entertainment and music to be one of the first broadly utilized applications for these new platforms.
Stay Tuned ~