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Shut up and stream the hits

How technology is bringing concert goers closer to their favorite musicians and bridging the gap between digital and physical worlds.

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You remember where you were when you first saw the soft glow of a smartphone replace the mighty lighter at a concert. That transition seemed trite, almost like some joke millennials were pulling on the grizzled concert veterans who had been packing Bics in their jeans since Woodstock. But for the armies of people that put together big gigs, that wave of light washing over the crowd signaled a shift in thinking about what concerts could be. Now the audience had something that could be controlled; now they could be part of the show.

Concert tech has come a long way since then. Just as there was once a time when you didn’t walk around with a library of the world’s music in your pocket, there was once a time where concerts were analog. How we experience music in person has changed: Mass digitization of music has expanded the gulf between artist and fan; instead of committing to listening to entire bodies of work, we increasingly consume music in bits and pieces that expire in our memories as soon as the a song ends.

Live shows — the good ones — aren’t so fleeting, and music lovers are beginning to explore unexpected, intimate venues in search of authentic experiences. Hotels like Aloft, for example, are starting to turn their community spaces like lobbies and bars into compact, turnkey concert venues, attracting clientele that isn’t limited to guests. “We wanted to to ensure that our hotels were built with the technology to make these concerts plug-and-play,” said Bridget Higgins, Global Brand Leader at Aloft Hotels. “And this was way back in 2008, so it was novel. But music is in Aloft’s DNA, and that’s something that’s important to us as we grow the brand.”

Aloft is also using technology and design to augment those live experiences, and locals have taken notice. “Travelers and locals alike are looking for fully plugged-in, authentic experiences in hotels,” said Higgins. “That’s why we design these community spaces like the W XYZ Bar with locals in mind. We want our guests, and the community, to feel like they are in a place that’s a product of the city it’s in, where they’re all participating in the local culture.”

Savvy artists, promoters, and producers understand that technology can play a key role in augmenting concerts, whether they’re putting on a show at a sold out arena or an intimate acoustic set in front of a few dozen people. There’s even a growing business in providing those smaller, more personal concert experiences in unconventional spaces, like hotels, where both artists and event hosts are able to experiment freely. (Aloft’s Higgins said that the hotel chain is like “the R&D lab for the hotel industry.”)

At the recent The Verge x Aloft Present The Future of Music event.

Other tech innovations abound. Raised phones have given way to wearable, programmable technology that can add visual and tactile layers to concerts of any size. Want the crowd to match the shifting colors of a stage set? Give them Bluetooth-equipped bracelets that change hues on demand. Want to bring a palpability to your show? Program wearables that can send gentle waves of vibration that harmonize with your songs. It’s an advance to bridges the aesthetic and the experiential, and brings fans closer to artists in the process.

Concert tech is about more than making shows look good, though, it can also be key in giving you a good look at a concert. The ubiquity of high-quality cameras sitting in everyone’s pockets have democratized how we see gigs both live and after the fact, an advance that has democratized and expanded how we define “live.” That digital audience expansion can be especially important for smaller artists who may be playing more compact venues. Live at Aloft, a concert series hosted by Aloft Hotels, is making the most of that technology by streaming live performances held in hotel lobbies across the country.

But Aloft knows that there’s always a balance to be struck when it comes to tech and live experiences. There are no algorithms to tell you if a show is going to strike a chord, no cookie that can be dropped that can give you an unforgettable experience. Concerts have the ability to make fans out of doubters, and devotees out of casual listeners, a power there that transcends any app or screen. That bridge between digital and physical worlds is increasingly important as our listening habits create larger gulfs between songs and the artists that create them. But technology isn’t just about staring at a screen, it can be about living in the moment that much better.

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