There’s nothing like a live concert experience to appreciate the true sound and talent of the performers. This was what was said in the “long ago”. Nowadays…
Twelve million people (12,000,000) gathered in the same Fortnite game space, not to “kill” each other, which is the objective of the game in that virtual world, but to watch Travis Scott’s concert. It was April 2020 and it was the first event of its kind on that platform online. In reality, what users saw was the avatar of rapper – a cartoon-style doll – sometimes the size of a multi-storey building, moving – they believe – reproducing the artist’s gestures. In a way “so realistic” that he teleported at will among the crowd. Through the headphones, they heard the sounds (supposedly) of the streaming in real time of what was being said into the microphone by the performer. The fans, of course, loved it!
In the 21st century, this experience is classified as a “live” show. It took 10 minutes, but it was worth it, for those who joined the party, for a… virtual life.
Given the success of the experience, the Fortnite producers invited Ariana Grande to participate in their virtual world, using their avatar for several “live concerts”, which lasted several days. Was the artist actually participating, in real time, in these extended events in time as fans watched? (Probably not…). Was Scott, who did one show? (Probably yes…). Does it make any difference?
It is not new at all that what we hear in the great “live” shows is not absolutely real. Even leaving aside the issues of amplification and reproduction through loudspeakers in the venue (unless we are attending a totally acoustic concert, orchestra-style at the Gulbenkian), it is certain that, at least in the last decade, many artists pop (and not only) use auto tune live On your performances. Ariana Grande, by the way, is one of those who guarantee that she doesn’t do it…
O software literally “tunes” the artist’s voice in real time when the artist misses a note. Developed in 1997, it quickly reached a processing speed where it can do its work outside the studio, in concerts on stage.
This is just one more example of how, even in traditional shows, what we hear “live” is, in reality, something already highly processed – by amplification and loudspeakers, with or without auto tune. Meanwhile, and almost without realizing it, the next generation has already arrived.
Goal, stage of artists
For now, almost two generations used to listening to music essentially through headphones in streams with a quality that, objectively, is inferior to the old CD created more than 40 years ago, and which, when witnessing an impressive event, pull out the cell phone to record it – and watch it on the small screen of the device, instead of fully experience it through their senses – it’s almost second nature for them not to make a distinction between reality and digital.
Put another way: the “real” world, the world of viral TikTok videos or stories of Instagram, or the “virtual” worlds of Fortnite or Meta (from Facebook), for example, are just different windows of the person’s life, which at some point can even get confused, if you are not careful.
Attentive to the success of the experiences on the Fortnite platform, Facebook’s virtual universe, Meta Horizon, began to schedule concerts with famous artists. Bruno Mars, The Black Keys, Cardi B, Blake Shelton, Ed Sheeran, Michael Bublé, Clean Bandit and Lizzo are names that Warner Music promised to present in the virtual concert space of the metaverse owned by Mark Zuckerberg.
And if David Guetta has already performed on the Roblox platform this year, Post Malone was even a pioneer in Meta Horizon, by giving a virtual concert in February 2021 on this platform.
Other features (advantages for artists) of this type of show are that, contrary to what happens with “true” live concerts, the source of income does not end with the curtain falling.
Each time the user(s) of the virtual platform review it, the billed amount increases. And not just on the original channel: Travis Scott’s ten-minute concert has already been viewed by over 120 million people on YouTube and Twitch. Just to give you an idea of the profitability: estimates by Nielsen consultants show that, only in Nike’s sponsorship of the rappertaking into account the visibility that the performance gave the brand, he will have received 2.5 million euros due to the increase in product sales.
As this is a new source of profitability, especially among young audiences, it is practically inevitable that this type of event will become commonplace in the coming months and that more and more artists will schedule time in the various virtual worlds available in cyberspace. If there’s one thing artists know they have to do, it’s be where their audience likes to be. It was like that on the radio, then on MTV, now it will be on the various virtual realities.
Resurrect or Rejuvenate
If you see some digital puppets reproducing (we believe that) in real time what the artists are doing hundreds or thousands of kilometers away, it may already be, for many, a rather broad definition of what a “live” concert is, the what to say then about the shows with artists represented on stage by holograms, some even dead?
The technology is not new, on the contrary, it is decades old and, at least since 2006, it has sporadically been used to bring dead artists back to the stage. Among them are at least: Tupac, Michael Jackson, Roy Orbison, Frank Zappa, Elvis Presley, Amy Winehouse, Glenn Gould, Maria Callas, Buddy Holly and Whitney Houston.
The problem with this technology, despite having evolved in recent years, is that there is something about the final result that is still not truly convincing. The stage has to be very dark for the effect to work and the projection area of the three-dimensional image is always very small.
Hence, the greatest experience of its kind that mixes digital 3D technology and live music does not use holograms, but screens with millions of pixels strategically distributed in order to create the illusion that the images have depth. In concert series ABBA Voyagewhich started in May and, for now, has guaranteed shows until November of next year, the group pop swedish organized his return to the stage in a virtual way, only in the real world.
Despite all the elements being alive, Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad did not want to return to the stage at the age they are today (they are all over 70 years old). So they created digital facsimiles of when they were young – their “ABBAtars“, as they called them – to sing in their place.
And they didn’t stop there. A whole special venue was also built in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, in London, just for the concerts, the ABBA Arena.
You ABBAtars move realistically on stage, although, as mentioned, they are not holograms, using technology from the geniuses of Industrial Light & Magic cinema, the same ones behind films like Star Wars, for example. The facial expressions were captured from the faces of the original group members, while the body movements were based on what they did 50 years ago, but reproduced by much younger professional dancers…
The result is an hour and a half show, with music played live by a dozen instrumentalists, who accompany the recorded voices of ABBA.
This experience demonstrates that, at least for hugely successful bands, it is possible to blur the border between the real and the digital to breathe new life into sounds that, for one reason or another, have gained an eternal status in popular culture. Shall we open bets on who will be the next artist? (Hello Pink Floyd!)
To see only in the living rooms…
When color television became commonplace in the United States, film studios, panicking at the possibility that people would stop paying tickets to go to the big screen theaters to see their films, began to adopt the Cinemascope format – that very narrow, which even on current televisions has to have wide black bars -, so that much of the experience on the small television sets of the time was lost.
This was at a time when box office receipts were still worth the vast majority of the income of those who made films. Today, the market is very different.
O streaming is doing to cinema what it did to music a decade ago: everything happens online. Virtually all the big blockbusters or they premiere almost simultaneously in theaters and on a digital service or the temporal distance only really makes a difference for those fans who always have to be on top of what’s happening.
From the point of view of profitability, for those who produce and/or distribute films, cinema in theaters is often more a question of prestige or financial bonuses, since they themselves are the owners of their digital distribution services.
And with the technology of large format televisions and high resolutions becoming more present in families’ homes, the argument for going to watch on a “big screen” is losing relevance with each passing year. Were it not for the crisis brought about by inflation, in fact, we would be seeing the market “pushing” us to buy 8K devices, despite the fact that (still) there is practically no content with that definition.
“For younger people, the “real” world, the world of viral TikTok videos or stories of Instagram or the “virtual” worlds of Fortnite or Meta are just different windows of your life, which at some point can even get confused, if you are not careful.
It doesn’t mean that all theaters close. Returning to the comparison with music, just as neither vinyl nor CDs ended, the same will happen with theaters, in the case of films. Possibly we will even see some betting on replacements of classic works (read, cheap) that are worth seeing again in projection in a dark environment. But they will be fewer in number.
This, until the day when the technologies we talked about before – the big digital screens or holograms, virtual reality, etc. – become so commonplace that the distinction between going to the cinema and attending a live concert no longer makes sense.
After all, if Zuckerberg’s metaverse catches on, all movie theaters will be there, and virtually all “live” concerts too. And with the evolution of video games, one day we will reach the point where cinema itself will be interactive, even blurring the difference between the performance theater (being, in this case, us also actors) and the cinematographic spectacle. Everything will be spaces in virtual worlds, in which you can experience the creations of ancient and contemporary artists.
Anyone who has lived half a century has already seen digits replace photographic film and the tape that magnetically recorded the sound wave. Today, this same digital has paved the way for rewriting the dogma that nothing replaces the experience of “being there” to experience true reality. And, in this way, take one more step towards conquering the dream of making it, reality, simply what each one of us wants.