E-concerts: These are a thing now.

There are all these expectations — which usually I can’t meet — about how many people will come see you play at any given show, even if you’ve never played at that venue before. Sometimes I feel like everyone has a certain amount of goodwill they can get from the local live music venues before it’s all used up, and I’ve used up a lot of it with place that I really enjoy playing in Baltimore. Some people might find that a very stupid way of looking at things. They tend to have more successful music careers than I do.

Well, anyway, today I saw this post from Grassrootsy about something I’m going to go ahead and dub “e-concerts” if they haven’t already gotten that name. What is this? It’s a live performance watched over the internet. It’s not simply taping the performance and sticking it up on YouTube. You’re playing live, and the audience is watching live. Ideally there is some interaction between audience and performer.

Stage-It, the company mentioned in the Grassrootsy post, is not the only way to have an e-concert. Artists have used Google+ to host concerts via the “Hangout” feature. Rob Hinkal from the folk rock band ilyAIMY regularly broadcasts — and then archives — the open mics he hosts on a site called Ustream. The archive part is really cool for people who have no media otherwise. A Ustream video is the only thing on my music page on this site right now, in fact.

Stage-It does have some nice advantages over these other methods, and I’m sure there are other hosts for this sort of activity (including Skype, maybe?), but what I’m really interested in right now is the implications of e-concerts.

Joy mentions that people are “lazy” or just “busy” as a big reason live music isn’t as well attended now than 10, 20, or especially 30 years ago. There are many more factors than that, of course. I think the dropoff in the last 10 years has more to do with economics than anything else. Gas is comparatively more expensive. I used to think nothing of driving for an hour to see a show. Now I calculate that it’s $10 in gas and add that to the cost of the ticket. Does that make me cheap? Undoubtedly. But it’s a reality for many people. Obviously this isn’t an economics treatise. There are many reasons people don’t go see live music as much. I’ve seen people blame easy access to recorded material and live video, but that’s absurd (let’s forego the polemy — YouTube is great for artists). But let’s remember that internet technologies are supplanting physical travelling in other spheres: I used to telecommute a couple days a week when I worked as a science editor, and telecommuting is becoming more and more common in all professions. In some ways, it’s weird that despite a decade of fast-enough internet speeds and the bevy of services available to musicians to promote their art that e-concerts are a such a recent development.

E-concerts are still actual “events” worth bugging the press about, or even gimmicks, something that a band doesn’t, you know, plan on repeating, unless of course it’s really successful, and then maybe we’ll think about it and maybe you should try it out because you might like it …

There are certainly some ways in which an e-concert is inferior to a live show. Loud rock bands may or may not benefit; some hardcore or metal fans probably want to feel the bass when they see a band and won’t get that without being in the room. Whereas for a live show you might have a PA provided with a soundman and good speakers, for an e-concert you’re probably pumping whatever you play through a USB mic, through a sound card, then out through someone’s computer (or possibly TV) speakers.

On the other hand, you don’t have to haul gear, and if you know what you’re doing, you might be able to muster better sound than some venues, especially if volume control is an issue or studio wizardry is a core of your sound. My band, Midway Fair, has a perennial problem where we aren’t loud or intense enough to be at home in rock clubs, but we’re often too loud for coffeeshops. There are very few places I’ve played where I felt comfortable and wasn’t worried about the volume levels or intensity of music that the audience was expecting.

E-concerts will become more common. That’s for certain. What does this do for live music overall? I suppose there might be some worries that if people know they can see you on a somewhat regular basis online, then they won’t spend the time and money required to see you in person. Or maybe the opposite is true: They’ll see you more often, and then want to see you in person when they can, because the in-person concerts will be rarer.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

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