The music industry is taking an interesting turn
Would you feel astonished or creeped out by looking at your favorite (deceased) music legend performing in front of you?
Businesses like Eyeillusion, Hologram USA, or Base Hologram are taking live concerts to the next level. They’re securing the rights of famous artists and developing a technology capable of bringing them “back from the dead”.
They’re focusing their business model on a powerful emotion: nostalgia.
In fact, according to Fast Company, 4 out of the top 10 touring artists in 2018 were living legends: The Eagles, Roger Waters, U2, and The Rolling Stones. Touring is the most profitable revenue for artists, and if you combine it with people’s desire for reliving an experience with their favorite artists from the past, you might have a winning card.
Once we beat this pandemic, what’s all this going to look like?
First thing first, the tech behind the live hologram performance
I guess your first question would be, how do they do it?
There are essentially two ways currently used:
- Pepper’s Ghost: a technology from the 19th century used in theater. The idea was to project an image giving the illusion that there was someone physically there. Snoop Dog used this tech to include the deceased rapper 2Pac at Coachella in 2012 that you can watch here. They transformed a live actor into 2Pac with CGI and his image was broadcasted onto a reflective surface which then bounced onto a transparent foil screen. This endeavor needs a big and firm structure to hold the tension on this screen, so it makes it difficult for a tight touring schedule.
- Rendered image: instead of having two screens to bounce the image from, they project a 2D recorded rendering onto the final screen. They use a projector (from brands like Epson, Optoma, Vava, etc.) that shows a very bright and neat image. Here’s a concert of the late Roy Orbison to get a better idea of the whole thing. However, not every seat can see the 2D image, the projections can’t move up and down the stage, and well, they’re still artists in 2 dimensions. These holograms usually perform with a live band to make the whole experience much more thrilling than just watching a movie.
There’s still room for improvement, but it looks promising.
But apart from the technical issues, there’s an ethical problem that comes to mind.
Is it moral to do this?
Certain legal aspects have to be cleared out before a tour like this can happen.
You have to secure the music rights from the record label and anyone else owning the songwriter’s rights.
Remember that there’s an initial split of rights between the author(s) of a song and the rightsholders of the music recording. So when you do something like this, you have to clear it with all parties involved.
However, the artist has no say in it. The musician might be brought back from the dead without his or her permission. And it’s not like they’re releasing a posthumous album to justify their reappearance.
Now if you think about it, what’s stopping a business from taking the next step?
Owning the artist as an eternal possession in your hands.
Businesses can get greedy and start creating new Elvis songs with the help of AI. B Think of the AI as a program that analyzes the whole artist’s catalog and learns everything about it. Then it starts composing in the style of that legend, and since the artist’s voice has been included in a sound library, the AI can integrate it into the song. And voilá! You’ve got a new Elvis song out of the blue.
Okay, maybe that’s far-fetched, but if we take this first step of turning an artist into a hologram without his consent, why stop there?
However, if the artist is still alive he or she can sell all their music rights and include this clause too: the right to use his image in perpetuity.
Artists selling their catalog has become a trend nowadays, and I’ve written about it in another article. For an eight or nine figures deal, businesses are taking everything from artists.
So what’s stopping these buyers to include a clause that gives them the right to use the artist’s hologram for future live performances?
And if managers get the artist’s consent, does it become ethical?
A way around all of this: completely digital artists
Here comes Japan to this story. Of course, they have to be in this part, they’re kings of weird innovations.
Her name is Hatsune Miku, a 16-year-old pop star from Sapporo. She has blue eyes and long blue hair that she wears like two ponytails. She has opened Lady Gaga’s 2014 Artpop tour, and collaborated with Pharrell Williams on the song “Last Night, Good Night”.
But there’s a catch. She’s not human.
She is the creation of Crypton Future Media. She is a virtual character that has been performing quite extensively since her first appearance in 2007. The company has created over 170,000 sounds for her, she has had more than 100 million views on Youtube, and over 1.9 million people follower her on Facebook.
If you thought the music industry was competitive, now we have a new player in this game. Musicians, it’s even tougher for you now, I’m sorry.
Now back to Japan’s digital sensation.
The interesting thing is that the company allows users to play with her voice and image for their personal use. They can create their own melodies, and have Hatsune Miku play them. By having this open license, people can interact with the character, share her interpretation of their songs with others, and experience her more than just a virtual person.
She’s killing it in Japan and she’s just the beginning.
We may be seeing much more from this new type of artist in the future.
And now, let’s talk about the money
Touring is the most profitable revenue stream for any artist today. Well, until the pandemic hit.
It accounted for more than 80% of their total annual earnings, so when you think about doing hologram live tours, there might be a lot of money involved.
Now there isn’t as much revenue as with real artists, but since it’s a nascent business, things could change.
From the few hologram tours we’ve seen, we can get an idea of how much money we’re talking about.
According to The Rolling Stone online magazine, Frank Zappa’s hologram tour in 2019 was a huge success. Tickets sold for $125 and the tour sold well over their concerts in the US and Europe.
I couldn’t find the total revenue generated from this tour, but another tour from 2018 might give us an approximation.
The hologram tour of Roy Orbison sold 1,800 seats per concert on average, and it was a financial success. It brought around $35 million. Not bad for a ghost artist or a ghost slave, however you want to call it.
If you think about tours from mainstream artists attracting 40,000 spectators per show, the hologram live performance isn’t even close to reaching that amount. But if you think about it, this type of live performance is still in its infancy, there’s a lot of growth in years to come.
We tend to associate new with better, and maybe the music industry is taking advantage of this collective perception to encourage a new way of experiencing concerts.
At least it’s something we haven’t seen before, and there seems to be a hype around it. If businesses are scheduling hologram tours after things get back to “normal” for legends like Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, and Ronnie James Dio, there has to be some demand for it at least, right?
A formed opinion about this trend might be premature. It’s still uncharted territory and I’m eager to go to one of these shows just to talk from experience. But for now, we’ll just have to wait.
Now there are technical issues that challenge how “live” this event can be. For instance, the show has to adjust note by note to the deceased artist. This means that if the musician is playing a solo, it will always be the same one. There’s no room for improvisation and part of the magic of live shows is lost in this kind of performance.
But maybe future technologies could tackle this issue, who knows?
Since seeing Leia’s hologram in Star Wars, I’ve always wanted to see that in real life. But are music performances the way to go for this kind of tech?
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