A virtual concert 'still serves a purpose,' even without a crowd

With no intense bass, light beams and mosh pits, live-streamed concerts aren't quite like live ones — but it's still 'better than nothing'

Attending a concert, a universally loved experience that can foster greater bonds between friends, will seemingly lie in the pre-pandemic past for the foreseeable future. 

If you’re not up for attempting to jump around while you're encased in a transparent bubble or embracing deluded views and gathering en masse, cramped together and unmasked, a virtual concert can offer an arguably bleak alternative.

The University has presented students and other members of the community with a handful of virtual concert opportunities; Jason Derulo and Icona Pop performed virtually over the summer, and, most recently, Omar Apollo performed, all presented by ASU’s 365 Community Union.

READ MORE: Omar Apollo, D Smoke featured in fall virtual concert series

Apollo, along with D Smoke, were initially intended to perform live in the Sun Devil Stadium, said Victor Hamburger, the senior director of 365 Community Union, but were made virtual after it was clear that an in-person effort wouldn't be feasible.

Concerts put on by 365 Community Union through ASU are open to anyone regardless of their University affiliation, "so we don't have a strict breakdown of how many people are students versus the general public," Hamburger said, adding that the live-streamed Jason Derulo concert garnered more than 10,000 attendees.

Hamburger called attending a virtual concert "a chance at normalcy," and said that while the energy of a live concert is gone, "that communal experience" is retained, albeit in a different mode, with the help of social media and texting.

James Quaranto, a senior studying industrial engineering and president of the Sun Devil Musicians Club, said while he hasn't been to any virtual concerts, he really likes the idea, as there is no alternative without either presupposing extensive safety measures or neglecting to take any at all.

“While we might be missing the energy of the crowd, it still serves a purpose," Quaranto said. "Music always brings people together anyway."

Quaranto loves attending concerts, as did his father, who died last year. His father, who was blind, had an affinity for the unique atmosphere of the concert and the ardor of live musicians, he said.

"I saw the Rolling Stones with my dad this past August in 2019," he said, explaining that even when they're performing in a virtual format, they manage to maintain their artistic idiosyncrasies.

"It is kind of a big experimentation, I guess, with a lot of people, how this will work," Quaranto said. "Because I know for a lot of us this is a brand new thing. There's a little bit of challenge to (virtual concerts), but I don't think that's a bad thing, necessarily."

On the other hand, the loss of a live audience and the feverish anticipation of seeing an artist perform live leaves attendees of virtual concerts little to engage with when the show gets pushed online.

Vyomika Tewary, a sophomore studying astrophysics and an officer in the Sun Devil Musicians Club, said she attended 365 Community Union's Omar Apollo concert and left the experience feeling patently unaltered and marginally unamused. 

"Virtual concerts, I'm not going to lie, they're not that good because you're staring at a computer screen instead of being around people and having music that loud, which is definitely part of the experience," Tewary said. "But it is something, and something is better than nothing."

Tewary attended the event while she was at work, playing the live performance in the background as she completed work tasks as a means to fill the silence rather than engaging with what was afforded to her.

"Just before all of this happened, I road-tripped to San Diego for one night to see Tame Impala live in concert," she said. "It was beautiful, they kind of had a crazy light show with the music, and if that were to be online, it would just not work, because you really have to be there."

While the overall environment and experience is diminished with the forced migration to virtual concerts, Tewary noted that online concerts, which ASU hosts for free, offer attendees an added layer of accessibility for individuals who are still relegated to their homes.

"If they're going to charge you the price of a normal ticket then it's definitely not a fair thing to do," she said. "I personally would not pay for a virtual concert, because I'm a broke college student, but even otherwise."


Reach the reporter at stellefs@asu.edu and follow @samtellefson on Twitter. 

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