[Editors Note: This blog was written by Sabrina Bucknole. Sabrina has been singing in musical theater for over eight years, and wrote this as a deep dive into how the meaning of “live” performance has changed over time.]
Seeing a “live” performance has changed in meaning throughout recent years. With the introduction of new technology to the stage and online spaces such as YouTube and Facebook, the meaning of “live” has evolved and become something everybody with a smartphone or tablet can experience.
Bringing the Studio to the Stage
Technology once only found in the recording studio has recently been adapted and used for on-stage performances. According to vocalist, electronic music composer and lecturer Donna Hewitt, “Recording and performance practices are trending towards each other and this is being propelled by a combination of technological shifts, a broad change in the level of production literacy of musicians, and an increasing shift towards more technologically intensive performance, either on stage (in terms of the musician’s own performance tools) or off stage.”
In other words, the use of technology on stage has greatly increased, with artists becoming more experimental with the use of technology in their live performances.
The introduction of recording equipment and new pieces of tech to the stage has evolved and shaped the term “live performance”. For instance, loop pedals record vocals and instruments in real time, then loop the sound back to the artist. These nifty pieces of tech allow you to create layers of sound and add textures to live performance.
There are plenty of new and up-and-coming artists who use loop pedals for live performances, including Grace McClean who creates what can only be described as a witty form of jazz using clever yet comic lyrics and snappy vocals. A great example of this is in her live performance of “Natural Disaster”. Hite (aka Julia Eastern) is another example of a growing artist who uses the loop pedal in an innovative and experimental way during live performances. She uses the pedal to add smooth textures through holding long notes, creating an enchanting sound which is evident in her performance of “Eyes on the Prize”.
But it’s not only smaller artists who use these nifty pieces of tech during live sets. Pedals are becoming increasingly popular mostly due to the likes of famous artists including Imogen Heap, Radiohead, and of course, Ed Sheeran. With only an acoustic guitar and loop pedal by his side, Ed Sheeran became the first-ever artist to play Wembley stadium solo over three consecutive nights in 2015.
There were concerns that Sheeran wouldn’t be able to pull it off because usually audience members in an arena as immense as this require a grand spectacle. Plus, being able to fill a stadium with sound generated by only a guitar and pedal seemed impractical, but as history shows, the performance was a complete success. The pedal was able to create a richer and fuller sound, contributing towards Sheeran’s impressive achievement.
Livestreaming music festivals and concerts are also becoming increasingly popular. In fact, 81% of internet and mobile audiences watched more live video in 2016 than in 2015. YouTube for instance, livestreams large events including Coachella and Ultra, giving new meaning to the concept of seeing a performance “live”. The BBC’s coverage of Glastonbury is another good example of this because even though the viewers are not physically there, they are seeing the action in real time.
As well as growing in popularity, live streaming is becoming increasingly normal thanks to Facebook’s new tool which allows users to go “live” and watch videos as they are happening. Facebook’s “live” feature can also be a great benefit to up-and-coming artists when they’re trying to promote themselves through their pages, from live covers to never-heard-before originals. What makes the “live” tool different and possibly more effective than uploading a music video is that artists can interact with their viewers in real time as well as reach new audiences.
As the concept of watching things “live” becomes more of a normality, how does this affect the way audiences view an artist’s performance?
Of course, seeing your favorite artist perform through a screen is not the same as seeing them in the flesh, but if more and more people are watching performances live, would this not decrease the number of people attending live shows?
Actually, 67% of live video viewers are more likely to buy a ticket to a concert or event after watching a live video of that event or a similar one. The use of technology here then acts as great advertising for artists by increasing attendees and therefore ticket sales. It’s also clear that people value the experience of being physically “there” at a concert more because they are part of an exclusive group experiencing a special moment in time.
Holograms have also been used in recent years as an experimental piece of tech in live performance. In 2012, a hologram of world-famous rapper Tupac was resurrected on stage alongside Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre. Stunning more than 80,000 audience members at Coachella, they performed popular hits including “Hail Mary” and “2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted”.
The illusion created, was not technically a hologram because a hologram by definition is a “3-D image produced by the interference of light beams that reflect off a physical object and can be seen with the naked eye”. Instead, the illusion was created by adapting a nineteenth century theatrical trick known as “Pepper’s Ghost” which used a sheet of glass and a light to project the actor’s reflection onto the stage. This technique was used in supernatural plays around this period to create an image of a ghost-like, ethereal being.
Still, this nineteenth century technique adapted and enhanced with the use of current technology offers audience members a seemingly impossible opportunity to witness deceased artists perform live.
Holograms and technology which produce holographic effects are also being used by living artists to add to the dynamics of the performance. For instance, in 2017’s Grammy Awards, Beyoncé used Holo-Gauze to deliver 3D visual special effects in her spell-binding performance. The hologram features Beyoncé, her daughter Blue Ivy, and her mother Tina Knowles.
Holotronica CEO Stuart Warren-Hill, who supplied the Holo-Gauze screen, said, “Holo-Gauze is ideal for live events such as this, allowing live performers to be situated behind our near-invisible gauze while visually stunning holographic effects appear to float in front of them. Holo-Gauze makes the seemingly impossible possible.”
Rather than using holographic effects to replace the live experience, they enhance the performance and add extra dimensions. It’s clear that artists are embracing the idea of using holographic effects in their live performances, manipulating the term “live” even further.
Whether it’s livestreaming performances for the benefit of the audience, using loop pedals to add textures and dimensions to the music itself, or introducing holograms to enhance the on-stage performance, the meaning of “live” is changing due to advances in technology. But this does not mean, seeing artists live, in the flesh is no longer of value.
While technology can enhance performance, audiences still appreciate and value the authenticity of live performance, especially when artists with “real” voices perform without technology like auto-tune to aid them. Modern technology found in studios allows artists to refine and perfect their sound including autotuned vocals, automatically mapped virtual instruments, and sound proofing foam to manipulate the acoustics.
While using high-tech recording equipment such as this can create a “perfect” final product, this can also raise the audience’s expectations when seeing an artist perform live. Audiences can sometimes feel let down when they see an artist performing live because the reality does not always live up to the expectation set by studio recordings.
This is why even though technology can enhance a performance, most people appreciate and value hearing “real vocals” and watching artists perform live, in the flesh, rather than through a screen.