Focus on live events: Are you experienced?

What constitutes a live experience in a post-pandemic world? Paul Mac examines what’s happened and why, and what’s coming next.

The list of new audience experiences is growing at an exciting rate as the live industry comes up with new and amazing ways to impress the crowds and make them feel part of the production. Mixed reality, on-stage avatars, LED wrist bands, drone shows, immersive audio and so much more are clearly the big trends in live events, right? Or is there more to the post-pandemic world than that? That period of necessary, accelerated learning, saw scrambled-together tech come to the rescue of so much live content, and then evolve into a product and technology space that has felt like a stop-motion video showing the growth of a mighty oak over just a few seconds.

However, the industry is seeing much more fundamental change than just that - in sustainability efforts, business priorities, and a workforce that has never looked more different. We live in interesting times…

A sustainable industry

Concern for the environment is now a living, breathing thread of everyday reality for many people. The language and imperative of green is incorporated into conversation as easily as the weather and the trouble with teenagers. This shift has seen motive and action move from green-washing as a PR exercise to sustainability as a value and moral consideration in everything we do. It helps, of course, that requirements for public companies to report on things like net zero progress have been codified and given proper value, but it does seem like many of our souls have finally evolved to accommodate the environment - as if we’re suddenly finding a ‘Batteries included’ sticker on every child’s toy.

“Customers are interested in environmental impact because it has become a second currency,” says Gert Sanner, senior consultant with d&b audiotechnik. “Venues are trying to get their green credentials and their green certifications - and if you can provide sustainability programs and ideas within the sales process and product line, you have a commercial advantage.” Lee Dennison, head of marketing and client services at Creative Technology agrees: “That’s been the big push from the clients, and that’s what we as humans want. Sustainability is now a key driver - how do you reduce the numbers of people on planes, and the amount of technology being pushed around the world - and how do you do all that and yet create a joined-up service that you can then copy and paste globally?”

Creative Technology recently redefined its presence at the large Cisco Live event in Amsterdam - an annual three-day, live and in-person conference that requires multiple breakout rooms, education spaces, exhibition zones, and more. “We were challenged to reimagine all of those spaces, as well as look at new ways of delivering smarter spaces from a content perspective and to resolve issues with noise.”

Using TFC Flow, combined with innovative event management infrastructure and use of Holoplot matrix array tech was a game-changer for the event: “The MCR was reduced to six people controlling 16 spaces. Holoplot was deployed into each meeting with two units and focused just into the spaces. So as you’re walking past the rooms, all you could hear was a low mumble.”

Product credentials
Another significant shift is the responsibility that the client base is putting on the whole supply chain - not just on their immediate partners. That in turn, gets pushed back to manufacturers, who have to make sure they are up to scratch.

“Sustainability and efficiency have always been part of who we are at L-Acoustics, though demand for eco-responsible products and processes is also coming from artists, from audiences, and from governments,” notes Scott Sugden, director of product management, electronics and software at L-Acoustics. “The question of sustainability has always been a priority, and our L Series uses up to 60% less resources to manufacture, takes up 30% less space in a truck, and uses the LA7.16i amplified controller, which uses up to 30% less power.”

Meanwhile d&b audiotechnik has introduced a 'certified pre-owned' (CPO) programme to create an attractive but commercially viable way for clients to reduce waste. Sanner: “Our products last a long time, and we have to think about what happens at the end of their life cycle. So we now remanufacture our used products: we take them apart, refurbish them and turn them into new products.”

Experiences, and more experiences
The spectacular experiences and grand gestures that audiences are coming to expect more and more are certainly a new reality of the post-covid world. Whether the pandemic has had as big an effect on this as it did on remote connectivity and collaboration, for example, is impossible to be certain about, but there’s no doubt it’s a trend. It’s also possible we have a rose-tinted view on Covid’s tech revolution: “There was an awful a lot of stuff we just had to make work,” says Dennison. “A lot of it was held together with gaffer tape, toilet rolls, and cornflakes; but it was a means to an end. It caused huge upskilling in developers and people just had to think outside the box.”

On the audio side, it sounds like directivity is the big word of the decade as a means to a flexible and sometimes immersive end. L-Acoustics is certainly seeing demand: “Over the past few years, mainstream awareness regarding immersive technology has increased dramatically,” confirms Sugden. “This awareness is leading to more productions taking advantage of L-Acoustics L-ISA immersive technology. This is happening on tour, at festivals, and installations or special events. Event producers, artists and productions are always looking for products and solutions that will improve the live experience.”

“It’s certainly very high up our priority list,” Sanner concurs. “With d&b Soundscape, we’re pushing the boundaries of immersive experiences. We can do amazing things with it – no matter what the project. And we’re constantly developing it to take it to the next level.”

Drone shot
Drone technology is one of the great mobilizers these days. While promises of commuter routes and Amazon deliveries as the crow flies are not quite there yet - we do now regularly see drone shows and drone assisted spectacles at live events around the world. As with any entertainment technologies, once they capture the public imagination, they become in-demand, and drones are certainly in demand.

Francesco Elsing is director emerging technologies with European sales and rental business Lang. The company has made a name for itself as a leader in the world of drones. “We are witnessing a big rise in demand because people see shows happening in the States during the Olympics, and at events like the Superbowl,” says Elsing. “Those were both role models for the event industry not just in the US, but in Europe too. At the end of last year we were quite overwhelmed by the demand, and now the demand is constantly high.”

Clearly there is much more mileage in drones than has been explored so far? Elsing is confident there is: “There are basically two things on the horizon. One is combining drones and fireworks together. It’s quite surprising how well they combine, with the drone becoming an aerial launch pad for the fireworks. Because it’s already in the sky, you can use smaller charges to get the same effect which is a big advantage.

“Another possibility is creating large, persistent images. You could have an image built out of drones in the sky, for branding, for instance. Maybe you could have fireworks going off around it too.”

Flexibility is what you need
All of the new emerging entertainment technologies - while not a single solution, create an ecosystem of flexibility that plays into the flexibility that venues are now asking for, explains Sanner. They need a means to accommodate every show and not be typecast. “The really specialised venues - for example, the concert hall that only does symphonic concerts - are becoming increasingly rare. We find that more and more new venues are built with a multipurpose approach - they want to be able to do lots
of different things, and cater for different audiences, because it makes them more viable. We’ve done some really quite impressive projects around the world in the past three or four years with all of this in mind.”

Talent show
Possibly one of the biggest things to affect live production - and many other industries - since the pandemic, has been the shift in the workforce. Live production in particular though was vulnerable because of the high proportion of freelance talent that populated it. Furlough was a tricky business for the self-employed and as a result, many left the industry, seeking alternative income, and something more secure.

This seems to have led to a dramatic shift in the way we employ people in the industry. “Finding new talent and inspiring them to come into our industry is a huge challenge these days. At d&b we invest heavily in training and apprenticeships and the people who join us and the industry are sometimes blown away by the dynamism, atmosphere and familiarity they find. “But it's not just about new talent, we also need to make sure that those who are already part of the team are happy to stay on board with us, so we also need to keep them in mind – to make sure that we offer them flexibility, training opportunities and a great working environment”

In addition to his day-job, Dennison is vice chair and trustee for the Backup Tech Charity: “We saw what the pandemic did for people’s mental health, for people leaving the industry, for people not being able to work. We have a lot to do to build confidence in the industry again, and backfill a lot of roles. “We have to change our approach. We have to show how we’re a skilled, talented, creative industry. We need to demonstrate that it’s not just a bunch of blokes in black t-shirts.

“Take virtual production, mixed reality, immersive experiences - it’s all so new that anybody can walk into it now and take a piece of it; take ownership of it, if they were in the right mindset. The live events industry right now has got space for everyone. We have to look at transferable skills so we can start attracting people working in business IT, for example, who are, maybe, not finding it very exciting. Move them across and suddenly they’re controlling the networks at Glastonbury or Wembley. Here at Creative Technologies, we’ve taken on six apprentices and all the other companies are starting to do that, and doing some really good stuff.” Just for scale - L-Acoustics reports that it awarded over 9,000 training certificates for both new and experienced users in over 60 countries and multiple languages last year. That’s an incredible number given the talent pool sizes and maybe many have got in their heads for the live industries."

A big picture
It’s particularly interesting that the massive expansion and surge in demand for ‘experiences’ has resulted in an explosion of tech exploration and adoption - repurposing and exploiting innovation to create experiences. That tech, in turn, demands skills and expertise that either has to be acquired by individuals or brought into the industry from outside. Again, the sheer variety of experience means flexibility is paramount for venues that hope to cash in on audience demand for this enrichment, and for everybody who now speaks green, there have to be assurances that whatever we do, does not compromise the planet.

It’s fantastic that the emphasis has fallen on the experience - the content. Maybe the pandemic created a new population of people who see an objective and assume - as long as you have the will - you can achieve it as long as you find the right tech. In this, we have changed the way we interface with audience demand and client ambition. Dennison: “As an industry, we need to showcase ourselves better and change the language a little bit more. It should not be about ones and zeros or pixel pitch and point source - it should be about the problem, the solution, and the outcome.

“We’re making great inroads, and we are seeing lots of people coming from different walks of life. We’re seeing artists and sculptors and dancers and performers and rock stars and many more all starting to use technology differently. It’s exciting.”

Most Viewed