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Justin Bieber performs onstage during NYE Live with Justin Bieber, presented by T-Mobile, at The Beverly Hilton on Dec. 31, 2020 in Beverly Hills, California.

Jeff Kravitz/AFP/Getty Images

On New Year’s Eve, the Toronto indie rockers Broken Social Scene headlined a streamed concert, with a portion of the ticket sales benefiting charities related to the hospitality and live entertainment industries. On the same night, a group of blues artists including Jimmie Vaughan, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and Canada’s Sue Foley presented a ticketed show, “livestreaming from Antone’s” in Austin, Tex.

Neither of those shows were “live” concerts. They were pretaped, for a livestream event. On the other hand, concerts by Kiss (in Dubai) and Justin Bieber (in Los Angeles) were streamed in the moment in the waning hours of music’s worst ever year, affording online audiences an opportunity to watch the shows in real time on mobile, desktop and Smart TV devices, in the comfort of their own living rooms, man caves or, I suppose, hot tubs.

Since the live music lockdown began last spring, so-called “livestreamed” concerts have evolved from acoustic shows streamed live from artists’ bedrooms to highly produced extravaganzas. Some are truly live events; some are taped, streamed at a designated time. The problem is that most advertisements for these online ticketed concerts are vaguely worded as to the liveness of the performances.

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So, what exactly does livestreamed mean? And what’s a virtual concert? To appropriate an old marketing tag line, is it live or is it Memorex?

“The meanings of these terms is something that needs to be addressed,” says Cisco Adler, founder of NoCap, an industry leader in global livestreamed concerts. “We’re definitely looking for ways to designate them, and let people know exactly what they’re going to experience.”

The L.A-based Adler is the son of Lou Adler, the legendary record business impresario. NoCap (along with competitors Moment House, Veeps and StageIt) presents digital concerts in a sophisticated fashion, with cutting-edge platforms handling streaming, ticketing and merchandise sales.

It’s obviously a growing business, its jump-start origin a reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic that has all but shut down the live music industry. According to figures provided by NoCap, 63 per cent of people aged 18 to 34 watch livestreaming content regularly. The company has sold 350,000 tickets with US$5-million in revenue in the past six months.

Adler doesn’t see the livestreamed concert industry as a stand-in for the in-person experience.

“Our company is about the convergence of entertainment and technology, and using and developing that technology to offer something truly exciting and engaging,” says Adler, who worked with the Foo Fighters for their recent show at West Hollywood’s famed Roxy Theatre, co-owned by his father and brother. “We want people logging out and feeling, ‘Wow, that was incredible.’ We want that ‘wow.’”

Case in point: A coming multicity “virtual concert tour” consisting of 25 geo-targeted online shows by veteran rocker Todd Rundgren begins Feb. 14. The ticketed shows will be live, streamed from an event centre in Chicago, but localized to give both the musicians and the fans a sense of place (e.g. local landmarks will appear on the video wall, depending on which city Rundgren is “playing” that night).

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Options are available to select viewing from multiple camera angles and for fans to be featured on several rows of video screens that will serve as the real-time “virtual audience” for the performance.

“It’s an over-the-top production that Todd wouldn’t be able to lug from city to city,” Adler says.

In that sense, Rundgren’s type of virtual tour is the new Las Vegas residency, with the artists hunkering down in one venue and letting the fans come to them.

Which isn’t to say the experience has to involve a real-time performance. To market the new album Sophomore Slump by Canadian country duo the Reklaws, Universal Music Canada developed a seven-date virtual tour this fall that involved seven different pretaped shows, with different set-lists nightly and elements unique to that night’s virtual concert stop, such as stage banter relating to whichever city was being targeted.

“We wanted to make it special, more like a television event, with a storytelling element” says Kristen Burke, Universal’s executive vice-president and general manager.

For the Reklaws, it made more sense logistically to present pretaped shows. “We taped the shows a couple of weeks before the streams, and showed video clips on social media in advance,” Burke says. “Fans knew it wasn’t going to be a truly live experience, but it was going to be unique.”

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Which is all fans could ask for, whether the shows are live or just livestreamed.

“There has to be a premium, added experience to these concerts, almost equal to going to a live show,” Adler says. “It’s not going to be the same, but it has to be a great experience.”

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