The music industry is taking a big hit from the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, but it is not sitting idle. Broadcast on Fox and hosted by Sir Elton John last night, the iHeartRadio Living Room Concert for America showed that even if we can’t be together, we can still unite to do some good in the world.
Artists who contributed to the event via remote appearances included Mariah Carey, the Backstreet Boys, Dave Grohl, Tim McGraw, Lady Gaga and Billie Joe Armstrong, among others. Donations raised during the event will benefit First Responders Children’s Foundation and Feeding America. The concert was a well-needed diversion and a break from the endless stream of bleak news raging across all of the major channels lately.
Given the number of performers who have recently been hosting online concerts, it begs the question, “Will these replace live shows?” And that reminds me of a conversation I had with another touring engineer not too long ago.
We were commiserating about commuting to our gigs, joking about how it’s not a far fetch to be able to remotely mix a live show from one’s couch. The technology is certainly available and we laughed at the concept of traveling from the kitchen to the couch, instead of traveling 13 hours across multiple flights.
A streaming or even recorded live performance from your favorite artist is a wonderful thing. It makes you feel connected to the artist, gives you an up-close view of their abilities, possibly a preview of songs-in-progress, and might reveal a glimpse of their personal lives. We’ve even seen events where an artist solicits requests from the attending audience via chat, providing instant feedback and getting the participants more involved.
As attractive as that might sound to musicians and crew who are weary of touring, it’s not likely that streaming performances will replace live performances anytime soon. While an online performance like the Living Room Concert for America is indeed an event, it’s an event that’s way different from being in a room with 500, 3,000 or 10,000 people who feel the same way you do about a certain type of music, or are coming together for a common cause (as was the case last night). There’s no substitute for the give-and-take energy between performer and audience, that mystical connection that happens when a performer sings a song in-person like they’re speaking to you—because they are.
I remember being in a media class in school many years ago when one of the students raised the idea of whether or not home video recorders would replace movie theaters (some of us may remember the famous “Betamax” case from the 1970s).
The professor, whose name escapes me, felt that this was not likely to happen for several reasons. One was that going out to a movie is a cheap date, and broke youngsters will always need that. For the most part, movies don’t premiere on a home video system, though that has changed recently. Another reason—one that parallels the concert industry—is that viewing a movie at home is not an event. As is the case with a live concert, you only get the full impact by physically being in the venue where you experience the scope of the event—including the lighting, the effects and the audio system. That’s what makes live music special.