Few made black and white look as good as Roy Orbison.
Few made black and white look as good as Roy Orbison.
Courtesy of Roy's Boys LLC

Holograms — Like Roy Orbison — are the Shape of Concerts to Come

I only think of Roy Orbison in black and white. I know I’ve seen video of him in color, but when he comes up, I imagine him behind a microphone, playing his guitar, in the black and white era that seems impossibly far away even though it really isn’t. Orbison died in '88, before I knew what the power of music really was, and as such, I missed any chance to see him in the flesh. One of the great songwriters of rock history, with one of the most recognizable voices, there’s no question that Orbison deserved all the accolades he’s received.

He still strikes me as an odd pick for the first wave of artists turned holograms for modern touring purposes.

People much smarter than me have crunched the numbers, I assume, and figured out that the tour, hitting Smart Financial Centre this Friday, is financially viable, otherwise it wouldn’t be happening. Still, were you to make a list of musicians you’d pay to see a holographic version of, would Orbison make it in your top 10? Your top 25? Your top 50?

I wish Mr. Orbison, bless his digital soul, all the success in the world, but as we find ourselves at the precipice of this new form of entertainment, I can’t help but have questions about the long-term viability of these projects. I love technology more than most, and while I’ve seen a handful of holographic performers in my day and been impressed with how realistic the holograms look, but even with live musicians accompanying the performance, it feels weird to bill any hologram performer as something you’re seeing “in concert.”

Plus, if you’ve seen hologram Roy Orbison once, how much different would a second time really be? Outfit changes are about the best I can think of.

But as with all technology, holograms are what you make them, and there is quite a bit of untapped potential for artists moving forward. Consider artists like Adele who may not be interested in touring but still have a global fanbase. More than a few people would likely pay to see her livestreamed into their local arena, most likely. And since holograms don’t need to be limited to human proportions, artists could turn themselves into 15-foot-tall holograms so that everyone could have a good view of them.

Where I think the technology is really going to shine longterm is Vegas and other similar cities that put a heavy emphasis on experience tourism. While there will likely always be a home for impersonators, I can see a few casinos willing to take the shot on replacing humans with holograms, if for no other reason than to promote their use of the latest state-of-the-art technical effects. Plus, with holograms you don’t just have to limit yourself to recreating the individual performers; imagine a show that let you experience Queen at Live Aid or Hendrix at Woodstock right in front of your own eyes.

The purity of live music will always live on, but many modern concert ticket buyers care less about everything happening on stage being live and more about the overall experience. We give artists a pass for using backing tracks, drum triggers and other assorted technology that makes concerts more synthetic but also more consistent. Who knows where technology will take us over the next few decades. While I’m not fully on board with holograms, I’ll continue to give them a shot. I am, however, not sure a concert shirt advertising I saw a digital approximation of an artist is something I could wear proudly.

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