The Live Concert Is Changing Before Our Very Eyes — A Quick Look at VR, In-Game, Hologram, and MSG Sphere

The music industry is starting to embrace new tech like VR and holograms, while pouring billions into overhauled venues.

As new technology emerges, the way we experience live music is starting to change in ways we never imagined. VR concerts, hologram artists, and concerts-on-demand are just a few of the ways the live music experience has changed over the last couple of years.

Here’s a quick snapshot on where emerging live concert technologies stand in 2019.

VR Concerts

VR concerts as a concept have been in development for a few years now, but 2018 was the year they took off.  Facebook released Oculus Venues, which is a way to experience live events using an Oculus Rift headset. The concerts featured on Venues are live events with a real physical audience that VR users can join.

Users take their sets in a clean virtual stadium that overlooks the performance’s actual theatre. Users can’t control the camera of these performances directly, but they can choose to view solo or in social mode. In the social mode, users will meet others attending the event using Oculus Venues.

It’s a strangely unique way of making the disconnected VR experience feel more social. You can chat up your ‘seatmate’ and if you share an interest on your connected Facebook profile, you’ll see it when talking to them.

Another unique aspect of virtual reality concerts is giving the user control over any harassment that may occur. Platforms like Venues have a code of conduct that all users must agree to before joining a concert. This policy forbids harassment, but users have the option of muting a user if they are disruptive.

There are early hiccups — for example, the picture appearing pixelated at times — but for better or worse, VR concerts are likely here to stay.

In-Game Concerts

Concerts taking place within gaming worlds aren’t a new-and-novel concept.  But the practice has gained popularity after Marshmello’s recent performance in Fortnite.

Amazingly, in-game concerts and bands have been around since at least the early 2000s.

Second Life has hosted thousands of concerts from cover bands performing in-game for the citizens of the world. The site Gridlag is dedicated to archiving these performances for anyone to enjoy. Everything about the Second Life performance can be tailored to the performer, making it highly unique.

A physical/virtual tandem strategy could allow bands to dramatically expand their tours in the future.  One early example comes from Blizzard employees, who banded together and performed in-game as Elite Tauren Chieftain, a band comprised of members of the Horde. The virtual incarnation of the band performs their original song “Power of the Horde” inside the World’s End Tavern in Shattrath City for players to attend.

All of these examples allow everyday people express their musical prowess in-game, but it took a game with Fortnite’s popularity to strike gold.

EDM artist Marshmello recently partnered with Epic Games to perform two 10-minute sets for players of the game. The event was heavily promoted by both Epic Games and Marshmello, and an exclusive item pack was released to celebrate the event.

More than 10 million people logged in to experience Marshmello’s set.

Now, weeks after the event, Marshmello is still being discussed among Fortnite fans. His YouTube channel has garnered over 40 million views thanks to the unique promotion. Few games have the cultural reach for this kind of performance, but expect more Fortnite collaborations from popular artists in the future.

Madison Sphere Arena

The traditional concert performance isn’t being left out in the cold, either. Madison Square Garden company is working on the MSG Sphere Arena in Las Vegas that will feature state-of-the-art technology when it opens in 2020.

The venue is being built with concerts and live entertainment in mind. A new technology called beamforming audio will project audio at each seat in the house. This method of tech is massively different than traditional speaker arrays that amplify the sound.

The floors will feature an adaptive haptic system that can create vibrations to mimic what’s happening on stage or in the film. Attendees will also be able to smell different scents thanks to unique delivery methods that can be tailored for each performance.

Essentially, Madison Sphere Arena is attempting to transport you elsewhere.  The CEO of Madison Square Garden Company, Jim Dolan, says  his company’s goal is to make people feel these performances.

“Obviously if you are in the polar ice cap, you have to feel cold; you have to see the glacier. That is essentially what we are building: an attempt to convince you that you are somewhere else.”

Madison Sphere Arena broke ground in September of 2018 and will be open to the public in 2020.

Hologram Artist Performances

Artists who have died in decades past are being brought to life through the use of hologram technology. In April of 2018, more than 3,000 people went to see a hologram of Roy Orbison perform his hits.

Other artists ‘going on hologram tour’ include Ronnie James Dio and Frank Zappa. The technology has primarily been used to bring dead stars back to the performing stage, but live artists may also jump in.

Hologram technology has been explored for several years now.  A hologram of Tupac appeared onstage at Coachella in 2012, a ‘beginning’ that never really took off.  While bringing dead stars back to life may be interpreted as creepy to some, backers of this technology are focusing on the tribute aspects.

Just recently, Ahmet Zappa permitted his father to be re-created as a touring hologram.

“We have elements of Frank onstage, of course, but we can do all these other things and anthropomorphize the music in a whole new way.”

For now, hologram concerts have been one-off events that act as a tribute to the late artist. An Amy Winehouse VR tour was slated to change that, but the project was canned after fans began raising ethical questions about an artist touring after their death.

The Winehouse tour was scheduled to start later this year.

Meanwhile, the traditional in-person show is booming.

That includes festivals, which continue to thrive on in-person social connectivity.  Indeed, that’s a potent plus for many attendees, though in reality, it’s unlikely that any of the above-mentioned innovations will replace traditional gigs.  More realistically, they’ll continue to reshape and augment physical shows, with hybrid combinations and transformations that are impossible to predict.