There’s been growing consternation among concert promoters and bands about fan smartphone use. Whether it’s to capture photos and video or to watch the live feed, it creates a distracted glow that washes over the crowd.

Eminem — or more accurately his manager and DefJam CEO Paul Rosenberg — may have found an AR solution. Using the Eminem Augmented app at Coachella, fans saw animated and choreographed graphics that surrounded the stage and audience during his set (video below).

This makes the app a bit of a “can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach to the issues around smartphones at events. In that way, it has historical parallels to (some) broadcasters who stopped fighting the inevitable tide of smartphones and tablets, instead launching “second screen” apps.

By leaning into AR, Eminem is likewise building on a usage trend instead of fighting it. To invoke another historical lesson, the music industry itself has a clear division of winners and losers that map to strategies that embraced or fought digital disruption (think: mp3s and streaming).

But unlike some of those reactive moves by business interests, AR could be truly additive to live events. If fan attention is indeed waning due to smartphones in hand, AR could be a way for bands and artists to get it back. And it extends their physical real estate well beyond the stage.

Consider possibilities with the 360 degree digital canvas demonstrated in the Eminem set video below. That could make it a means to additional revenue streams. The digital real estate it opens up could represent sponsorship inventory… and we know how much event promoters like that.

The sensationalism of Eminem’s AR animations (we’ll hold off from any stylistic judgement) also brings to mind some of the more production-heavy acts in live music. An AR approach could be a much cheaper path to pyro-technics, or it could democratize arena-like effects for smaller bands.

DoD News photo by EJ Hersom

But perhaps more important than the business side, this opens up new dimensions for artistic expression. Musicians essentially now have an additional layer and larger canvas to enhance performances. Purists and long time concert-goers will hate this, but they don’t have to use it.

Most of all, this is congruent with AR’s native aspects — a design principle that will produce the most successful apps. It builds on AR’s pass-through vision to raise our gaze from smartphones otherwise held down. This is one way AR could counteract a digitally-isolated culture.

We won’t overblow an Eminem set into a cultural inflection point, but it could portend a new area of AR innovation and adoption. Mostly it’s a clever way to turn digital distraction into targeted and potentially amplified focus where you want it. Expect more apps that do some version of this.


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Disclosure: ARtillry has no financial stake in the companies mentioned in this post, nor received payment for its production. Disclosure and ethics policy can be seen here.

Header image credit: DoD News, EJ Hersom