On Saturday night, I tuned in for Laura Marling's livestream gig at London's Union Chapel. We all have that special relationship with certain artists or records, and Laura’s music always seems to soundtrack important moments in my life.
Watching her play to an empty church really brought it home how much the world has changed during the pandemic. I yearned to be there, haunted that I’d taken for granted sitting in those pews and witnessing life-affirming sets over the years.
Yet seeing Laura play up close in this digital live format — in real-time but physically far away — offered something new too.
Compared to an offline gig, there were some obvious benefits. The sound quality was spectacular, the close-range camera shots were great, and every audience member sat comfortably and saw everything (short people like me will especially appreciate that last part).
There were also drawbacks. There was an absence of a build-up and build-down, there was a lack of “in-the-room” atmosphere, and there was no opportunity for human connection between artist and observer. But there was another layer of interaction, and it’s one I hadn’t thought about much in this context before: online community.
Given it was a remote performance with a distributed audience of gig-goers, I was able to “attend” this gig with friends in four different countries. We watched the show simultaneously, and scheduled time to catch up before and chat after. For those with friends and family located globally — or just people who enjoy making friends online — livestream gigs offer the chance to connect around music as a borderless, internet experience. That’s exciting.
I don’t think livestream gigs will replace getting sweaty with other people in venues with sticky floors for the long-term. There’s just too much fun to be had doing that, as I learned working in the music industry early in my career.
But the model is established now: people are willing to pay money for tickets and attend digital gigs in their thousands. The choice between online and offline gigs could soon be standard for music fans.
It seems that the future of live music looks…kind of like the future of work.