Normally, getting ready to go to a concert means getting dressed for it. If there's a Beyoncé ticket in your purse, there may very well be sky-high heels on your feet. For an indie-rock concert, you might wear a band T-shirt, broadcasting to others that you've seen this group before. If you're heading to a metal show, you're almost certainly dressed all in black.
But what if you didn't have to get dressed for your next concert at all, because no one would see you there? What if you could cuddle up on your couch in your old, comfy pajamas to see your favorite artist on their new tour?
Concert streaming is an innovation that could democratize live music in an unprecedented way, making it infinitely more accessible. No longer would a fan need to reside in the "right" city where a band is playing, have the (often insane) amount of disposable income necessary to buy a ticket, or even be online at just the right moment to snag one before bots scoop them all up. No longer would a fan worried about personal safety or space have to face mammoth crowds to see their favorite band.
Hundreds of people are working to find the best way to stream a concert straight to your couch. It just might be the future of live music.
"Smartphone use at our events and media consumption trends globally shows us live is among the most shared and consumed content in the world," Jordan Zachary, the Chief Strategy Officer for LiveNation, told me. This, of course, is obvious: At any concert now, you'll witness a thousand smartphones snapping photos and videos that later travel across the internet to people who didn't attend the show themselves. Before you see a concert in 2016, you've probably already watched snippets of the same show from previous stops on the tour. Maybe you saw those posts on social media. Maybe something happened at the show that made headlines, or maybe the band members themselves posted clips.
For more than 15 years, industry executives have been hyping concert streaming as the next big thing in the future of music. If fans are eager to watch shows on Instagram, there has to be a way to capitalize on that, right? But streamed concerts rarely happen. A concert with a lot of prestige or a ton of big names, for example, might be streamed live online, but only with a lot of prior planning. In 2005, Live 8 streamed online. In 2012, Paul McCartney streamed on Apple TV. Major festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Made in America stream online annually.
"It’s kind of been a little bit like the Wild West," Trey Allen, the manager for the band My Morning Jacket, who is currently working for TourGigs—a company that works with a small team to create and streamline live streams of concerts—told me. "And you know it still is a little bit. We're still trying to figure out how to get everyone on board with putting live music into the digital space."
But in 2016, several new players have entered the fray. Recently, Hulu and LiveNation announced a partnership to bring live-streamed concerts to virtual reality headsets.
"People love experiences where they can forget that they're on the couch at home. And the [experiences] they really love are the ones where they can have an experience they could never have," Noah Heller, Hulu's Vice President of Partnerships and Emerging Technology, told me. "That’s been a goal since day one of this concept."
This project hasn't launched yet, but Heller explained that the plan is to give viewers an experience more exclusive than the one they'd get from buying a ticket. Maybe that means they'd see what it's like to be backstage, or maybe it looks like taking in a crowd of 10,000 from the perspective of the band. But whatever form Hulu and LiveNation's new project will take, it's entering a competitive market of companies all trying to do one thing: provide a narrative to the concert that regular attendees might not see.
"It’s one thing to have someone show up and be a part of your crowd, but it’s another for them to see what it’s like to be you," Heller at Hulu told me. "Artists that have a respect for the craft [will want to do this], and want to transmit that message."
There are already places on the internet where music lovers can watch hundreds of thousands of concert videos. One of these spaces is Qello, a subscription-based service ($7.99/month) that plugs itself as the Netflix of concert films and documentaries. "We’ll definitely do the one-off, straight-off concert films, but from an original content perspective, I think we’re trying to commission projects that give the casual music fan the inner workings of how our space is," Richard Johnson, the co-founder of Qello, told me.
The idea, then, isn't just that you would watch a concert stream live from your couch, but that you would get something out of it that you could never have gotten by attending on your own.
There are a few big hurdles between streaming the occasional concert to viewers and making streamed concerts a reality for the majority of Americans.
The first is that music licensing is such a mess of red tape and legal documents. It can be very difficult to work out the rights that explain who can stream the concert for how long and where and to how many people. The performer has to sign off, the person who wrote the song has to sign off, and the label may have to sign off as well. That's three complex negotiations about money that have to happen to before companies like Qello can stream one song. "It’s not like it’s that difficult. It’s time consuming and it's costly," Qello's Richard Johnson told me.
But the biggest hurdle of all is the preconceived notions that concert promoters, performers, and labels have about what streaming a concert means.
Through his work with TourGigs, Trey Allen tries to undercut some of the negative assumptions artists have about streaming their shows. "Our concern is with the fan and the band. We come in and no one even knows that we’re there. It’s almost like an invisible process, which is huge for us," Allen told me. "When these video production companies come in, you’re losing 100 seats to the people making this video. It's easy to feel like you’re losing money and you’re losing ticket sales."
That's the greatest fear here—that by streaming concerts, the essence of live shows will be lost, if they don't cease to exist altogether. It seems that the question lingering in performers' minds is why would people pay money to see a concert live if they have already watched it on their computers, in their pajamas?
But everyone I talked to about the future of concerts was adamant that no amount of streaming would ever replace the actual experience of standing in front of a band or star that you love.
"Our data has shown that consumption of live content increases a fan's desire to attend the show. And importantly, it is among the strongest discovery tools to [reach] new fans," Jordan Zachary of LiveNation told me. "Research shows millennials highly value live experiences and we believe live attendance will continue to grow globally."
What these innovators are banking on is that the people who were already game to pay money to attend a Beyoncé show wouldn't be any less likely to buy tickets if they could also watch her perform online beforehand. There are no spoilers in concerts. If concert streaming can become a common and profitable business model, it wouldn't hurt performers trying to make money or the fans who were already planning to see the show—if anything, in the long run, it would probably help them both.
Streaming could not only give the concert experience more dimension, but make it much more financially and practically accessible for a wide swath of the American population. The future of live music is bright.
Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.