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Something Like The Real Thing

By Clive Young. on Jul 19, 2013


Nobody likes to do grunt work; after all, that’s why we have pizza delivery guys—if you’re already too lazy to make dinner, why would you drive across town to pick up the meal you’re not going to make? That same laziness is why the rich have maids, celebrities have personal assistants and recording studios have interns (at least for now).

But in recent years, we’ve seen our culture start to farm out the stuff that’s actually fun to do. Remember all the fuss over those Guitar Hero videogames? They gave you the experience of performing for a roaring audience without having to actually know how to play a six-string; you could farm out the “skills” part to the game and reap the instant ego gratification instead. Many were convinced it would be the end of music education, because kids wouldn’t want to learn “Mary Had A Little Lamb” on Dad’s old, busted acoustic anymore, but the games came and went, and somehow I’m sure Dan Smith is still teaching someone guitar at this very moment.

Now, the latest example (or at least the one that came across my desk this week) of farming out your fun is LiveTunes, a concert simulator app for the iPhone. Like Guitar Hero, it emulates the live music experience without any of the associated effort, but this time, it's from the audience's perspective. Choose the songs you want to hear and the type of venue you want to hear them in, ranging from theaters to stadiums to dive bars, then close your eyes and listen. You’ll hear the same tracks you’ve always heard, except in “concert-style”—which is to say, drenched in pre-recorded crowd noise and well-executed reverbs licensed from iZotope. As an unintended bonus, if you like Top-40 dance divas, you’re getting exactly what they hear in their ear monitors while they lip-synch on stage.

On the surface, it seems like a fun, pass-the-time gimmick, but I'm sure there's some interesting uses for this. For instance, it’d be a great app if agoraphobia was keeping you from going to shows. Or you could play your own music back through LiveTunes, and simulate an arena going crazy over your “Mary Had A Little Lamb” on Dad’s old, busted acoustic.

To truly capture the modern concert experience, however, they’ll need some tweaks in future updates. Here’s some suggestions:
• Nose-Bleed Seat Mode—In return for 90 minutes of music, the app charges you $150 for a ticket and parking, the venue reflections make the music unlistenable and a special iPhone add-on occasionally spills beer on you, emulating the virtual klutz you’re virtually standing next to.
• Irritable Artist Mode—At random, the app starts running through obscure B-sides and refuses to play anything you actually want to hear.
• Bathroom Break Mode—Whenever a ballad comes up in your playlist, all the music gets muffled and the cheers of the crowd get replaced by toilet flushes. Naturally, Bathroom Break Mode ends right after your favorite song.
• Your Co-Worker’s Band Mode—Instead of arena-sized crowds cheering every note, you get 12 people politely clapping after each tune, random feedback, embarrassed coughs during painfully long gaps between songs, and someone at the back of the room yelling obscene commentary that conveys the sentiment “You are not very good.”
• FOH Engineer Mode—Every so often, virtual drunks interrupt your listening experience to complain how there’s too much or too little low-end in the mix, and hey how’d you get such a cool job anyway and do you really know what all those buttons do, and….
Regardless of whether the developers of LiveTunes are foolish enough to listen to us, the app is a cute idea even if it won’t replace the real experience of going to a show—and nor should it anyway. For all the hassles that come with concert-going, the outcome is not virtual—instead, we communally enjoy real music performed by real people who are really in front of us, and that experience (usually) outweighs the negatives. Luckily, folks who enjoy the app will probably be the ones most inspired to take off their earphones and go revel in the real thing.

Have you tried the app? Got any more goofy ‘new feature’ suggestions of your own? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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