For Those About to Rock, We’ll Connect You: The Role of Tech in Live Music Today

By Scott Cutler, President of StubHub
Originally published on LinkedIn, Feb. 10, 2017

It’s 1987, and I’m at my first concert – Billy Idol and The Cult. They’re taking the U.S. by storm on their national tour. Billy is riding high on his new-found American fame, and he takes the stage to power through a few chart-toppers: “White Wedding,” “Rebel Yell,” “Eyes Without a Face.” Though this is my first live show, I know that this is it: I’m finally experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime event that I’ll remember forever. The roar and push of the crowd, the feel of the bass, Billy’s fist pumps right there in front of me – I’m invigorated in a way that a vinyl record could never make me feel. I don’t stop smiling for the entire show. In awe of the talent I just witnessed, I think to myself, “Wow – this is one of the most memorable moments of my life.”

I didn’t know it then, but I’d eventually go on to lead a company that empowers other passionate music-lovers worldwide to experience this same feeling – a concert high that only comes with seeing your favorite artist rock a stage. If you had told me in 1987 that 30 years later I’d be watching Lady Gaga take the Super Bowl LI halftime show to new heights – literally – I would have never believed you. It would have sounded almost as outlandish as saying that 300 drones would be flying around Gaga as she performed. But wait… I saw that, too!

Indeed, tech in the live music industry has changed dramatically since that Billy Idol tour back in the ‘80s, and dancing drones at the Super Bowl are just the start. As streaming continues to overtake digital downloads, which long ago replaced physical CDs as our primary format for listening to music, artists will search for ways to find worldwide popularity in an industry that is inundated with new performers on every platform, every day. How can a rising star get into Spotify’s “Discover Weekly,” and will the momentum from that visibility drive concert ticket sales?

As streaming continues to strengthen, the role of mobile and social media in music will only become more important. At StubHub, we got ahead of the mobile trend and made our app a powerful way to tap into technology and surface well-known acts and up-and-comers to millions of customers around the world. We also see social media driving growth in live events because being there live and in person matters.  Being there in person provides social currency which we value and use to define us as unique individuals.  As concert-goers share live video feeds, snap the best moments and broadcast commentary globally, demand for in-person live events will continue to rise.

I also expect that as new and even more sophisticated technologies are applied to everyday uses, AI will secure its place as a technology influence within music. Across other industries, companies are already using smart data to predict consumer behavior. We see this in the recommendations tools on audio streaming services. Next, we’re bound to witness the application of this intelligence in the end-to-end music experience. For example, we’ve started to see AI technology being leveraged for chatbot integrations that provide instant recommendations to consumers who are deciding which live events to attend. And with AI like IBM’s Watson beginning to play a role in song composition, the music industry is sure to see the influence of intelligent tech behind the scenes as well.

I’d argue that the global music scene has been applying futuristic technologies even beyond what we’re generally familiar with in the U.S. For example in South Korea, K-pop stars are performing at their concerts virtually via hologram. These stars reach their super-fans at concerts that, aside from missing the physical presence of the band, are incredibly real: the music is bumping, the venue is packed, and the hologram is life-sized and life-like. While some acts only tour once every few years – don’t get me started on how excited I am about another Guns N’ Roses reunion tour – artists like Jaejoong, G-Dragon, and Psy are hosting concerts every day to thousands of fans who love to see their favorite singer in augmented reality.

At StubHub, we’re advancing all of these technologies – mobile, social, and virtual reality – to provide event-goers with the best possible experience at a live event. From our “virtual view” seat view tool to mobile browse and checkout, our technological advancements have enhanced event discovery, streamlined ticketing, and ultimately heightened all phases of the fan experience.

Tech is only going to continue to grow in significance in today’s digital world. Everyone in the industry is tasked with empowering fans to have seamless access to the once-in-a-lifetime experiences they want to attend. At StubHub, we know that our tech will be there for you before, during, and after the concert: we’ll get you there, elevate your experience, and ensure you’ll never forget it. We see ourselves as the ultimate connection between fans and today’s hottest shows.

This weekend, I’m heading to the 59th Annual Grammy Awards, where Adele is bound to blow the roof off the Staples Center. Tributes to Prince, George Michael, and Leonard Cohen will remind us the great talent we’ve lost, and we’ll see Beyonce astound us as usual. As I watch these performers set the new standard for live music experiences, I’ll be thinking ahead another 30 years to imagine what musical performances will look like then.

And while I don’t think Billy Idol will make an appearance, if he shows up via hologram, you can bet I’ll be cheering louder than anyone else.

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