Making live-streamed concerts better (or: It’s time to stop being apologetic about virtual gigs)

Chris Martin played one of the first widely-publicized Instagram Lives in March 2020. Though many artists continue to do this, the virtual gig ecosystem is evolving greatly as artists now see this as a monetization option given regular touring is unlikely for a while.
One of the earliest virtual shows I attended was The Dropkick Murphys’ show on St. Patrick’s Day. It kicked ass.
Bangalore’s Pineapple Express played a fantastic show —kudos to the team behind this to be able to pull it off

Taking inspiration from the world of sports

When sport was broadcast on television for the first time, there must no doubt have been pushback from luddites who believed the game should be seen only in the flesh. Soon, though, innovators like Walter Barber would make television broadcasting compelling by adding commentary, post-match interviews and the likes. Soon, sports broadcast became so compelling that people watched it at home increasingly, becoming a major driver for TV purchase itself. I’m willing to bet most people today would rather watch a game on TV than at the stadium. And why not, along with all the conveniences, you also get on-screen stats, punditry during the breaks and custom camera angles. Of course, the hardcores and purists would want to be there under the floodlights — just as they should. Just like how I inexplicably flew all the way to Singapore to see Dream Theater play live despite being able to see their videos on YouTube for free.

Making live-streamed concerts better

Okay, so what does that mean for virtual gigs? Here are a few ideas, having attended several shows beaming from India and around the world, over the last few months.

  1. Give the ability to choose camera angles / focus on certain musicians (for inspiration, see this interactive RHCP video)
  2. Display lyrics / facts on screen. This could give sites like Genius and Songmeanings added life.
  3. Provide an equalizer so fussy audiophiles can get their fix (or guitar nerds could isolate a solo).
  4. Taking concerts to non-traditional digital places. Even pre-pandemic, Marshmello and Travis Scott held virtual shows in Fortnite. A virtual Wacken Metal Fest? Count me in.
  1. The ability to read fan comments better. Perhaps some can even be displayed on screen (and not chatbox). There’s a certain energy and flow for the livechat which can be tapped.
  2. Better yet, somehow translate that “virtual energy” to in-studio feedback. The NBA, for example, compensates for the lack of a real audience by temporarily turning on digital attendees’ sound during key moments. It is not unfathomable then, to turn on e-gig attendees’ mics after songs. This is anyway a banter period, and won’t disturb a performance. This will help replicate the live feel even more.
  3. See “New options for monetization” below.
  1. Currently, the only way to interact is by a chat window and in some websites’ cases, emoji. This will need to be made better and tailored for gigs: Like an interface made for e-concert attendees. Custom emojis (or emphasis on 🎸, 🥁, 🤘 etc). I’m surprised YouTube doesn’t have this yet.
  2. The ability to DM or create groups among fans (comments section of large shows like the Metallica S&M2 stream was a barrage) — though I see how this can go south very easily #aslplz
  3. Assigning someone from the band / team to respond to audience comments. This happened during the live premiere of The Ocean’s new album, where a management member kept the banter up, and that really worked the virtual crowd up.
Prog legend Devin Townsend plays several e-gigs, even taking audience requests. The platform he uses — StageIt — allows fans to tip as well, a la Twitch.
Not exactly a live gig, but my friend Berty (left) and I (right) often host guided listening sessions, with Headphone Zone. Here he is showing off his vinyl collection during one such event. These listening sessions have taken an offline idea Headphone Zone and I’ve had for a long time, and we finally are doing that online.

I’m bullish on e-concerts

Look, I know it’s not “the real thing”, but I am all for moving forward and fixing gaps along the way rather than waiting for the perfect solution.

Sweden’s Katatonia played one of the e-gigs of the year. Outstanding sound.
When I spotted a friend at a virtual show: This felt like the e-version of meeting someone at an actual gig

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Deepak “Chuck” Gopalakrishnan

Deepak “Chuck” Gopalakrishnan

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Content handyman. Mumbai. Rock+metal fiend. Cold water aficionado. The Origin Of Things, Simblified, Getting Meta, Things of Internet & a few other experiments.