JENNINGS: Livestreaming music has come a long way

Tori Kelly performs during a livestream event at the 88th Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on Dec. 2 in New York. (Diane Bondareff/AP Images for Tishman Speyer)

On June 24, 1993, an unknown group of engineers performing under the moniker Severe Tire Damage became the first band to livestream a performance over the internet. That event has taken on new significance in 2020, as more musicians have become dependent on livestreaming.

Musicians have utilized technology to reach out to cities that were not stops on major tours for many years.

In 1964, CBS filmed the Beatles' first U.S concert in Washington D.C and broadcast it via closed circuit to more than 100 venues in the U.S. and Canada, including the long since closed Paramount Theater in Buffalo, over one weekend. The performances grossed $4 million, which amounts to about $34 million in today’s dollars.

On Jan. 14, 1973, Elvis Presley became the first individual performer to have a concert broadcast live via satellite. Known as “Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite,” the show ran live in over 40 countries but NBC did not broadcast it live in the U.S. because it conflicted with the broadcast of the Super Bowl. NBC broadcast a pre-recorded version of the show on April 4, 1973, and it was their highest rated program of the year.

In 1981, the Rolling Stones became the first band to offer a live pay-per-view event on cable television. Up to that point, most pay-per-views were sporting events like wrestling or boxing. The Stones would have been the first band to livestream a show over the internet if Severe Tire Damage had not beat them to it. Nevertheless, the Rolling Stones can lay claim to the fact that they were the first major recording artist to livestream.

In 2009, the Allman Brothers Band’s 15 day run at the Beacon Theatre in New York City became the first high-definition pay-per-view livestream event presented by Onstream Media. Randy Selman’s quote after the event sounds prophetic, “We hope we showed the world that webcasting opens the doors to live entertainment in a way that transcends the restrictions of travel, budget and time. Pretty soon there will no longer be an excuse for missing your favorite live performance just because you don't have the resources to get there."

In 2015, the Grateful Dead utilized multiple models to get their historic run of final shows to the masses. Known as “Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years of the Grateful Dead,” the band broadcast the series of five performances to movie theaters, satellite radio and online pay-per-view.

By 2019, even with all the technology to broadcast shows via livestream, the concert industry was thriving; livestreaming was just one of the ways that artists could reach fans, but definitely not the preferred method.

In 2020, it has become a necessity, and some artists have been successfully utilizing livestreaming to stay connected to their fans. Buffalo’s own Goo Goo Dolls are utilizing fantracks.com. The group broadcast a live performance on Oct. 24, and are premiering the first ever “augmented reality movie musical” entitled “It’s Christmas All Over” this weekend.

The one question that remains is whether fans will prefer the online events, especially as artists work to increase engagement with fans during the shows, or if this is simply a trend brought on by necessity.

While nothing can fully replace the live concert experience, many fans have paid top dollar to watch shows in large arenas that they broadcast on giant screens. Many fans might decide that it is a lot easier to watch those types of shows in the convenience of their own home, and many artists may decide it makes more economic sense to do fewer live shows that can reach a larger audience.

That may mean the end of the concert industry as we knew it.

Thom Jennings covers the local music scene for Night and Day.

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