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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Published: 2008/03/22
by David Steinberg

Internet Travel

After writing December’s column, I did some more research about trying to find a device that would let me rip and play DVDs. It turned out that the best new device would be an old one. A Mac Mini with some external hard drives will do the job. While I won’t be able to afford that until May, I bought some cables to do a dry run. Sure enough, I was able to view my laptop through the television and listen to the sound through the stereo.
Seeing how I have this ability, there didn’t seem to be a reason to not test out the Langerado webcast. There were some weather issues there that cancelled the Saturday broadcast, but Sunday had a day filled with bands that I loved. Sure I had watched webcasts before, but never on a 51’ television with an optical connection through my stereo. What would the experience be like from my living room?
I’ve had mixed experiences with iClips before. The Deadheads for Obama webcast had out of sync video and the audio was severely distorted. The Jam Cruise videos were fun, but somewhat bandwidth starved. Rebuffering is the enemy of enjoyment.
Much to my surprise, the Langerado feed had no problems. While the video was definitely grainy on the widescreen, it was more than watchable. The audio was quite impressive, up there with the Bonnaroo webcast from last year, which was my previous gold standard [1]. In fact it improved upon that webcast in one crucial way; it was completely uncensored. AT&T’s Blue Room drops the sound during any obscenity or drug reference; their broadcast of Ween was particularly silly, as there was more silence than music.
I can’t say that I was exactly disappointed with the webcast experience. Sure I couldn’t choose what band to see and sometimes I wanted to throw something at the director when they decided that it was crucial to spend 30 seconds showing the feet of a roadie during Railroad Earth’s set, but we didn’t have to deal with the tornado warning or the 40 degree night or the fact that they didn’t have any free water – you know I love you Annabel but that’s outright dangerous – or spending four nights in a tent. Food was a few steps away. The bathroom was clean and never had a line. I didn’t have to worry about drunks screaming or people crashing into me. I probably had better sound and a better view from the webcast than I would have had if I were there. The fact is that other than meeting some friends who were there and the whole pursuit of adventure, I couldn’t think of many reasons why I would rather have been there.
There are some festivals where a webcast wouldn’t have a chance to simulate the experience. High Sierra and Horning’s Hideout have a strong community draw. The tropical festivals of Jam Cruise and Caribbean Holidaze are as much vacation as a series of concerts. While Jazz Fest has great music, it thrives in the context of New Orleans. However, for the strict music festivals, it’s largely preferable to stay home and experience the music without the festival itself to get in your way.
The Internet has destroyed so many revenue streams for the music industry. Here’s a chance to gain one back. While I don’t think that people would pay for the basic stream now – going from free to paid never works – there are ways of making this model work. How about full access to every stage? People would pay money for that. It doesn’t have to just be festivals for that matter. I’d gladly throw down $20 for a good webcast of the upcoming Phil Warfield shows.
With $110 barrels of oil the dynamics of travel are changing. It’s not quite as feasible to fly out for a show or two. Between the very real fear that we might be looking at peak oil – if OPEC could increase production of oil, they probably would have long before it reached the point where alternative fuels are looking more practical – and the environmental costs of constant travel becoming more apparent, the era that allowed something like touring might be ending.
That doesn’t mean that people wouldn’t like to see local shows. Even if every show by every band were webcast, people would still want to go out and see concerts. They televise most baseball games after all, but people still go out to the park. There’s still something special about being able to influence the energy in the room and get caught up in the environment of the concert.
I call out to some of the mid tier bands, the WSPs and Phil and Friends. Open up your shows. Allow the cameras in. Worse case scenario is just that it doesn’t make enough money to cover the program and it’s a one tour system. Here’s your chance to be on the cutting edge of a new model. It’s not like the concert industry is doing so well now that they shouldn’t take risks.
[1] While I didn’t have the ability to push video through my television last summer, I did have an analog setup to pump the audio through my speakers.
David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live music at the Capitol Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish stats website is at http://www.ihoz.com/PhishStats.html
He is the stats section editor for The Phish Companion and is on the board of directors for the Netspace Foundation. You can read more of his thoughts at http://www.livejournal.com/users/thezzyzx.

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