Live Music Exchange Blog

Live Music in the Online Age: Findings from the research project Clouds and Concerts – Anne Danielsen


Today’s post – by Professor Anne Danielsen of the University of Oslo – outlines research into the digital environment to explore the new relationships between live and mediated forms of music resulting from online communication and distribution.

The advent of digital mediating technologies has brought about a totally new environment for the production, distribution and reception of music. Still, the role of these developments in contemporary culture is under researched, within media studies, technology studies and musicology. The objective of the Clouds and Concerts project at the University of Oslo – a collaboration between Arnt Maasø (Dept. of Media and Communication) and Anne Danielsen (Department of Musicology) – was to gain insights into the new relationships between live and mediated forms of music as a consequence of online communication and distribution. The project group also included Anja Nylund Hagen (PhD), Yngvar Kjus (postdoc), and Marika Lüders (researcher) and ran from 2010 through spring 2015.

There follows a report on the main findings pertaining to the domain of live music.

Methods and materials

The project ran from autumn 2010, when we received funding from Telenor Group to do a pilot study. In 2011 the project received full funding from the Research Council of Norway for four years. In addition, Telenor contributed research-directed resources to assist with the analysis of streaming data and also provided support to hire research assistants.

The empirical material of the project is both sprawling and varied. WiMP Music (now Tidal) granted us access to streaming and search logs from all anonymised users of the service in Norway over a total of 72 weeks from 2010 to 2013. Another key empirical source was the focus-group interview; we conducted 23 of them with a total of 124 informants, ages 18 to 59, between 2010 and 2013. In-depth interviews were also conducted over several months with 12 other informants (via diaries, interviews and analysis of activity on and social media). We interviewed people who work in various areas of the music industry, ranging from the artists to players in the streaming services. We gathered material from social media platforms in relation to festivals and concerts. Lastly, master’s theses written within this project have applied methods such as cultural probes in studies of the interfaces and designs of the mobile services offered by Spotify and WiMP, and observation studies at local festivals.

Studio technology to the stage

Music technology that has long been used primarily in the studio for recording, editing and manipulating sound has been digitized and made mobile and can be used actively and creatively on the stage. This affords new creative opportunities but also challenges. Interviews with artists in technology-heavy genres such as EDM and improvised ‘live electronics’ indicate that studio technology is increasingly being applied on stage, but that there are complications, artistically as well as practically. We encountered a great deal of reflection regarding the ways in which the connection between artists and their music is created for the audience. This is, for example, reflected in eternal discussions regarding what to play on instruments and what to play on the computer.

A distinction arises in this regard between artists who are working with a studio recording and artists who favour improvisation instead. On stage, artists will work on upscaling or downscaling elements from their recordings, sometimes evoking the creative process from the studio, other times prioritizing elements that align with the audience’s activity at the live concert (singing along, dancing, and so on). In addition, those artists who rely on improvisation tended to apply studio technologies to the development of their live creative opportunities, to the extent that their technical set-ups function as traditional instruments and even equally natural extensions of themselves as musicians. Others like to be surprised by the ways in which technology can impact their performances.

The live experience should be unique and surprising

The value attributed to live music appears to be increasing. Focus-group interviews with people attending the Øya festival indicated that the live concert was generally expected to be a unique and surprising experience. In a situation when recorded music is available in abundance everywhere at any time, live music may thus be assuming a complementary role as a rare, unique and intense.

Concerts have always been experienced as something happening here and now, and this has not changed much with the introduction of digital technology. Whether pre-produced elements in the live concert compromise the perception of ‘liveness’ varies greatly by genre. An important aspect of this calculation is the relationship between the energy seen in performance and the sounds that are heard there, with regard to, for example, gesture, number of performers on stage, and the overall balance of the soundscape. Digital music technologies have introduced greater ruptures between the visible and audible elements of concerts, and the audience will generally accept them, as long as the most significant parts of the music are visually accounted for. Instruments and musicians, in turn, take on an almost symbolic function, guiding the audience’s attention towards key sonic elements rather than physically playing all of those elements.

Whether or not musicians actually perform live is not necessarily a determining factor. Strong logical breaks between what is heard and what is seen can, however, weaken the live experience, but what is perceived as acceptable with regard to the use of technology both on stage and in the studio keeps changing. Surreal effects tend to become naturalised and supply the new norm against which later effects are measured.

The festival effect

The Øya music festival provided a central case for the exploration of how a large event might influence streaming patterns. We observed a large increase in the searching and streaming of Øya artists during the festival period. Streaming of these artists in the weeks surrounding the festival was over 40 percent greater than during the control weeks. The increase in streaming of festival artists was particularly pronounced for users who lived near the venue. On average, 15 to 20 percent of all daily streams by Oslo residents during the festival involved artists performing at the festival. In addition, the streaming of Øya artists impacted the listening patterns of many users beyond those attending the festival, indicating a general trend towards eventisation in relation to music-streaming preferences and inclinations.

Many people used streaming services to familiarise themselves with the music that they expected to hear live at the festival. This pre-listening practice was dominated by playlists, and especially those curated by the WiMP editorial team, in collaboration with Øya festival organizers. These editorial playlists account for almost 90 percent of all of the playlist streams involving festival artists. Pre-listening, then, has increased with the spread of streaming, and it has become a unique mode of listening because it is directed at a future live music experience rather than a present life experience. It allows listeners to become acquainted with lots of festival artists in advance, or dive deep into the catalogue of particularly anticipated artists, with unprecedented ease and speed.

Streaming during the days and weeks following a festival saw the replacement of those editorial playlists with streams by single artists and personal playlists. Post-listening, then, functions as a personal extension and processing of prior musical experiences. This listening mode also impacts whether or not a live performance will produce new and committed fans. The transition from the live experience to post-listening can be jarring, if only because listening to a recorded version of a song often pales in comparison to an emotionally strong live experience. Prior to the availability of music through streaming, however, post-listening was limited to whatever relevant CDs one could find and afford with artists one had had an especially strong live experience with.

Mobile phones and social media at concerts

One of the most notable changes in audience behaviour over the last decade involves the use of mobile phones at concerts. Informants displayed a great deal of ambivalence towards this phenomenon, however. Many wanted to share their experiences with people who were not there and also liked to document the highlights. Others thought that mobile use wrecked the aesthetic experience, often when it was at its most intense, perceptually, psychologically and socially.

We also saw that streaming and social media have entirely different roles in relation to concerts. As discussed, streaming typically takes place in the days and weeks leading up to and following a concert, whereas social media has a distinct ‘here and now’ character that is most often exploited during or immediately following a show.

The significance of proximity

We found that live concerts impacted online activity much more for local artists than for international acts. The increase in local-artist streaming started earlier and lasted longer than it did for international artists. A successful concert with a local artist resulted in a particularly long streaming tail. Interestingly, among the one hundred artists in the WiMP Music catalogue with the most dedicated fans (the highest so-called passion index), one third were local artists.

Music distributors and vendors in Norway have reacted to increased global competition online by strengthening their local profiles and capitalising upon their close relationships with Norwegian artists and proximity to audience groups. Organising and supporting local concerts and festivals, covering these events in various ways and creating exclusive local content are all examples of strategic moves being made by both music-streaming services and record-store chains.

Intermediaries hence attempt not only to offer access to music but also to provide a particular and strong experience with music. Record-store interest in renewing vinyl records as media for unique musical experiences is part of the same trend.


We are grateful to WiMP Music for sharing streaming data with the project, to the Research Council of Norway for their generous grant, and to Telenor for making the pilot study possible and providing key support in the early stages of the project. We would also like to extend our gratitude to all of the informants, who offered their time to provide us with insight into what streaming and live music mean to them.


Brøvig-Hanssen, R. & Danielsen, A. (2013). The Naturalised and the surreal: Changes in the perception of popular music sound. Organised Sound, 18(1), 71-80.

Danielsen, A. & Helseth, I. (2015). Mediated immediacy. The relationship between auditory and visual dimensions of live performance in contemporary technology-based popular music. Rock Music Studies, (3)1, 24-40

Danielsen, A. & Kjus, Y. (forthcoming). The mediated festival: Live concerts as triggers of music streaming and social media engagement.

Kjus, Y. (2015). Reclaiming the music: The power of local and physical music distribution in the age of global online services. New Media and Society (online).

Kjus, Y. & Danielsen, A. (2016, in press). Live mediation: Performing concerts using studio technology. Popular Music, 35(3).

Kjus, Y. & Danielsen, A. (2014). Live islands in the seas of recordings: The music experience of visitors at the Øya Festival. Popular Music and Society, 38(5), 660-679.

Maasø, A. (in review). Music streaming, festivals and eventisation of music. Popular Music and Society.

Further publications:


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