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Last year was devastating for musicians and the live music industry. Many artists used the time to focus on recording new music instead of live performances, but the lack of festivals and small club shows was felt by music fans of all stripes in 2020.
Artists and promoters tried workarounds, from drive-in concerts to outside shows with marked-off standing areas. But unless you live in New Zealand, you’ve probably only seen your favorite artists via your smartphone screen or listened to their music on streaming services recently. For those who need something a bit more immersive, though, several companies have stepped in with unique solutions to experiencing the thrill of live music while remaining socially distant.
A New Kind of Wi-Fi Speaker
Oda speakers function similarly to Wi-Fi speakers like those from Sonos or Nest, but the $299 Oda speaker system is built to broadcast live performances, bringing the show into your home.
The speakers face away from the listener in an effort to mimic the feel of an in-person show. “The speakers have a very particular sound dispersion characteristics,” says Oda Founder Nick Dangerfield. “They way they radiate sound is closer to how sound naturally occurs, so the feeling of presence and almost tangibility of the sound is increased. One artist described it as the performer appearing like a ghost.”
With a membership ($79 per quarter), the speakers broadcast exclusive live artist performances. At the start of a broadcasted show, the speakers will automatically start playing unless you put them in a do not disturb mode. “Each performer takes the stage for a full weekend—the artist will play a number of times over the weekend—this makes the relationship feel more personal, closer,” explains Dangerfield. “We’ll also be doing improvisation sessions daily at sunset.”
Oda was working on its live-broadcast performance model prior to the pandemic, but COVID-19 has kicked things up a notch.
“We started working on Oda in 2016,” says Dangerfield. “We built it to allow for artists that were unable to tour. When the pandemic hit, we reconsidered every aspect of our service but decided not to change much, except to focus more on the elderly musicians, as they are in a particularly disadvantageous position now, and to make it possible for more artists to perform.”
Oda is selling speakers as they become available and Oda is able to manufacture them, but they’ve been sold out pretty much since they became available. Estimated delivery for orders placed now is April 2021.
A Streaming Platform Built for Artists
With concert venues closed, artists have turned to online streaming to entertain fans. Twitch is one popular option, of course, but it’s still best known as a game-streaming platform. Sessions, on the other hand, was built with music performances in mind.
Co-founded by former Pandora CEO Tim Westergren, Sessions has been ramping up since 2019. “Sessions went live about a year before the pandemic arrived. So while we never imagined the current situation, there’s no question that COVID has catapulted virtual concerts to the top of mind for everyone in the industry,” says Westergren. “It has dramatically accelerated the engagement of artists and their teams. We’ve had to work furiously to scale every part of our operations to keep up.”
Artists who use Sessions can charge for their shows and bundle merch with online ticket sales, which keeps the spirit of the merch table alive and well, even in virtual form.
Sessions taps into gamification to go beyond ticket sales and help artists earn revenue with micro transactions in the form of virtual gifts or stickers. In Sessions speak, it’s known as “giving love,” and allows fans to show their support in fun, visual ways. Fans can also pay to request songs or become more prominent fans so artists notice their contributions.
Gamification and interactivity is definitely a big consideration in this attempt at streaming live shows. “It seems the real joy for fans comes from feeling a part of something,” says Westergren. “The intimacy of an artist alone, and the sense of connection that comes with that, both from fan to artist and fan to fan is very powerful, and it’s something that you don’t get even in a physical live show where you’re just part of a sea of faces; it’s the eye contact and the nod from the busker as you drop a dollar bill in the guitar case. In the 25 years I’ve been doing this I’ve never seen a digital environment generate that kind of response.”
A New Way to Collab and Practice an Instrument
Collab is an app made for remote jam sessions. It emerged in May from NPE Team, a group within Facebook that’s focused on experimental services, and went live for everyone on iOS in December. Users can start a video and allow others to add their own instrumental parts to it or join songs others have started. Imagine an interactive version of TikTok for musicians.
It’s the kind of music app that can keep your instrumental skills sharp, let you noodle with band mates remotely, or just keep things fun and creative during times of increased isolation. Even if you’re not participating, it’s plenty entertaining just viewing the songs. Some are amazing and others less so, but nearly all are fun or interesting in some way. The hard work to pull the timing off just right is all done on the back end, so musicians only have to worry about what song to play or instrument to use.
Given that the app arrived after COVID-19 hit the US, it’s a service built with an eye on combatting isolation. “We hope Collab can be a way for people to connect via the universal language of music,” NPE Team said last month.
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