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Future of concerts: Social wearables and interactive light shows

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For an industry with constantly evolving trends, music's live events have remained surprisingly static since the days of Woodstock. That's about to change.

Just as television relies more and more on live events to drive revenue in the age of instant online availability, the music industry now turns more to concerts and festivals for money. But that doesn't mean that the latest technology is antithetical to the live experience: In fact, music shows are seeing significant new commercial and experiential trends driven by tech, with more on the horizon.

"What we're seeing is that the music festival is becoming one of America's favorite summer pastimes," said Martina Wang, the head of music and entertainment for Eventbrite. "And thanks to technology and a massive mainstream interest, this is the summer of the no-boundaries music festival."

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One in five millennials attended a music festival in the past year, according to data provided to CNBC from Eventbrite's Harris Poll. Festivals are especially popular to millennial men and those attending college: 25 percent of college students attend a music festival in the past 12 months, according to the poll.

One of the now-broken boundaries is the requirement to actually be at a concert to enjoy it: Live streaming has picked up steam since Coachella first took to YouTube in 2011, and it is increasingly ubiquitous for the major festivals, Wang said.

The popularity of these high-definition streams, which are seeing more eyeballs each year, is driven by the "FOMO effect," Wang explained. FOMO—or "fear of missing out"—is leading millions around the world to tune into a concert the same way they would watch a sporting event. And while many in the industry feared that streaming would cannibalize ticket sales, festivals are actually finding that it serves as an ideal advertisement for future attendees, Wang said.

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Last week, Yahoo announced a partnership with Live Nation to stream 365 days of free live concerts.

The biggest trend Eventbrite has noticed in live music events is the steady proliferation of mobile use and social media, Wang said. Serving as a "one-stop shop" for every concert necessity, phones can hold tickets, make payments, arrange GPS-specific meet-ups with friends, and more, she said.

This trend is supported by data from Live Nation Entertainment, which found that concert attendees are using their mobiles more often in nearly every metric: texting more, tweeting more, using Facebook and Twitter more, and taking more photos in 2014 over the previous year. Eventbrite even found that one music genre, electronic dance music, has risen in popularity in part due to the social media savvy of its fanbase.

But the firms building apps for payment and moment-sharing are not thinking big enough, said Nick Panama, co-founder of music label-turned event technologies company Cantora. Relying on phones and apps is detracting from the concert experience, he said.

"Tech needs to enhance the sensory experience, not dwarf it. It's not a replacement," he said. "People don't want to be on their phones at a concert if they can help it."

Social media makes sense as a natural extension of earlier concert culture, he said, because it is a "way to translate the badge of honor" of attendance formerly signified by a t-shirt.

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Cantora is working on several concert technologies angling to revolutionize the way fans interact with venues and their favorite artists. One project is called Nada. Expected to launch in 2015, Nada employs wearable technology to merge the convenience of mobile app functions, including cashless payment and paperless ticketing, while surpassing the connective and analytic capabilities of social media. All of this is contained in a faceless and input-less wristband.

Audience members use their cellphones to record a concert in New York City.
Everett Rosenfeld | CNBC
Audience members use their cellphones to record a concert in New York City.

"Everybody has a different phone, different operating system and different way of engaging or disengaging with that device. And it's so f---ing hard to get someone to download something on their phone or connect with you on Facebook," Panama said. "There's an opportunity to make live events a connected experience: To make who you see and what you buy as the new 'like' or 'follow' button."

Although he could not give many specifics on the technology, as Cantora and its entertainment industry partners have yet to officially unveil it, Panama gave the example of an artist releasing a new track only to those fans who stood in the first few rows of recent concerts—effectively rewarding superfans who could evangelize for their brand, the same way tech companies incentivize early adopters.

This technology, Panama said, could easily be extended throughout live entertainment events, an industry worth billions of dollars. The ultimate goal of the project is to build a global database on how people interact at events.

Biometrics are also on the horizon for concert wearable technologies, although they may be too expensive for the next few iterations, Panama said. Cantora is an early investor in a company called BioBeats, which uses a smartphone camera to monitor a user's heartbeat and produce music at the same beats-per-minute.

But interactivity will not solely be the purview of wristbands in the concert of the future. Even the light show will allow for audience participation.

Cantora is developing an as-yet-unnamed software that "takes the ebbs and flows" of an audience to alter the physical venue. The technology is set to be unveiled at a musical event in a major New York City museum at the end of 2014.

"In these circumstances you will never open your phone," Panama said.

—By CNBC's Everett Rosenfeld.

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