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Are there 5 Madonnas on stage? How tech is ushering in the future of concerts

Think about some of the concerts you’ve been to over the years. Not the small, intimate events; I’m talking about the major spectacles in sold-out arenas filled with thousands of screaming fans.

Just like everything else, they’ve come a long way in terms of tech upgrades. These days, you’ll see bigger and louder speakers on stage, along with brighter lights and lasers. And let’s not forget about the massive video boards.

Don’t get me wrong, laser light shows are cool but they’re also old news. And a lot of these big events are only scratching the surface when it comes to the latest evolving tech. Now, advancements in areas like augmented reality (AR) and 3D sound are here to kick-start the future of concerts in truly amazing ways.

Augmented reality hits the music scene

If you watched the 2019 Billboard Music Awards, you might have noticed something a little different than shows from years past. As Madonna was onstage to perform her latest single, a few other Madonnas appeared out of thin air. Hello, augmented reality.

In an interview with Endgadget, Madonna’s long-time creative director Jamie King said he was looking for something special for the performance. Once they had an idea, they brought in a new AR company called Sequin.

To create multiple versions of Madonna and other effects like rain and clouds, the company used a method called volumetric capture. Take a look at the end result for yourself below:

This is augmented reality, not holograms, so people in the audience wouldn’t have seen the new additions on stage with only their eyes. They would need to be watching it on a screen. Even so, Sequin co-founder Lawrence Jones called this kind of broadcast performance a first, saying that volumetric capture is the “next revolution” of the medium.

He might just be on to something.

Fixing the age-old problem with concert audio

The problem with concerts is stereo sound. At the average big show, you’ll have about 40 massive PA speakers. And it’s like they only have one setting: loud.

Now think about listening to music in stereo while sitting in the middle of your living room, equidistant from your speakers. Sounds pretty good, right? The same goes for headphones – you’re right in the middle of the speakers, with the left channel and right channel coming through at the same level.

You won’t get the same experience at a concert. You might be sitting all the way to one side of the arena or maybe you’re diagonal from the stage, it doesn’t matter. The stereo sound at a concert is often going to sound uneven and lopsided.

That brings us to the veteran rock group Aerosmith, a band celebrating 50 years with a residency in Las Vegas. Their producer told Digital Trends he wanted to create an immersive audio experience similar to what you get at a modern movie theater, and that meant a major upgrade.

Enter French speaker manufacturer L-Acoustics. Not only did they bring in advanced software, they installed 230 speakers around the venue to create a 3D sound experience. THX also lent a hand.

Now it’s up to other artists to embrace the latest technology to make it mainstream. Of course, with any new tech there’s always going to be upsides and downsides – even with AR. I guess five versions of Madonna is great if you’re a huge fan of the pop star, but it’s probably five times worse if you’re not.

As for Aerosmith? Sounds like they’re still Livin’ on the Edge.

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