2020 NAMM Show Highlights The Growing Impact Of Immersive Technology On Live Music

“The world’s largest trade-only music event” shined a spotlight on how VR and AR are changing how artists perform live.

At the NAMM show (National Association of Music Merchants) in Anaheim last week, music artists were everywhere on the show floor making, playing, adapting, sharing, remixing, and learning on the spot. 

Silent House Productions, a seasoned production company that has worked with artists such as Khalid, Jennifer Lopez, the Jonas Brothers, Childish Gambino and many many more, offered insights into the creative visions they bring to life through stage design. For Taylor Swift’s Reputation tour, they built an enormous stage that represented shredded newspapers and the inaccurate representation of her life in the media. 

Taylor Swift’s Reputation Tour / Image Credit: Silent House Productions

As more sophisticated AR glasses begin to close in on consumer pricing and start to look (nearly) safe to wear in public, we’re approaching the impact point between technology and music. Until we’ve reached a point where audience members are bringing their own headsets, would you be willing to pay a VIP ticket price to have access to an AR-enhanced version of the show and exclusive content? Do these ticket prices mean you get your own glasses or borrow and drop off like we used to do with 3D glasses at the movie theatre?

AR glasses have the potential to bring Swift’s Reputation tour designs off the stage and into the entire stadium. For Tyler the Creator’s performance, Silent House designed the stage to look similar to the wig he wears during performances. This combination of wild creative vision and technology is where we get some of the most unique special effects and rewarding performance experiences that are talked about for a lifetime. 

Nreal AR Glasses / Image Credit: Nreal

Music has always been a spectacle intended to be played in front of or heard by an audience. The appeal is a stimulation of the senses, and of an experience and a memory that is shared in a moment with a particular place or group of people. Visual and multi-sensory effects are no new news either as these techniques were widely used in dance, theatre and music in the 20th century as an exploration of “Gesamtkunstwerk” or “total art”, yet the music industry is still trying to make sense of new technology and technologists are trying to make sense of music and performance. 

Take Beat Saber, Synth Riders, Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and SingStar for example. These are some of the more recent examples of games that have successfully incorporated music; however, they are still more akin to karaoke. The key distinction is that these games still present the audience with music that’s being played by a computer. When these games and apps merge with creativity, then there will no longer be a distinction between a musical instrument and an interactive music game or studio. As we have seen with virtual synths, these physical items have been replaced with digital twins. 

Synth Riders / Image Credit: Kluge Interactive

In the show biz, artists like Madonna have brought holograms to the Billboard Music Awards, and companies like BASE hologram are bringing older artists back to life on the mainstage. In 2020, for example, Whitney Houston’s hologram will begin touring in the UK. There’s a host of technology already used in music production, performance, development, and deployment that can link fantastically with immersive technology. It’s the bridge between online, digital, and solo experiences that offer audiovisual, multisensory, and social immersion that we crave in live performance. 

For example, the band Miro Shot — a group I have been working with for the past two years, is using the existing infrastructure of the music industry to conduct the first-ever live VR concert tour. They leverage technology to present new creative and collaborative potentials that have opened the conversation for partnerships with festivals like SXSW XR and Cannes XR, events that normally wouldn’t be available to a band that is only just now playing their first official concert in Paris on February 11. 

The band has also been approached by the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Royal Opera House, and Island Records, which boasts a roster with artists like Bon Jovi and Demi Lovato — who had a great performance at the Grammy Awards yesterday. 

Miro Shot isn’t the only artist bringing production in-house and forging strong partnerships with the tech industry. Beyonce’s hologram enhanced Grammy performance in 2017 was produced with her own Parkwood Entertainment management company in tandem with technology providers and live event producers. Agencies like 3rd Space Agency, who work with Bjork and Massive Attack, have honed in on immersive technologies for futuristic productions that have strengthened the standing of these cutting-edge artists. 

Hand in hand artists and tech companies have equally ambitious endeavors and skill-sets that compliment the other extremely well. It’s logical to see these amalgamations of music and tech develop a symbiotic relationship. At NAMM, everything on display and everything discussed, from audio tools to brand partnerships, were driving towards the common goal of killer music development and performance.

Coachella 2019’s AR-enhanced stage / Feature Image Credit: Goldenvoice

About the Scout

Anne McKinnon

Anne McKinnon is an independent XR consultant and writer. She is actively engaged in innovation at the intersection of music, the arts, gaming and tech. Anne is US project lead for the band Miro Shot.

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