From Campfire S’mores, To The Vegas Strip
Article by Paul Konikowski, CTS-D
The idea of holding a concert for a small local audience and broadcasting it to a larger audience is not new. The Grand Ole Opry and Austin City Limits have been broadcasting live to radio for years. Shows like American Bandstand, MTV Unplugged, and VH1 Storytellers would often record the shows and broadcast them later on TV. Movies like The Last Dance, Rattle and Hum, Pulse, or The Woodstock Movie have given us a front row seat to some amazing concert footage, and a candid view backstage, albeit in 24 frames per second. Nowadays, teen stars like Justin Bieber and Katy Perry are releasing movies in 3D, including concert footage. You can also watch live opera performances in movie theaters, or simulcast to large baseball parks.
The internet has created a new kind of live concert, where “concert go-ers” can stream the shows live to their laptops, smart phones or tablets. But who wants to watch a rock concert sitting in front of a tiny computer screen, listening to tiny computer speakers? Well, with a HDMI cable (and maybe an adapter), anyone can easily hook up their laptop to their big-screen HDTV, and crank up their living room speakers as loud as their neighbors will allow.
Webcams have been around a while, but live online concert streaming in full HD is still relatively new, and many bands are reluctant to jump on the bandwagon, because they are also trying to preserve what’s left of the dying live concert industry. If a band plays a live concert on iTunes, Facebook, or Google+, are they sellouts, or simply adapting to a changing market ?
Here are four very different examples of online concerts I have seen recently:
Livephish.com – “Live Phish Downloads offers high quality, unedited soundboard recordings of select shows in standard MP3 and CD-quality FLAC files and select video tracks via a state-of-the-art delivery system. All downloads are compatible with Windows, Mac and Unix, allowing for maximum flexibility and ease of use. Once downloaded, audio and video can be burned to disc, transferred to portable players, or played through your computer.”
Notice the website says “select video tracks”. The band realizes that an internet broadcast will not (and should not) take the place of seeing an entire Phish tour, but if the shows are sold out, why not let a few more people enjoy them online? Using a mix of experienced cameramen and video-conference style PTZ cameras, the 720p video stream and audio mix are as good as live, with only one or two digital glitches throughout the entire 3 hour+ concert. Each concert cost between $14.99 and $19.99, with 3-day packages available for $24.99-$39.99. Not exactly free, but much cheaper than a $60 ticket, a tank of gas, a cramped hotel room, and an out-of-state DUI. I encourage you to go to livephish.com, watch some sample videos in full screen, and judge the quality for yourself.
TRI Studios – TRI (Tamalpais Research Institute) was recently opened by Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead as a purpose-built audio/video studio designed specifically for an online concert. There is a live studio audience of a hundred or so people at each TRI performance, which helps the bands feel like they are still performing at a concert, rather than for a broadcast. I was fortunate enough to attend a concert at TRI by Lukas Nelson’s band Promise Of The Real, where I was one of the studio audience members. First off, the local room mix sounded ‘Stella’, thanks to the Meyer Sound Constellation system installed in the ceiling, which allows variable reverberation times. The online mix is handled by a different engineering group in another room altogether. Since the studio is made for these online concerts, the video and audio quality is scary good, but the HD stream tends to lock up more than the other online concerts I have “attended”. Here is are some highlights from a recent Jerry Garcia memorial show at TRI Studios. The TRI concerts are free to watch on Yahoo Music, the cost is paid for through 30 second advertising slots before each show. Just like TV.
I Heart Radio – Like Pandora, or Spotify, but with “real” radio stations, and ads. Some of my readers may have heard Billie Joe of Green Day recently smashed his guitar (NSFW) in disgust when they told him he had one minute left in his I Heart Radio set. I don’t blame him, really; the “festival” I watched the following night was just plain weird. The lineup included Linkin Park, Deadmau5 (pronounced ‘dead mouse’), Aerosmith, and Pitbull. The crowd was just not into it, and their lack of enthusiasm translated to the cameras. No one was dancing when Deadmau5 was spinning except a few random females that the camera guys could not get enough of. The best part of the Deadmau5 set was the new Professional Griefers track, with special guest Girard Way from My Chemical Romance singing his own live vocals (read: no lip sync, thank you very much Girard for keeping it real!)
The Yahoo Music video stream and audio quality were both good when I could actually get it working, but the stream kept dropping out, despite my business class internet connection. After Aerosmith, I could not get it to work at all. The concerts are free, but only if you sign up for a login to iheart.com; the costs are covered by annoying advertisements.
Daria Musk – About a year ago, this Connecticut teenage singer/songwriter started using Google’s free multi-point video conferencing service (called Hangouts) as a way to play live concerts online. Her dedicated fan base (which she calls G+niuses) has now exceed 2 million people worldwide, and she has been featured everywhere from TED Talks to Rolling Stone Magazine. Google Hangouts allows nine lucky fans to have a virtual front-row seat to Daria’s concerts, talking to her between songs, talking to each other, and basically hanging out. Google recently added a Studio Mode button, which dedicates more bandwidth and different AEC algorithm better suited for live musical performances. Hangouts can now be simultaneously streamed to YouTube (note: Google owns YouTube). These Hangouts On Air allow an unlimited online audience to enjoy the concert.
For her latest online music event, Daria Musk and her bassist RAM decided to do a “campfire concert”, streaming live from Daria’s backyard in CT while rain clouds loomed overhead. Her younger brother stoked the fire and monitored online comments, while Daria entertained the rotating crowd with her songs, stories, and S’mores lessons. (Since her audience is global, many of them had no idea what a S’more was, and/or had no access to the three simple ingredients.)
Daria invited certain friends to play their own songs (using their own studio mode button), and other audience members followed suit by teaching folk songs from their local heritage. Each time she would start a new song, Daria would ask the online audience to mute their microphones, a trick she learned early on in Google Hangouts to avoid echo and background noise.
What is most amazing to me about the Daria Musk campfire concert is her ability to really connect with the online audience using minimal technology. Daria gets personal with each fan in the Hangout, welcoming them when they arrive, and saying a heartfelt goodbye when they “rotate” out of their “seats” to let other people join. There is no cost, no advertisements, no cameramen, no studio, no engineering, no broadcast truck; just Daria, RAM the bassist, and her brother, and millions of online fans. If you don’t have time to watch the entire concert, you should at least watch the first five minutes, and the last-minute when it starts raining, it’s really cute.
What is your experience with streaming or watching live music events online? Please comment below, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.