By Matteo Scher
When Billboard announced in January that a Roy Orbison hologram would be embarking on a 21-day European and Australian tour, as a concert-goer and performing musician I couldn’t help but be skeptical. The thought of a 3D construction being able to entertain a crowd and fill a large theater was unnerving. To clarify, it’s important to establish that I enjoy Roy Orbison and find holograms fascinating; I am just hesitant to believe that the two are best served working together.
I first saw a hologram in 2008 when CNN used a hologram on election night to beam Jessica Yellin from Chicago into a CNN studio. If you haven’t seen the video here it is:
For most however, the introduction to holograms came from a 2012 Coachella set when a hologram of Tupac Shakur joined Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg for a performance of Tupac’s song “Hail Mary.” The performance here is strong and Tupac even “interacts” with the crowd saying, “What’s up Coachellaaaa!?” But the performance is only one song. What would the experience be like if it was an entire set?
The Roy Orbison tour, while using recorded vocals, will feature the London Philharmonic. Recent reports also say the Orbison hologram will be able to interact with the crowd and musicians. But, how specific will the interactions be able to be? Will the hologram be able to yell out the names of each city on tour? Will the technology allow for Orbison to have multiple responses to the same situations? Will the set list change nightly or will it be the same show every night?
These are the nuances that will determine whether or not hologram tours become a prolific part of the music industry. Due to Orbison’s popularity and the new technology, the tour will sell well, but is the novelty sustainable?
My main concern about the future of holograms and music lies in the live concert experience. While live tours are meticulously planned, there are always aspects of spontaneity at every show. From crowd surfing, to song requests, mess ups, and crowd banter, a live concert unlike an album is imperfect and unique. A few months ago, I attended a Lawrence and Lake Street Dive concert at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester. Midway through the set, someone threw a t-shirt on stage that landed on the snare drum of the drummer. The drummer tossed the shirt away without missing a beat and the crowd cheered. A few minutes later when the set ended he tossed his sticks into the crowd. What happens when someone throws a T-shirt at the Orbison Hologram? What happens when it rains? What happens when the band messes up or a certain audience wants a certain song? To me, although the sound and visual quality and performance will be almost flawless, the loss of spontaneity takes the live concert aspect and dulls it down to a large crowd coming together to listen to a collection of great songs.
The success of holograms with music could have huge impact on the music industry. If the Roy Orbison tour proves to be a success, what is next? Imagine an Elvis tour? Or an Ella Fitzgerald and Louie Armstrong tour? If the industry wanted it to be more interactive, how about an Eagles tour with a holographic Glenn Frey, or a Traveling Wilburys tour with Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan and holographs of George Harrison and Tom Petty? Even more amusing, imagine a hologram tour of The Smiths! Despite the fact that all members are alive, their common distaste for each other and a desire for money could lead them to giving the ok for an all hologram tour.
The Roy Orbison Hologram tour will serve as the guinea pig for whether a hologram can be sustainable for an entire night and tour. While the reception to the technology and music is expected to be positive, I eagerly wait to see the reviews of whether or not people enjoyed their concert experience. A positive concert experience filled with seemingly spontaneous reactions will lead to ticket sales and potential new ways to enjoy live music.
I look forward to the development of the hologram tour, at the moment, but I am still skeptical that the hologram will ever replace a human performer for an entire concert or tour.
Here is a video of Roy Orbison “singing” “Pretty Women: