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Hatsune Miku, a computer-generated 'Vocaloid' artist DPA/PA Images
Future Focus

Long-dead singers playing 'live' in concert: The future of the music you love

Holograms, mixed-reality shows and songs written by algorithms: here’s what’s coming to your headphones.

The way we live is changing fast. Every fortnight in our Future Focus series, supported by Volkswagen, we’ll look at how one aspect of everyday life could change in the coming years. This week: music.

WOULD YOU GO to see your favourite band perform live? Most people would jump at the chance. But what if they were dead?

Creepy as it sounds, it appears that for many people, the answer is still yes.

Whether it’s virtual reality shows or streaming algorithms, music tech is moving fast. If you caught Roy Orbison’s recent Dublin concert, you know how realistic a hologram performance can be. The long-dead Orbison went on a European tour, “performing” his greatest hits to a packed 3 Arena with a live orchestra playing alongside him.

BASE Hologram / YouTube

Hologram tours have so far received mixed reviews – a reviewer for the Telegraph in the UK described Orbison’s show as “a live hologram performance that’s as dead as can be” – but many have heralded them as an exciting step forward that will form a huge part of the future of live music.

The very much alive ABBA have also recently announced that they will go on a holographic tour next year, and if Ed Sheeran has weekend plans, there’s no reason a hologram couldn’t perform in a thousand sold-out locations across Ireland in his place. But even if hologram gigs don’t kick off, virtual experiences such as augmented and virtual reality, whether live on stage or through music videos, will likely have a role to play in the future of music.

“Mixed Reality experiences using tech like binaural sound and smart glasses will most likely outlive the more gimmicky and obstructive staring through a phone screen to provide intense supporting visuals that are part of the performance,” says Kenn Davis, CEO of beatvyne.

“It has the potential to play a huge part as the audience will be used to these types of technology from home entertainment within the next few years. Especially bigger artists, such as U2, are already exploring Augmented Reality in their live concerts or bring fans closer to their music through Virtual Reality experiences – think the stunning close up performance of Bjork’s Not Get or the potential of music videos such as the fully immersive Saturnz Barz of Gorillaz that could be adapted for live performance.”

Gorillaz / YouTube

Gorillaz produced an immersive 360-degree video for Saturnz Barz

However, he adds that tech in live performance “will have to be as seamless, invisible and experiential as possible, as, after all, it is still the direct artist – fan connection that counts.”

The real difficulty with tech and music currently is how to maintain or replicate that connection between the artist and the crowd. No matter how realistic an ABBA hologram might be, it’s not going to interact with the fans – at least, not for a while.

A similar problem is becoming evident with how we access music to begin with, which is also on the cusp of big changes. Although streaming platforms pose a challenge in terms of revenue generation for musicians – one which may be fixed by platforms like Kobalt, for example, which provides artists with 100% of the rights to their own music while also allowing transparency in royalty collection – they are also adaptable, accessible, and as AI and algorithms improve, hard to resist.

Spotify has made significant investment in its algorithms which have helped it to beat off competitors, and these are only set to become more specific to our musical wants and needs. Google’s YouTubeMusic has begun a staggered launch this week as a rival to Spotify, and is taking on a similar streaming approach based on AI rather than its previous focus on music videos.

Andrew Matthews Andrew Matthews

It also claims to aid in the discovery of new music – but we have yet to see the extent to which it will accurately find and predict our taste.

“AI-controlled music suggestions and the increasing usage of voice control might lead to difficulties in music discovery,” says Isabel Thomas, CMO and COO of beatvyne. ”The visual interface is missing and people will need to know how to look for new bands if they don’t trust into potential monotonous and data-driven AI.”

But as playlists become more accurately tailored to our tastes, we might also see music become tailored to these algorithms. We have already seen plenty of AI-generated songs and even artists, such as Japan’s Hatsune Miku – but there’s potential for this to go further, and for producers to target algorithms directly rather than audiences. AOptimiseLab is a Canadian startup whose first product, Timbre, is aimed directly at music producers and claims to accurately predict music popularity scores.

ICanBeMyselfHere / YouTube

Above: Hatsune Miku, a computer-generated artist, playing to a live audience

Timbre has trained its AI on millions of songs of all genres to benchmark new music against hits, and will then give customised advice on how to tailor your song for success. For anyone who cares about the bottom line, producing music which ties into algorithms of success simply makes good business sense – although it may mean that chart-toppers will start to sound a lot more similar.

Unlike most other industries, it’s possible that music and algorithms won’t continue to mix unless they improve exponentially to more closely mimic and recognise human artistry before a song or artist has become popular, rather than basing its understanding of taste on what’s already top of the charts. Not everyone may be content to listen to songs with similar chord progressions forever, or to access music in the same way. Wearable tech, such as AR tattoos which play music, or collaborations between artists and AI, such as Taryn Southern’s I Am AI album released this year, do offer a sense of artistry and novelty; but notably, Kenn expects that a step back from AI-driven music experiences will be the key.

“We predict an accelerated resurgence of trusted curators of playlists and live music events to discover new artists,” he says. “We think that live music will continue to be the main money-maker for artists in the years to come as the current generation is digitally fatigued and has developed a great hunger for real experiences. Whilst streaming is providing a great way to discover and indulge yourself in music it is a very passive experience.”

As anyone who has ever spoken to a hipster can tell you, records have become the new streaming over the last few months and years for a reason. While we’re likely to see technological improvements in virtual performances and AI-driven song creation in the coming years, we might be just as likely to see a similar step back towards live music and writing songs the old-fashioned way – by picking up a guitar and a pen. Holograms and algorithms are all well and good, but it’s possible that we got some things about music right the first time.

Have you listened to’s new podcast, Future Stories, produced in partnership with Volkswagen? Listen to the latest episode here, all about virtual reality and the future of your Friday night TV.

More: Live to 120 years old and never forget your pills again: The future of not getting sick>

More: Flying taxis and Ireland’s own ‘supersonic’ train: The future of public transport>

Gráinne Loughran
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