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Aurelli is a Baybeats Budding Writer who was mentored by Eddino Abdul Hadi, music correspondent for The Straits Times.
the anticipation you feel right before the set starts, your heart racing, bodies moving, souls bursting with life. It is the most fulfilling and satisfying experience to see your favourite artist on stage, in person, rather than as a pixelated, one-dimensional image on your screen.
But in the face of the COVID pandemic, spring concerts and summer festivals are sparse as social distancing and self-quarantining make performing live music and attending live shows incredibly difficult. Tours have been postponed or cancelled, and restrictions on large public gatherings have closed venues indefinitely. The calendars of music fans and their favourite artists have never been cleared this fast before.
As the pandemic continues to affect our livelihoods and mental well-being, music feels more necessary than usual. Fans know this, and musicians know this. Which is why many artists such as local indie-pop band, M1LDL1FE, and pop/rock singer, RENE, are finding other ways to perform ‘live’, via platforms like Instagram and YouTube. The pandemic has incited an explosion in livestreamed mini-concerts and DJ sets and it’s clear that as the music industry continues to adjust, digital concerts are going to be a much larger part of the way audiences enjoy music moving forward.
Although they’re not quite like seeing a show in person, these virtual concerts play a huge role in keeping the public arts alive while public life is on lockdown. Each show is unique and unfiltered and adds a subtle layer of intimacy and connection between the artist and the audience. It’s informal, fun and contains an uncommonly casual air. We see them without their makeup, without expensive clothes, without elaborate stage design; revealing a side of artists that many fans don’t get an opportunity to see up close. Through these virtual shows, they’ve found a perfect opportunity to blend performance with a wholesome experience that puts everyone tuning in just a little more at ease with their situation.
In an interview, music fan Cynthia Ng explained why she’s fond of livestreamed shows. “I attended my first livestreamed concert earlier this year,” she said. As an introvert, she was more than happy to stay home, but after getting tickets to events she was excited to attend, and those events subsequently being postponed indefinitely, she desperately wanted to experience live entertainment again. “For a small fee, I was able to see one of my favourite artists from the comfort of my own bed. I was comfortable and had all the room to dance and sing along without fear of spreading or contracting the virus.”
Another benefit that exists with a livestreamed performance is the ability to engage with people from all over the world. Geographical boundaries are no more and the community becomes larger than life. Avid concert goer, Hazwani Halmi, pointed this out during her interview, “It’s a different experience talking to fans from Singapore and fans from all over the world. To exchange thoughts and opinions is very interesting!”
The camaraderie between fans, and just being surrounded by thousands of people that all have at least one common interest is irreplaceable. That energy cannot be replicated through a computer screen.
However, despite the comfort, authenticity and community that a livestream offers, the cons are still apparent. “There’s a certain magic that comes with seeing an event live, and in person,” Cynthia explained. “The camaraderie between fans, and just being surrounded by thousands of people that all have at least one common interest is irreplaceable. That energy cannot be replicated through a computer screen.”
“I personally feel that there is an atmospheric difference when I’m watching a live performance and a virtual performance,” said local music fan Michelle Sien. “The crowd and the quality of music is obviously very different.”
These problems are also felt by musicians as efforts to take advantage of livestreaming can be hit-and-miss for artists as well. R&B producer Teddy Riley did his first livestream in early April from his home studio, along with members of his group, Blackstreet. A local company set up multiple cameras and the show was streamed over several platforms, but despite the generally crisp quality of the stream, Riley felt a disconnect. “When you go, ‘Say ho!’ and you’re trying to get crowd participation, you’re just hoping that somebody is in their home saying, ‘ho!’” he said. “I think a big part—at least for me, and I think for other musicians—of putting out music is also getting to play it live,” said Singaporean pop/rock singer-songwriter, RENE.
Not only are individual artist livestreams on the rise, but there were many instances last year where Singaporean bands and artists came together to move festivals online. Take the Fred Perry Subculture Live event, featuring indie-pop band, M1LDL1FE, contemporary pop singer-songwriter, Linying, punk-rock act, No Good and ska legends, Gerhana Skacinta. While the live music series has staged physical shows across multiple countries in Asia, last year’s event was done virtually due to the ongoing pandemic.
Baybeats2020 is another example of a local festival that’s gone digital due to the pandemic. The yearly three-day festival covered a wide range of talented performers and musical acts that were livestreamed, such as indie-pop band, M1LDL1FE, rapper and music producer, THELIONCITYBOY, and alternative pop band, Subsonic Eye. Using platforms such as Instagram’s Live feature, Facebook and their personal pages to livestream performances, they managed to attract a wide audience from all over the world to tune in to their festival. Similarly, Baybeats 2021 followed a similar structure, combining livestream performances with live, in-person shows. The line-up this year was an exciting one, with international bands such as SURL, a Korean rock band and Gym and Swim, a Bangkok-based tropical pop band, being livestreamed to a global audience.
The thing about virtual festivals is that it comes with certain blindsides for an organisation that isn’t used to organising fully digital festivals. There are a lot of things to learn.
Vathiar Mohanavelu Sai Akileshwar, Baybeats festival lead
Nevertheless, shifting a festival to a digital format is easier said than done. “We are in the art of presenting live performances, it’s pretty much part of our DNA, we’re all programmed to do it that way. The thing about virtual festivals is that it comes with certain blindsides for an organisation that isn’t used to organising fully digital festivals. There are a lot of things to learn,” said Vathiar Mohanavelu Sai Akileshwar, Baybeats festival lead.
Akileshwar’s vision of livestreaming as a natural part of every event is also a future that is filled with uncertainty, “Livestreams have been pretty prominent for the last 16 months, I don’t think it will become more prominent than what it is,” said Akileshwar. “My prediction is that it will stagnate or plateau to a level and I don’t think we’ll be seeing a lot more impactful livestream unless technology evolves along with it and the interactivity between audience and performer could increase.”
It’s clear from the limitless options for virtual events and the success of digital festivals and performances across platforms that livestreaming has become an integral piece of the entertainment landscape. Although virtual festivals and performances have challenges recreating the thrill and excitement of a physical concert, its strength lies in the intimacy and authenticity shown through the artists and fans. No doubt a crucial remedy for live music’s absence, there’s widespread acknowledgement that, for now, it’s all we’ve got.
Aurelli Lazuardi, 19, is a Budding Writer for Baybeats 2021 with a passion for writing. She believes that there is strength and beauty within words and expresses herself through music and fashion. Despite being a fashion media major, she is heavily inspired by the music scene and hopes to continue writing and exploring her passions through the medium of journalism.
The Baybeats Budding Writers mentorship programme has been running since 2014, building a community of writers to cover the growing Singapore music scene. Under the guidance and mentorship of Eddino Abdul Hadi and Daniel Peters, our budding writers learn more about music journalism and how to be a voice for the local music community.