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Next Generation Concerts: What the Future Holds for Live Music

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   While instruments and musical techniques have progressed since the inception of the concert, the performance environment has remained largely the same. At the heart of live music is a musician or band performing live for an audience, whether the musician is playing at an open mic in a bar or recording a live video for a song. Both Mozart and the Backstreet Boys performed live while their audiences simply enjoyed the music.

   There are a variety of technological innovations on the horizon to change this, though, which could change the way live music is performed. Inventions like personal sound mixers and holograms stand to reward fans who make it out to the venue, while virtual reality and the internet are making it possible to experience a concert without even leaving your living room.

   First up is the idea of allowing fans to custom mix live music to fit their own, unique tastes. PEEX, a company based in London, England, offers the PEEX rX, a specially designed headset which connects to the PEEX app, available for both Apple and Android. In the app, concert attendees will have the ability to control the volume levels of the five instruments the band routes through the system, resulting in a custom experience.

   WiFi transmitters placed around venues connect to attendees’ smartphones, sending the five customizable instrument streams in addition to a general PA system line. The individually-mixed master stream is then sent to the rX by Bluetooth signal. A simple slider interface allows attendees to boost or limit certain instruments coming through their rX headset, while the PA system line streams a low volume master mix meant to prevent an individual from accidentally affecting the quality of the show.

   PEEX has already teamed up with Elton John for his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour of which he is in the midst. After intermittently testing out the technology during his Las Vegas residency, John agreed to feature the rX on every stop of his two year, worldwide tour. While fans are still able to listen to his performance the old fashioned way, the rX system is available for both rent and purchase during the show. Sources state the rX costs €10, about $11 USD, to rent and PEEX co-founder, Graham Tull, says that the headset “won’t cost much more than a concert ticket” to buy. The intention is to allow every fan access to audio of the same quality despite being in front of the stage, beside the speaker, or the very back of the venue.

   Since every concert is streamed, PEEX makes every live set the rX can be found at available for purchase following the show. PEEX has set the price of a live show at £20, or $24 USD, and is available to anyone looking to purchase the concert as an alternative, or addition, to merchandise like shirts or posters.

   MIXhalo, a company started by Incubus guitarist Mike Einziger and his wife, is another company that offers a low cost, highly accessible audio option similar to PEEX’s rX headset. Venues wanting to offer the service simply need to connect the MIXhalo transmitter to their mixing board. Either by downloading the MIXhalo app , which is currently only available on iOS, or by downloading the app of a venue using MIXhalo, audience members can connect to the transmitter and use their phones to send a unique mix of the instruments through their own headphones. Bands like Metallica and Aerosmith, as well as singer Charlie Puth, have all introduced MIXhalo into their live shows already, identifying the simplistic solution as a formidable opponent to the PEEX rX.

   One of the most promising aspects of both PEEX and MIXhalo is the increased accessibility they can bring to concerts. As previously stated, they allow access to high-quality audio to every fan throughout a crowd, something massive outdoor festivals could utilize. In addition to that is the ability for a show to abide by noise restriction bylaws in different cities and venues while remaining almost entirely the same. A concert streamed exclusively through a service like PEEX or MIXhalo would preserve the concert experience for fans while not needing to worry about disturbing people outside the venue. Huge festivals could run non-stop without disturbing fans who are already resting for the following day.

   Another way that musicians can use technology to augment their concerts is through the use of iBeacons. The small, Bluetooth emitting hubs are an Apple invention that can benefit fans while providing valuable information to venues and musicians. A network of iBeacons is placed around a venue, using a low-energy version of Bluetooth to connect to the smartphones of fans. These beacons can transmit information, such as availability of merchandise or when sets are about to begin, to fans across the venue. Toronto-born musician Dallas Green, known for his bands Alexisonfire and City and Colour, has been using iBeacons to broadcast information about contests and seat upgrades at most of his shows since 2014.

   Each iBeacon transmits a unique code depending on where in a venue it is placed, allowing organizers to guide fans to nearby areas where they can buy refreshments or merchandise. This is key during large festivals like Bonnaroo, the outdoor Tennessee festival which has been using iBeacons since 2015. Attendees were guided to free water tents during the day, and could find their way to the less crowded festival bars scattered throughout the 700 acre, 80,000 attendee-accommodating festival grounds at night.

   While it might feel unnerving for concert goers to know that iBeacons can pinpoint their general location on a map of the venue, the information collected is very simplistic. The only information collected is location information to create real-time ‘heat maps’ of crowds, as well as information pertaining to average fan engagement with marketing displays or a certain musician.

   iBeacon technology is oriented towards retail use, though, as can be seen through their presence in over 4000 Rite-Aid stores across America. A variety of other companies with products similar to iBeacons have appeared since Apple’s reveal of the technology, possibly meaning that a more concert/festival focused option could be introduced in the coming years.

   One of the most exciting innovations, despite the age of the concert attendee, is the gradual introduction of holograms into live music. Multiple companies have ventured into the holographic entertainment industry, such as Digital Domain, V.A.L.I.S Studios, and the reigning leader, Eyellusion. These companies utilize a ‘Pepper’s Ghost’ optical illusion, where a 2D hologram is made by projecting a video onto a clear film stretched across the stage. These companies have surprised audiences since as early as 2006 when V.A.L.I.S Studios created holograms for the animated band, Gorillaz, during the 2006 Grammy Awards. More recent examples include the 2012 Tupac hologram at Coachella, produced by the now-bankrupt Digital Domain Media Group, and the 2014 Michael Jackson hologram at the Billboard Music Awards, created by Pulse Evolution Corp.

   As previously stated, though, all modern celebrity holograms are examples of a Pepper’s Ghost, an effect popularized by John Henry Pepper back in the mid-1800s. The holograms are realistic when viewed from directly in front, but are less enthralling when their lack of depth is revealed by viewing them at an angle. Their movements are also usually clips from live footage of the artist, resulting in a restricted performance. They also tend to cost a considerable amount of money and are only used a few times before being abandoned.

   Eyellusion Hologram Productions, producers of the recent Ronnie James Dio hologram demonstrated at Wacken Festival 2016, are one of the leaders in further advancing holograms, though. By searching through years of archival footage of Dio, Eyellusion was able to construct a 3D model of the metal icon which they then featured on the “DIO Returns 2019” tour in June of this year. Eyellusions paired this 3D model with remastered recordings of Dio’s voice to create a concert experience that allowed old fans to experience him once again, and for newer fans to experience him at all. To make this more incredible, Eyellusion CEO Jeff Pezzuit stated that the equipment needed to create the hologram is simple and small enough to fit in an average box truck.

   Companies like Canada’s AHRT Media and England’s GrooveMe are pioneering similar technologies that are aimed toward events like keynote speeches and presentations. Rather than focusing on resurrecting deceased musicians, or giving bodies to animated musicians like Gorillaz or Japan’s Hatsune Miku, AHRT and GrooveMe are creating platforms for live-streaming holograms. While GrooveMe remains focused mainly on pre-recorded concerts of various musicians, including Sir Bob Geldof, AHRT remains focused on facilitating things like public speakers or international conferences.

   In 2018, AHRT and their ‘telepresence’ technology enabled motivational speaker Tony Robbins to speak at the Abundance360 Summit in Los Angeles without leaving his house in Boca Raton, Florida. AHRT has also worked with Deepak Chopra and the late Stephen Hawking in the past, allowing them to speak at events across the world.

   The earliest wave of augmented concerts, though, can be traced all the way back to 2006 when the video game Second Life began a lottery for tickets to see a live stream of Liverpool’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. 100 randomly selected users would be invited to a private in-game island, bought and constructed for £1600 by the Liverpool Philharmonic, where Second Life would show a live stream of the sold-out performance in Liverpool. The island even featured a digital recreation of the now 80 year old Liverpool Philharmonic Hall in which users could meet one another and enjoy the show. Conductor Vasily Petrenko and co-composer Kenneth Hesketh would join the world following the end of the show to chat with viewers and conduct a question and answer session.

   Second Life’s most impressive addition to the world of live music, though, was added five years later in 2011 when British new wave band Duran Duran created a world of their own. The “Duran Duran Universe” was initially planned in 2006 but took five years to create due to its size, complexity, and delays stemming from the band continuing to write and tour.

   The world was created to serve fans who would be able to experience virtual meet-and-greets with the band, as well as watch live performance recordings, attend special events, among many other features. While the expansive and incredibly detailed world is now desolate, its premier and following few years saw thousands of fans logging in to visit. The band was said to frequently visit the world to interact with fans as both a marketing method and a way to keep their fans happy.

    With technology evolving and musicians constantly looking for new ways to add value or accessibility to their performances, concert augmentation is becoming more and more popular. With modern possibilities including customizing your audible experience or being able to experience a concert from your computer chair, the potential of future features are only limited by the size of imagination.

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