Charged Up: There's a time and place for augmented audio in live music settings

Music streaming has shown personalisation is king - but can gigs really follow suit?
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Right, then, welcome to Charged Up - the place where we, you guessed it, get charged up about something from the week. And while I was preparing to dive deep into the Xiaomi Mi Band 3 unveiling and analyse what it all means for the fitness tracker market, instead we're going to talk about music.

You like music, right? Good, me too, stick around. And over the last few weeks, I've been thinking more and more about how we all consume it, how dramatically it's changed in the last half-decade and where it will be in another five years time. Then, wouldn't you know it, we heard startup Peex outline its aim to make live gigs more personal through a wearable transmitter, a pair of headphones and an app, as seen below.

Essentially, the partnership opens the door for gig-goers to access music from live performances in a completely different way, augmenting the sound to their own liking and tweaking it throughout. You can even download the live versions of songs once you're on the tube home, as you annoy fellow travellers by slurring to your mates and reliving every last detail of the last three hours.

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Now, at first glance, to me, this looks potentially like one of those innovations we hear about and then never see implemented properly. But if the rise of streaming services and the death of record stores has shown us anything, it's that people get positively dizzy about being able to pick and choose exactly what they when it comes to music. People like options, and while it might be strange to imagine popping on a pair of headphones and "improving" the live audio experience through an app, there are definitely scenarios where it would actually come in handy, too.

Charged Up: There's a time and place for augmented audio in live music settings

I'll give you a couple of examples. Two weeks ago I saw a relatively small band here in London - only around 200 people were in the room, a few of those were on the substances and I don't think I'd have changed anything about the sound or the vibe. It. Was. Great.

Now, let's fast forward to the past Bank Holiday weekend, where I was roughly 400 rows deep at a day-festival, struggling to pick up on much at all. Maybe in this situation, if it was socially acceptable, I could have broken out the Peex platform, which would have presumably improved my listening experience ten-fold.

But I use the phrase 'socially acceptable' because, let's face it, it's just isn't. And that's why this doesn't feel like the kind of innovation that can rely on individual users investing their own money into it. I just don't see how that kickstarts - at least right now, anyway. There's too much snobbery within the great game of gig-going to feel genuinely confident about breaking from the norm on your own. There are no trendsetters at gigs; you show up, try your best not to get emotional upon hearing your ex's favourite song and go home. There's no place to start whipping out a pair of headphones and tuning your listening experience - that's how you lose friends.

But the way this does work, I think, is by following the trend bigger bands have set when amplifying an atmosphere in bigger stadiums - making peripherals like wristbands with flashing lights a part of the event. I've seen Coldplay (that's right, reader, I'm admitting to that with zero shame) hand these out to an audience of 75,000 people, and it absolutely heightens the experience. The same, maybe, could happen with augmented sound at these kind of gigs or, one day, even festivals.

It also requires the co-operation of artists, naturally. Ask Liam Gallagher or Alex Turner whether they want the audience standing there with headphones in and they'll tell you where to go. But maybe for those with younger fan bases, who won't get on their high-horse about preserving the natural state of the gig, it would suit nicely.

Still, it's for the reasons above why augmented audio faces an uphill battle in the live music setting. You're asking people to change their behaviour and asking artists to gamble on forging a potentially odd, engaged-but-not-engaged audience (after all, how do you even sing along with headphones in? Try it, I promise you that you don't sound good). But uphill battles like this can be won, too. Providing the folks behind augmented sound target the right crop of events, it could prove to be a hit in the long-run.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to listen to Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino in 'commuter mode' on my headphones - that's at least one area augmented audio has already conquered.

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Conor Allison


Conor moved to Wareable Media Group in 2017, initially covering all the latest developments in smartwatches, fitness trackers, and VR. He made a name for himself writing about trying out translation earbuds on a first date and cycling with a wearable airbag, as well as covering the industry’s latest releases.

Following a stint as Reviews Editor at Pocket-lint, Conor returned to Wareable Media Group in 2022 as Editor-at-Large. Conor has become a wearables expert, and helps people get more from their wearable tech, via Wareable's considerable how-to-based guides. 

He has also contributed to British GQ, Wired, Metro, The Independent, and The Mirror. 

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