7 ways to experience live music while social distancing
In September, the experimental rock duo 100 gecs premiered a new track to a gathered posse of avatars inside the video game Minecraft. Part of an event called the Mine Gala, it was organized and promoted by a team of real-life creators via an “independent virtual events platform” called Open Pit.
A cheeky reference to the New York art event the Met Gala, the Mine Gala offered many of the amenities familiar to those at an outdoor event: a VIP area for fans willing to pay for access; the freedom to explore various rooms and spaces; a feeling of being part of larger community; and the chance to hear artists or DJs make and mix music. It even featured an art gallery with original work.
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Crucially, given the global coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on the spring concert season, the humans controlling the hundreds of avatars in attendance never physically interacted, so they couldn’t spread real-life germs.
As the forecast for the 2020 festival season becomes more dire by the hour, fans, promoters and creators are facing an uncertain summer. With the road no longer calling, musicians may be forced to experiment with new modes of self-expression.
Listeners addicted to live music, and those whose livelihoods depend on touring, have options. Even if they don’t scratch the exact same rhythmic itch, fans needing to let loose in the living room can look to screens for immersive musical events. Artists hoping to recover lost touring income can broadcast sets, charge fans a cover and market their T-shirts and records.
Whether through online pay-per-view and streaming portals where thousands of hours of live music events are broadcast and stored, or in the digital realm, where multiplayer online games, platforms such as Twitch and virtual reality headsets allow for a different sort of communal music experience, those looking to sate their live music hunger have a menu’s worth of options. (And, of course, there’s always YouTube.)
Here are some more services, platforms and stations offering COVID-free interactive music experiences.
A vast repository of filmed concerts, documentaries and miscellaneous audio-video content, Stingray Qello is the Netflix of music streaming services. Its deep selection is easily browsed by genre. Looking for punk? The great X documentary “X: The Unheard Music” is available alongside concert films by Green Day, the Undertones, Patti Smith, Fall Out Boy, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and dozens more. Similarly rich — if a little dusty — selections can be found by browsing dozens of other genres including hip-hop, Latin, classical, metal, indie rock, electronic, reggae and folk.
Highlights: Efterklang, “The Ghost of Piramida”; Cecil Taylor, “All the Notes”; Juan Gabriel, “Mis 40 en Bellas Artes”
Availability: Amazon Prime, Ruku, Google
Price: $7.99 per month, $99 annually
Starting March 11, the rap-rock band 311 celebrated 3/11 with a trio of televised performances at the Park Theater in Las Vegas. The price of virtual admission for those logged in to rock music hub Nugs.TV was $29.99. An offshoot of the Nugs.net archive of full concert audio performances by a variety of acts including the Dead & Company, Pearl Jam, Metallica, Wilco, Leftover Salmon and hundreds more, Nugs.TV offers fans an opportunity to bring the improvised thrill of live performance into your listening room.
Highlights: the Raconteurs Live at Third Man Records, Bob Weir & Wolf Brothers Live at Sweetwater Music Hall, Rebirth Brass Band at Tipitina’s
Availability: Online streaming at Nugs.TV
Price: à la cart model for downloads and live streams
Workplaces and schools are asking people to “self-quarantine” for 14 days if they’ve been exposed to the coronavirus. Experts explain when that’s necessary.
For a more intimate experience similar to a concert, the StageIt platform engages with a roster of well known songwriters, rappers, bands and solo musicians to present concerts broadcast from their homes to an audience watching in real time. StageIt’s pitch: “unique experiences that are never archived.” Attendees pay a cover charge calculated in purchasable “notes,” money that goes to the performers. Fans can interact with the performers and tip them extra notes, as well.
On Thursday, StageIt announced as a way to help artists affected by tour cancellations that it would increase its artist payout percentage to 80%. Singer-songwriter Jason Mann pitched his upcoming event as “social distancing done right,” calling it part of his “no touch concert series.”
Highlights: past gigs by Trey Songz, Jay Sean, Ryan Cabrera, Susanna Hoffs, Jimmy Buffett, Common and Bonnie Raitt
Price: variable; view-able through the purchase of “notes”
AXS TV Concerts
Currently in 50 million homes, the Anthem Sports & Entertainment-owned station offers a bounty of well curated music programming. Founded as HDNet by billionaire Mark Cuban and formerly owned by AEG, the network is heavy on classic rock and country music, and delivers big-time concert events. Although it doesn’t offer simulcast concerts, its 24-hour schedule is filled with filmed sets by Amy Winehouse, Norah Jones, Cat Stevens, Sheryl Crow, ZZ Top and more.
Highlights: “Live From Redrocks” series featuring acts including Alan Jackson, Grace Potter, Cheap Trick; “Docs That Rock”
Availability: various cable providers and portals
Price: free with subscription to Sling TV, Spectrum, DirectTV Now, Philo and others.
Turn off your mind, relax and slip on your headset: Virtual reality technology has long hoped to revolutionize music performance, and the possibilities are mind-blowing — and don’t spread COVID-19. The Facebook-owned OculusVenues harnesses the company’s Oculus VR technology to present music events unlike anything imaginable a decade ago. Available in solo or social mode, the experience in social mode presents a level of interactivity with other people (as avatars) similar to at a concert.
As one attendee wrote on a VR site, “I expected to just to be watching alone at home, or silently with others around me. I didn’t realize the high level of interaction on offer, nor how open people would be to interacting with strangers sitting around them. The interface will even let you change seats to move closer to someone, or scroll through an index of people who are currently speaking.” The best feature is one virtually every concertgoer has needed at some point: A mute button that shuts up the drunk couple who won’t stop talking.
Highlights: Recent sets by marquee pop artists including Billie Eilish, Post Malone and Empire of the Sun delivered visual effects unhindered by earthly constraints, with communal chats and comments occurring simultaneously.
Availability: via Facebook’s OculusVenues
Price: free with Oculus Quest VR headset ($399-$499) or HTC Vive ($599-$1,199)
Remember when U2 did that concert in Second Life? The architecture of fake worlds has improved, to say the least. As with Oculus and a variety of competitors including NextVR and MelodyVR, the company Wave hosts live virtual concerts, and exploits the infinite design possibilities available in this new headset-accessible reality.
Artists can tie melodies to visual accents, can transform settings at will or present themselves in digitally rebuilt old venues. For its part, MelodyVR promises to bring sold-out concerts into headsets that allow viewers to transport themselves into venues.
The Wave platform calls its performances “waves.” A recent one by British singer-songwriter Imogen Heap found her singing as if floating through spangled cosmic dimensions. During bridges, she exploded into starlike smithereens.
Highlights: Tinashe, “Live in Wave”; The Glitch Mob, “See Without Eyes”; “Lindsey Stirling x Wave”
Availability: the VR app can be downloaded through Oculus Rift and HTC Vive
Price: free with Oculus Quest VR headset or HTC Vive
Last year the marshmallow-headed EDM producer Marshmello drew an astounding 10 million visitors to a concert held within the architecture of the online game Fortnite. Those inside were treated with a hallucinatory good time featuring bouncing Marshmello avatars the size of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Curiously buxom anime creatures danced, entertaining millions watching alone in bedrooms and man caves the world over.
A weirder spectacle, however, occurred in Minecraft courtesy of the Mine Gala promoter-designers Open Pit. Called FireFest, it drew an astounding array of electronic producers who caused real-life buzz. A participant in a Reddit thread on the Open Pit parties touted the event as a must-see. “Diplo has been here before, no joke,” wrote a poster named Dylan Tallchief. “Diplo was at FireFest and he tweeted about Coalchella.”
The pitch was enough to convince another participant in the thread to start planning for the next Open Pit adventure, which could happen as early as this summer, with an invitation: “Anyone looking to camp together?”
Highlights: Coalchella, FireFest, Mine Gala
Availability: via Minecraft app
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