The New-Normal of Live Music: What’s worked and what hasn’t


On most Saturday nights, you’d most likely find me at a venue or festival, watching a band or artist. The last gig I attended was in mid-March, which seems like a lifetime ago now.

But technically, the most recent concert I saw was, in fact, last Saturday evening at 6 pm, when Kolkata/Dubai duo Parekh & Singh livestreamed a ticketed performance to fans over the course of about 45 minutes.

It was an intimate experience knowing that they were performing exclusively to select fans from all over the world, Parekh even interacting with those tuned in via their social media inboxes. It wasn’t the first innovation in the ticketed livestreaming space, considering many promoters and brands have tried different things – they’ve asked for donations, they’ve hosted public livestreams with an option of pay-what-you-want.

Even as live events return in Asia and North America (and by no means are they being carried out on a sustainable financial model), it’s fair to say that normalcy – the ‘new normal’, that is – will only come once a COVID-19 vaccine is out and widely administered. In the meantime, innovation and experimentation has been at the front of many music and tech players, tying up with brands or even artists and their management diving headfirst.

Having in-game performances was not entirely a new phenomenon, but it’s quickly become one of the most immersive eye-catching ways to increase artist reach. While EDM artist Marshmello took on an in-game concert in Fortnite in February itself, rapper Travis Scott overtook the DJ’s viewership record with over 12.3 million people tuned in. All this for a 10-minute performance that laid heavy emphasis on eye-widening animation sequences and Travis looking badass to the bone (complete with Nike shoes animated to the T).

Indie/emo band American Football and many more have been part of festivals on open world videogame Minecraft, but as some tech writers have pointed out, where we’re at currently means that it might seem like there’s millions of people watching (logged into a game, no less), it’s never consecutive. It’s never a fully shared experience because of lag or just sync issues or server jams. If you couldn’t stand waiting in line to get into a venue to see your favorite band, chances are you’re still going to have to frantically click on a screen until the server accepts your request and you’re let in for the experience.

Elsewhere, electronic music producer-DJ Porter Robinson curated the annual Secret Sky Festival for a fully digital edition in May. It was a regular livestream set that was pumped up with visual mapping and broadcasted via Twitch, YouTube but more importantly, Robinson had a custom-designed digital auditorium that allowed fans to put on their VR headsets and take in the festival experience – multiple stages, vendor stalls and of course, artists spinning their best tunes.

Everywhere in the world, there’s no doubt about thousands of trials by artists who are now housebound and unable to just get out there, play a gig and earn some money or sell some merch. Some artists are doing livestreams every day via their Instagram or Facebook accounts and this is certainly overkill.

At the same time, a lot of artists are perhaps seeing the increased digital engagement as a way of accruing more fans and thus, more streams (for what it’s worth, considering streaming royalties aren’t exactly likely to put food on the table). While the extrovert in the artist can choose to go live to a few hundreds and invite another artist to chat or jam with them, if this takes place even more than twice a week, it would likely start putting people off livestreams.

Every night at 8 pm, if you’re on Instagram and following musicians or music-related accounts, you’re probably likely to see a few ‘going live’ notifications pop up.

Another obvious aspect of digital concerts is that if you haven’t prepared or practiced (or are simply nervous), some may be forgiving, but the distractions of the online world are so plentiful that you can be sure many are going to log off and find something else to browse.

Loose, dull or just monotonous livestreams in which an artist plays their music might keep the superfans glued to their screens, but the best livestream concerts have been about creating an experience (very much like the best gigs or festivals you’ve attended).

If artists can be more interactive, charm with their storytelling or even put forward their awkwardness, it will likely endear them to everyone tuning in. At a time when all of the internet is vying for the attention of every screen, musicians can certainly sit down and think about the best way to package their music for the online sphere.