Live Nation's idea 5G-enhaced gigs is my own personal hell
Beverly Hills-based events promoter and venue operator has partnered with silicon giant Qualcomm to bring 5G to the live music experience. For those who disdain people who spend gigs filming the show on their smartphones, the future of live concerts sounds like a show I don't want a ticket for.
Qualcomm boss Cristiano Amon said during his keynote presentation at the IFA 2020 in Berlin. "The shared experience you have at a live show will stay with you forever, and that's not going away." However, after seeing what is planned for this new, 5G-enabled experience, I am not so sure about that.
One of the first venues to host this new type of concert is going to be Sportpaleis in Antwerp, Belgium. Qualcomm is putting the infrastructure in place to bring mmWave to mobile devices for those that attend the shows in a bid to transform the live music experience.
In a teaser video shown on stage, we saw music fans holding up smartphones to show augmented reality creatures coming from the stage - sold as 'extending the artist's vision beyond the stage - as well as an EQ-like app called Soundboard, where gig-goers can re-master the sound of the show if they don't like what the soundman has gone for. This, of course, requires you to stand there and watch the show with headphones on. "It's a whole new way to think about live," says Jackie Wilgar, SVP Marketing International at Live Nation.
As someone who already has a chip on their shoulder about smartphone use during live music concerts, this was all rather worrying viewing for me. I don't really get why people film gigs anyway. The sound quality you are picking up is going to be awful, and I'd rather watch the real thing once with my full attention, than a smartphone video a thousand times. I suspect, however, that nobody ever really watches their gig videos back anyway. It's just something younger music fans feel they should do. The FOMO of not having captured the experience. Or the practice is just to prove you were there, something to slap on social media as a 'look at what I did' badge of honor.
I much prefer the Jack White approach to phones at gigs
The news is likely to make Jack White, who famously doesn't own a cellphone, spit out his Vernors ginger ale. The White Stripes, Raconteurs, and Dead Weather singer/guitarist/drummer (the man's talents are sickening) famously caused a stir last year by going in the complete opposite direction and banning smartphones from his shows.
Fans attending Jack White gigs were required to store their phones in locked pouches upon entering the venue. A company called Yondr provided the technology. Once you put your phone inside the case and walk inside, the case will lock. You can still keep your phone on you, of course, but to use it you have to step outside and tap it on an unlocking base.
White said at the time: "I thought it was a big art project at first, to see if people would think it was funny or cool or just a new experience." Despite some initial outrage, feedback from fans attending the shows was positive. White went as far as to say that "everyone loved it". It's kind of a shame that you have to remove the option of using your smartphone for people to appreciate being in the moment, but if a little encouragement is all it takes to make gigs smartphone-free, I am all for it.
“If you can’t just put that [mobile phone] down for an hour and experience life in a real way, that’s sad.”— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) June 19, 2019
Musician Jack White talks about why he doesn’t own a mobile phone and why he’s banned mobiles from his concerts, in the latest Ways to Change the World podcast. pic.twitter.com/hFkSQI9hTr
And yet, it seems that the industry is moving in the opposite direction. Sure, for this Live Nation/Qualcomm partnership to work, a large venue with the proper infrastructure, and the budget, to implement mmWave 5G is needed, and that might just be the saving grace for live music fans like myself and Jack White. It's unlikely I'll see anyone with headphones on, tweaking their own personal sound desk at SO36 in Kreuzberg any time soon - if we ever get back in to watch live music again.
But as 5G filters down the pyramid and becomes more widely available, a future where this 'new live music experience' becomes a reality in the smaller venues I and many others love frequenting in both the UK and Europe is possible. I just hope my gig-going days are over before it does.