Are You Really at a Gig if You are ‘Virtually’ There?

Think back to the first gig you ever attended. The first gig you attend can be an incredible and truly formative experience. It’s not even all about the band; it’s about the smell of the venue, the noise levels (leaving you unable to hear properly for at least a day afterwards), and the sheer exhilaration of getting to see your heroes in the flesh for the first time. All of this makes for perfect memories.

Experiencing live music in person at a venue is still very much an activity that people enjoy in 2017. However, in much the same way as The Maccabees recently said farewell to Birmingham in a high energy, classic set that leaves a gaping hole in the live music scene, could we soon be saying goodbye to the gig experience itself, or at least the gig experience as we know it?

Are The Times a-Changing?

Bob Dylan famously sang in 1964 that the times are a-changing and it may be time to take heed of the words of the now Nobel prize-winning poet. Of course, while the idea of change is sometimes an uncomfortable one, music has often been the outlet through which we’ve seen rapid change, with the swinging sixties and rock and roll heralding a new era, and punk and even grunge music in the mid-1980s forcing subsequent changes in pop culture. Indeed, more recently, even streaming company Spotify (which is believed to have a net value of $8.4 billion) have tried to get in on the action of social change using the power of music, according to an article on Forbes, but none of these changes have threatened the concept of live gigs. In 2017, though, experiencing something via an intermediary – often a screen, in isolation or with others – is becoming far more of an established concept. The pop stars of today are so slickly managed that we now have companies like Odeon offering fans the chance to watch films of gigs like The End of The End final show in Birmingham from the city’s very own Black Sabbath. Black Sabbath aren’t exactly the most sanitised and clean mainstream band, so the fact that there is still a market there for watching the sold out gigs proves that fans who cannot attend a big gig in person still have the desire to experience the action in a different, and arguably preferable to some, way. This trend has been copied by the sporting world (for instance, Vue screening the Wimbledon men’s final) and theatre and opera.

Don’t We Already Live In A Virtual World?

It is certainly not an unfair suggestion to say that we are already living in a virtual world to an extent. It’s not just in the music arena where we see this; in the gaming industry, using virtual reality to allow individuals to interact in new ways is extremely popular. There is the obvious example of Twitch and its live streamed video games, which have resulted in it being worth $3.3 billion (about £2.5 billion), but there is also more. In the iGaming industry, whereas fans of rolling the dice in the 1990s might have hopped on a plane and landed in Vegas 10 hours later, they can now experience the very same action from their own home thanks to live dealer casino technology. Companies like Betway Casino allow gamers to interact with live dealers located elsewhere, and get a live feed experience simulating a visit to a casino whilst sitting at home in the UK. If consumers in the gaming industry are already happy to interact in this manner, why wouldn’t the same trend translate to the music industry, watching the action on a screen or, in the future, maybe even taking advantage of virtual reality technology by truly immersing yourself in the experience without stepping foot out your front door? With the famous Dale End music venue having closed up and moved, it does seem like our feelings of nostalgia towards certain venues are declining. If you could watch action unfolding in New York whilst sitting in your home in Birmingham, and without forking out for flights and accommodation in the Big Apple, would you say no?

Can Virtual Ever Be Real?

Looking back for a minute at the gaming industry, we can see that Woverhampton-based AtmosVR are trying to make the world of virtual reality that little bit more real with their 360-degree streaming service, which they also want to use to bring gigs to audiences at home and elsewhere. Companies like Playstation are also starting to bring more virtual reality gaming into the mainstream, but it is undeniable on balance that at present the virtual can be no match for the real. There is, after all, no replicating the smell of sticky wooden floors, and the thumping pulse of drums in your temples. It also needs to be said that the opportunity to go out and make big money from touring is still very much there, with Coldplay grossing $29.7 million dollars (about £23 million) from four dates last year at Wembley Stadium. Music industry bosses will need to find a way to incorporate virtual streaming of gigs whilst protecting that cash cow that tour dates seem to be.

For now, we can celebrate the fact that Birmingham is looking forward to a new city centre music festival this September, showing that live music and live gigs are very much a part of the present and perhaps they shouldn’t feel under threat anytime soon despite the advances in virtual reality technology.

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