photo courtesy of Christian Epting
As a Todd Rundgren fan for 48 years, I have been attending streaming versions of his concerts over the last few days. Todd Rundgren is conducting a virtual tour. He is performing 25 shows from the same location in Chicago but tailoring each performance to a specific city as if he were physically performing there. The shows were originally geofenced so that only fans in physical proximity (by IP address) to the target cities could purchase tickets, but that restriction was lifted due to complaints from fans who were just outside the geofenced limit. Abiding by local laws, the venue in Chicago has only 19 attendees who wear masks, are socially distanced, and have tested negative for COVID-19. Todd Rundgren and the band are their own bubble and are tested each day.
As this virtual tour may be a signal of how concerts are performed in the future by many artists, I decided to compare the experience of pre-pandemic in-person shows and shows streamed via the internet.
- Attendees buy tickets as early as possible to get the best available seats.
- There is one purchased ticket per attendee.
- Promoters have an early idea regarding show profitability based on advance ticket sales.
- Attendees wait as long as possible before purchasing tickets in case their plans change.
- There is one purchased ticket per location. Individuals, couples, families, and fraternity houses each buy only one ticket.
- Promoters have little idea regarding show profitability until after the event when all sales are final.
- Attendees are in the same physical proximity and can interact with each other.
- Feedback to the artist regarding the performance is immediate and simultaneous.
- Performers can see the faces of attendees in the crowd.
- Performers draw energy from the crowd that influences the performance.
- Attendees are in separate locations and have limited, if any, interaction. This depends on the streaming technology being used.
- Feedback to the artist is delayed and staggered. The delivery of the performance to the attendees arrives at different times based on distance and bandwidth. The feedback, if captured from attendee devices, also comes back depending on distance and bandwidth.
- Some virtual concerts have a limited number of monitors that display the faces of attendees using cameras from their devices.
- Performers must rely on their own energy to guide the performance.
- The sound is consistent for most attendees, only varying somewhat by location within the venue.
- The equipment used to hear the sound is primarily supplied by the venue (and sometimes also by the performer).
- The volume is controlled by the venue and performer. Some attendees wear earplugs to dampen the sound.
- Sound problems are addressed by the venue or the technician at the mixer board.
- Audience chatter during the performance can be a nuisance.
- The sound depends most heavily on the device owned by the attendee and the physical surroundings.
- The equipment used to hear the sound is supplied by the attendee.
- The volume is controlled by the attendee.
- Sound problems are addressed by attendee contact with streaming service technical support.
- Unless an intended part of the streaming experience or the presence of unruly house guests, audience chatter is eliminated.
- The distance from the stage varies on a per-ticket basis.
- Unless an attendee moves around or rushes the stage, the view remains constant for the entire performance.
- The view can be obstructed if attendees in closer seat locations decide to stand.
- Part of a performance can be missed if an attendee uses the bathroom.
- All attendees have a "front-row" seat.
- Some streaming services allow attendees to select from multiple viewing cameras.
- The view is not impacted by other attendees (unless house guests are jerks).
- If a performance is being viewed on a portable device, it can be brought with the attendee into the home bathroom.
- Shows are scaled to fit each venue.
- Setup and teardown costs are constrained to be proportional to ticket sales.
- Transportation costs (i.e., multiple tractor-trailer trucks) are incurred to move equipment and props from city to city.
- Shows can be more elaborate.
- Setup costs are incurred at the start and teardown costs at the end of the tour — not per performance.
- There are no transportation costs associated with each performance.
- Food and drink are available via concession stands.
- Variety is limited.
- Food and drink are priced at the discretion of the venue.
- Food and drink are available via the refrigerator or pantry.
- Variety is unlimited.
- Food and drink are free.
- Tour merchandise is also for sale at the venue.
- Tour merchandise is normally available by ordering online.
- The performers must travel from venue to venue.
- The attendees must travel to the venue.
- Flight delays and road conditions can impact the ability to perform. Performances can get delayed or canceled.
- The performers broadcast the performance from a convenient location.
- The attendees often experience the performance from their own homes.
- Weather and road conditions are not significant factors.
For those who have been streaming concerts lately, have I missed anything?
For many fans, despite the differences, streaming shows are just as effective as in-person ones.
At the end of the night, it's really not about geofencing, live streaming, or any other technical platform. It's about this guy who goes out there each night, and almost makes it look too easy. What he does is so hard, but you would never know it from his casual, comfortable, sometimes comical delivery. In that respect, he's almost like an old time vaudevillian. He’s mastered the art of performance so now he can just relax and enjoy it. That said, to carry a show of this creative and complex weight, shifting styles and energies without batting an eye, you realize he's become one of the most effortless and accomplished performers of his generation. At this stage of the game, in terms of his playing, singing, and engagement on the material he himself created, I don’t think that Todd Rundgren has an equal. He Is simply without precedent.
— Christian Epting, Todd Rundgren fan
The concert experience is alive in the lab.