The Year In Concert Tech: Livestreamers Consolidate, Venue Technology Innovates, Blockchain Dominates

Rich Fury / Forum Photos
– Walk Of The Town
Fans shop at a Forum concessions location utilizing Just Walk Out, the new Amazon technology that allows customers to choose goods and walk away with them

Concerts, physical and virtual, continued to serve as a laboratory for new technologies in 2021. With many regions still locked down in the year’s early months, livestreaming platforms kept honing offerings refined in 2020, and new digital technologies surged to the fore. And, by year’s end, new innovations welcomed fans as they returned to proper concert venues.

Livestreaming companies particularly navigated a year of great change, serving as the sole conduit for most listeners to experience live music at the year’s outset, then strategizing how to retain fans – and the artists who performed for them – as they poured back into physical spaces.

“Live music is about the in-person show, first and foremost,” says Mary Kay Huse, a tech exec who co-founded popular livestreaming platform Mandolin early in the pandemic. Like many in the sector, Huse describes virtual shows as a “complement” to in-person ones, and still touts many of the positives livestreaming professionals emphasized when physical concerts were offline: livestreams offer artists additional revenue streams, can support and help market physical touring and can reach fans who might be unable to attend in-person shows.

“Embracing the hybrid show is a very important part of lasting power for a livestreaming company,” says Huse, pointing to the model she and many of her peers predict is the sector’s future.

Key industry players would seem to agree. In January, Live Nation acquired a majority stake in Veeps – and used the platform to stream Bob Dylan’s first broadcast event in nearly three decades in July – and Goldenvoice formed a strategic partnership with another service, NoCap. For its part, Mandolin acquired the indie-focused NoonChorus, cementing its clout as the sector consolidated. The streaming platform Deezer invested in Dreamstage and Driift, which like Mandolin and another competitor, Moment House, were launched during the pandemic.

If anything, livestreaming has become more competitive, as platforms compete for eyeballs – and seek to make their services as turnkey as possible for artists, promoters and venue operators who are now also contending with the renewed demands of physical touring.

Increasingly, livestreamers and other digital platforms sought to facilitate audience engagement. With its “Be In The Stream” feature, allowed viewers to broadcast their living-room dance moves on livestreams, while Flymachine, another live events platform, offered customizable experiences in the digital world.

“I wouldn’t say it’s all figured out,” says Huse, “but the general sentiment of all the conversations I have with artist managers and even venues is that they know it’s a part of the industry moving forward – it’s more a matter of when and how.”

Industry figures and even artists turned to Clubhouse, a platform hosting audio chatrooms on a multitude of topics, before users abandoned the app en masse as physical gatherings returned. But don’t count out that form of virtual socializing or the possibilities it presents for live music. Facebook shocked the world in late October when it switched its name to Meta, banking on a future where users fluent in VR seamlessly switch from in-person interactions to ones in the metaverse.

Blockchain technology, meanwhile, facilitated further proliferation of cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens, better known as NFTs. The former’s clout was apparent through lucrative naming rights deals for Los Angeles’ Arena (formerly Staples Center) and Miami’s FTX Arena (formerly American Airlines Arena), and through the adoption of Bitcoin and other forms of cryptocurrency at venues throughout the country. And NFTs, with their promise of public authentication, allowed for one-of-a-kind merchandise and memorabilia, with major artists and organizations from NIVA to Live Nation to the Grammys devising their own tokens.

The in-person concert experience as it existed in 2019 would’ve been enough to satisfy most fans, exuberant just to be seeing live music in the flesh again, but two major Amazon technologies offered the potential to redefine how fans will transact at venues going forward. The first, Just Walk Out, brought the technology the internet retailer developed for its brick-and-mortar stores to arenas including Seattle’s Climate Pledge and Southern California’s Forum, allowing customers to swipe their credit cards, select concessions and leave immediately, without interacting with a cashier. The second, Amazon One, uses palm-scanning technology to expedite entry into venues like Colorado’s Red Rocks. (Both offer the added bonus of reducing physical contact between patrons and staff, a plus for an industry that used contactless technologies to ease consumer confidence as breakthrough coronavirus cases loomed.)

At the year’s outset, few would’ve predicted some of 2021’s advancements in concert technology – and it’s safe to say 2022 will hold similar surprises.