Starved for a Rock Club Experience? Try Real Estate's AR Concert

Callen stages 'Quarantour' for the indie band

You're on lockdown, so you won't be venturing out to see live rock 'n' roll anytime soon. The clubs are closed anyway, the bands quarantined someplace, probably with groupies and such.

But that's OK. Now, you can welcome indie rockers Real Estate to your home—in a virtual sense, of course. They'll play a virtual concert in your living room, kitchen, pantry, bedroom. Even in your garage. (Which would make them a garage band. Heh.)

Unable to hit the road for real, the group engaged creative shop Callen to stage an augmented-reality "Quarantour." (Which is nothing like a "Quarancut," though yes, the drummer could use a trim).

Just click on the link from an iPhone running Safari iOS 11 or later to catch Real Estate's full-length performance. On screen, your self-isolation space morphs into a 3-D concert venue. You can have the guys jam next to you in bed, if you're into that kind of thing.

Here's a tuneful demo to get you into the groove:

They played on a spinning turntable. Retro and futuristic, dudes! (Let's see Ed Helms' bluegrass crew beat that.)

Below, Callen founder and chief creative officer Craig Allen explains how Real Estate's AR project developed:

It's a fan thing.

"We were fans of the band first," Allen says. "We met them through a mutual friend. We've actually had an ongoing relationship with them since 2017, when we collaborated on the interactive music video—which actually won a couple of awards, which was cool—for the band's hit single 'Stained Glass.' We love working with these guys and bands in general. It plays to our strengths as brand builders. The truth is, artists and musicians are now brands—and brands need to be built with ideas, strategy, design and more to break through. In a time where traditional brands are less willing to take risks and try new things, it's refreshing to work with people who are so excited and open."

Promoting their latest album.

"After 'Stained Glass,' we started talking about a longer relationship moving forward to launch their new album The Main Thing," Allen says. "The first step was designing and creating a live stage show, which debuted in June 2019 at New York City's Webster Hall to a sold-out audience. It spiraled from there to collaborating on everything from creating the music video for the first single, 'Paper Cup,' which was released earlier this year, to press photos, product collaborations, and merch."

Covid-19 changed the marketing playlist.

"We were gearing up to shoot a video for the second single when Covid-19 started to impact the United States," Allen recalls. "This has been so hard for us all, but especially for bands, which depend on live shows to supplement their income. On top of that, Real Estate were devastated that they weren't able to share a new album with their fanbase in a live setting. That's when the idea came for this AR experience. There was no shortage of musicians making themselves available to fans through streaming across social networks—but that requires everyone tuning in at a set time. Also missing was the magic that happens when a band plays together. Augmented reality allows us to have the band play as a unit, whenever and wherever people may want to see them."

"Quarantour" is absolutely live.

"The band played the entire set live as they would in a real show, complete with walking off and back on for an encore,' Allen says. "There are no redos or polishing. It was done in one take, all the way through. The beauty of a live performance is it's not perfect. It's a living, breathing thing where the musicians play off each other. We wanted to be as true to that as possible."

AR added an extra dimension of headaches.

"AR is still a relatively new technology," he says. "Everything that has been done previously involves fully rendered 3-D objects. However, especially given our current state of being stuck in doors and apart, people want to connect with actual humans. Because of this, we knew 3-D versions of the band wouldn't cut it. We ran into a lot of technical difficulties because of this. It's 2-D video rendered in a 3-D space with AR—we had a lot of learning moments, to say the least. The crew at Unicorns & Unicorns really did an amazing job working around all the restrictions."

Is the "new normal" for how bands will go on tour?

"This was never meant to be a substitute for live music," Allen says. "Live music is a beautiful, magical experience filled with special dust and amazing moments that will never be fully replicated by AR or any new technology. This is merely a cultural bandaid to help us experience a little of that magic when we're stuck inside. It will be interesting to see what happens with music moving forward. Large gatherings seem to be far off. Hopefully, this is one step of many in figuring out how we can connect with music. We still believe people want that connection. The question will be, 'Will they pay for it?' If so, how much? We're glad those complicated math questions aren't ours to answer. In the meantime, we're going to forge ahead and find new ways for bands to connect with fans even when they can't connect with fans."

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David Gianatasio
David Gianatasio is senior editor at Clio Awards.

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