March 16, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Live Music Online: How Jay-Z, YouTube, and Bonnaroo Are Like Airport BBQ


jay-z sxsw livestream youtube dell

Jay-Z's SXSW concert was webcast live -- even to other SXSW venues.

Was this prophecy about 2012 true? Or perhaps this prediction about 2008, if belatedly so?

Perhaps because it sits at the crosshairs of live music (where some of the money is) and digital music (where most of the fans are), the prospect of sending live music over the internet is shaping up to be a real thing, in addition to a prediction.

On Friday, YouTube announced it will stream one one but four summer 2012 music festivals: Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits, and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (via Gizmodo). The move marks a continuation of YouTube’s initial experimentation with live online music, which began with the U2 concert it webcast in its entirety back in 2009.

Another sign that the live online music thing is real: Jay-Z webcast his entire SXSW show, which I witnessed on Monday at the Austin Museum of Art. The streaming Jay-Z opened for a real band, Javelin (disclosure: that is my brother’s and cousin’s band). The crowd went wild for the streaming version of Jay-Z, responding with cheers and applause that he couldn’t hear. Javelin even thanked the rapper for “opening.”

austin salt lick airport sxsw 2012

The Salt Lick sells barbecue like this delicious brisket platter in the Austin Airport because it's more convenient for many people.

For attendees of this hybrid virtual/real show, it was clear that a real-time-webcast concert can be pretty exciting, and even look and sound great on a stage where real musicians play, though of course there’s no replacement for being there.

As an analogy, take the brisket platter (pictured) from the Salt Lick restaurant at the Austin airport, which is perhaps the greatest airport restaurant in the world, as evidenced by the fact that about a quarter of the line always appears to be pilots and flight attendants. It’s not the same as going to the real Salt Lick in the hill country near Austin.

But it sure is convenient, the food is great, and the experience approximates, at least somewhat, the “real” experience of visiting the Salt Lick’s location in the Hill Country, where the restaurant’s chefs cook the meat in a giant pit with pitchforks.

Just like the Salt Lick’s airport location, watching a concert online isn’t the same as being there in the venue. But it’s also way, way more convenient. And people seem to like it, just the way they do the Salt Lick’s airport location.

For now, live online music is for music nerds and tech geeks. But when more of us have Google TVs, Apple TVs, and other app-running boxes connected to our big television screens and surround-sound speakers, live online music could, finally, find the killer app it needs to hit the mainstream.

(Photos: Eliot Van Buskirk)