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News October 27, 2015

Opinion: How wearables could change the live music experience

“Wearables”: it was the buzz word among all us geeks at SXSW Conference this year if you attended the Interactive portion of the event. To put the relevance of a ’buzz word at SXSW’ into context, last year it was all about 3D printing – and since then we’ve seen Microsoft launch an affordable 3D printing app to the public, and the Dutch announce they are building an entire house with one.

So, firstly, what is a ’wearable’? Following on from the focus of digital marketing strategy in recent years toward personalisation (and brands jumping right onto that bandwagon with gusto), we have seen the rise in wearable technology: From Nike fit bands that monitor and track your fitness as you work out, to the rumours of an Apple  ’smart watch’ launching imminently, technology is headed toward a future that integrates items you currently wear with technology you currently use. It’s all about getting out of the box – the box being your smartphone. Think Google Glass: now if only they could get it to look a little cooler.

This week we’ve seen the announcement of Facebook’s planned acquisition of Oculus VR Inc, the makers of virtual reality glasses used mostly in gaming applications at the moment. The announcement that a social media company, who up until now has mainly focussed on absorbing other competitive social media startups, is purchasing a VR company is mind boggling: But perhaps speaks of the industry’s confidence in this technology to have real impact beyond gaming.

So how could such a wearable be used in real life? Google Glass functionality (currently in beta) is pretty much like a pimped up Siri that you don’t have to ’touch’ – simply say ’take a picture’, and it does. There are other more impressive functions here too: it translates your voice to another language for instance – which seems handy for business internationally – and is currently in further development to reportedly provide instant recognition for any person in your vicinity. There are privacy implications, but that’s a whole other issue.

However, when we talk about a company like Oculus, it’s a different ballgame: this is a high definition screen that allows you to experience a (currently virtual) environment, in 360 degrees.

Zuckerberg, in a Facebook post, elaborates:

“…But this is just the start. After games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home.

…Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction. But the internet was also once a dream, and so were computers and smartphones. The future is coming and we have a chance to build it together. I can’t wait to start working with the whole team at Oculus to bring this future to the world, and to unlock new worlds for all of us.”

Note here however, as with many discussions about technology, that music isn’t on the radar. But surely such a technology is made for the immersive experience of music, in particular live music: imagine attending a one-off gig from your favourite band, who are playing across the world, where you can see the venue in total 3D. This seems particularly pertinent given that Australia is geographically challenged, and that the cost of staging artists such a long way away from home sends the cost of tickets into comparatively sky-high realms.

Of course, as with everything technology has to offer to music, I can imagine that this idea is of particularly concern to some of our very profitable local touring companies – and they will have to move quickly to adapt. But music companies having to bend traditional models to fit technological breakthroughs is hardly a revelation in 2014.

-Bianca O’Neill / @musicjourno


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