As COVID-19 ravages the world, countless careers, markets, cities and art forms have dissolved into chaos. This is nothing new. However, the ways in which people work to combat the virus’s effects are changing with every passing day. As a musician, I had a difficult time adjusting to this new era. With no more concerts, gigs, music camps or recording studios, musicians like myself had to scramble to work things out. But now that the pandemic has become the new normal, there are tons of new options for recording, performing and listening to music. NPR transported their iconic Tiny Desk Concert to the safe confines of artists’ homes and certain venues began livestreaming performances for audiences on the internet. And now, YouTube has taken the lead with their livestreamed concerts and even a brand new venue.
When I say YouTube concerts, I don’t mean the bad iPhone 8 recordings that people upload to their random channels; I’m talking about official, high-quality, real performances. There are countless channels that offered new music videos during the pandemic, like Jam in the Van and NPR, which offered dozens of COVID-friendly shows that inspired musicians around the world. In a time where live music is far scarcer, having online music at our fingertips is a lifesaver. In fact, there’s an entire playlist dedicated to recorded concerts on YouTube. You can simply look up “YouTube concerts” for a playlist of live performances with excellent sound and video quality. While it won’t feel the same as bearing witness to a real-life show, it’s a close second given our current options.
As I mentioned earlier, during the summer, YouTube introduced its own venue, the YouTube Theater. Located in Inglewood, California, the theater can hold 6,000 guests. It has a sleek and modern design; the snow-white walls and glass rooftops offer just a little taste of the venue’s style. They also offer private club areas and other “premium amenities.” However, YouTube Theater is not only built for live entertainment — it’s built for online performances, as well.
What makes this theater so unique is its livestreaming option. Recently, one of my favorite bands, the Black Pumas, performed a show livestreamed for anyone on YouTube to watch. It was freakin’ awesome. The quality was excellent, for starters, but the personable aspects of the performance made it feel real. I thought, “Wow, maybe live music really is back.” Although sitting alone in my bed is far different than the enticing feeling of the plushy venue seating, getting the opportunity to witness the Pumas go crazy (for free, I may add) is something special.
Dozens of other big-name artists are piling into the YouTube Theater, scheduling concert dates and other performances. Rock legends like Slash and Eddie Vedder have dates in mid-February. Louis Tomlinson also has a show coming up. If you feel like tuning in to the livestream, find the time and dates on Ticketmaster. If you have some money to spend (tickets can get pricey), head out to the City of Angels to witness the beautiful theater in real life. After all, no livestream can be as wondrous as the real thing.
The Real-Life Factor
Unfortunately, YouTube Theater’s livestreams are not available to be watched after the fact; they are truly a one-time thing. I’ve scoured both Google and the depths of YouTube, and I was unable to find the Black Pumas performance. While this seems like a downside (and most likely a money grab), I find that it makes the online experience feel more authentic. For starters, you can’t relive a live show, as much as people wish to be transferred back to their favorite artist’s concert. The exclusivity of these livestreams not only parallels real-life concerts, but it elevates the experience. Suddenly your bed and headphones feel like a special seat during a one-time performance. Personally, I think the ability to freely watch these performances whenever you want would diminish the event.
While YouTube Theater is its own creative animal, online concerts are not new to the streaming platform. NPR’s Tiny Desk concerts have been held in high regard for years now, but even they had to adjust when the pandemic struck. NPR introduced their Tiny Desk (Home) concerts to compensate, which they will continue “for the foreseeable future.” Honestly, I think the home edition has been a long time coming. Artists now have the freedom to select literally anywhere to perform a raw and stripped-down set. Vince Staples performed in a golden wood high-rise room with a view that rivaled city skylines. Olivia Rodrigo even performed at a DMV, or at least that’s what the sign behind her said. Watching an artist in their own element, physically and mentally, takes the regular (but still incredible) Tiny Desk way past expectations.
You could argue that livestreaming encourages artists to get lazy during their performances, given the technology they have on their side. Errors can be avoided and tracks can be added to the mix without the viewer noticing. However, this is an aspect of all live performances. Backing tracks are not uncommon during concerts; in fact, they’re incredibly common nowadays. But, if you’re a picky traditionalist, YouTube Theater’s livestreamed concerts capture raw footage, including moving camera angles and striking light shows. They also frequently cut to the audience to add to the first-person experience.
A Potential Problem
The main critique of online concerts is the obvious one: They aren’t real. No matter how exclusive, high-quality or authentic they feel, the bitter wall between us and a live show always lingers. However, you can’t always get what you want (signed, the Stones). My best suggestion is to do the best with what you have. Get some nice headphones to upgrade the audio experience, or, if you’re able, stream it through a TV or a better sound system than a laptop or smartphone. Cook up some popcorn while you’re at it, too. Given the circumstances, there aren’t many great options at hand, so let’s appreciate these online experiences for what they’ve done for musicians and viewers alike.
Although online concerts are nowhere close to the exhilaration of a live show, they rose in popularity when the public needed them most. After all, what better ways were there to delve into the music scene during COVID-19’s peak? Now, as vaccinations spread almost as fast as the Omicron variant, these concerts’ importance may be waning. Even with that in mind, it is indisputable that YouTube produced some amazing ways for musicians to perform for an audience during the pandemic.