The DigiTour, sponsored by YouTube, is “the first-ever nationwide YouTube tour,” according to press releases, taking well-known YouTube musicians including Mystery Guitar Man, Dave Days, DeStorm, Nice Peter and the Gregory Brothers around the country to play their music and connect with fans in a concert setting. That’s a lineup which combined has millions of subscribers and tens of millions of views — but about thirty minutes before the first show of the DigiTour was scheduled to begin, the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles was barely half full.
However, everything else was in place for your typical all-ages event — the merch booth selling t-shirts and albums, the wandering kids waiting for the music to start. The only noticeable difference between the setup for this show and your typical concert was the large monitor set up to one side of the stage, a stream of #digitour-tagged Tweets scrolling past.
My least favorite thing about attending concerts is the awkward wait beforehand, but when I struck up a conversation with the guy next to me, wearing a collared shirt under a V-neck sweater, he turned out to be a Google employee named Brian. Brian, prior to joining Google, had worked extensively with record labels, and so I asked him what he thought of the idea of YouTube evolving into a record label for the modern age.
Brian didn’t agree with that idea, for two specific reasons: One, artists do not have to make exclusive deals with YouTube — they’re free to put their music anywhere and everywhere. Also, YouTube does not own the master copies of artist tracks. But we both agreed on the power of YouTube as a distribution platform — and what the DigiTour’s success could mean for this community. Lady Gaga doesn’t care if people download her music for free, because the money is in touring; for YouTubers who distribute their music online, it’s a monetization strategy that has potential. Tickets for the DigiTour range in price from $10-20 each.
Moments before the show started, the venue still wasn’t full, and the vibe of the theater was similar to a concert tour like the Warped tour — loyal fans, waiting to see artists that were just about to break out into the mainstream.
According to co-producer Sarah Evershed, who manages YouTube talent like Mystery Guitar Man and Tay Zonday, the DigiTour came together when she and co-producer Meridith Valiando, who comes from the world of traditional music publishing, realized that with their combined experience creating a tour of YouTube musicians was “the most natural fit to work together,” she said via email.
As for how venues for the event were chosen, Evershed says that it was driven by the audience. “We based the routing on the combination of everyone’s in-site data and where their fans were concentrated — hence the 3 Texas shows. We then put a form up on our website that allowed fans to request cities and we filled out the rest of the routing from there. We’ve had a great response in New York City, Urbana, IL, Kansas, DC and Baltimore,” she said.
After an introductory video by Michael Buckley (who was hyper-charming as always) the show kicked off, and you know what? For a bunch of people best known for playing music by themselves for a web audience, they were all adept live performers who knew how to work a crowd.
For all of its traditional concert trappings, there were some traditional YouTube flourishes, including crowd-sourcing and other forms of interactivity — Nice Peter asked the audience to shout their names at him, DeStorm freestyled for several minutes using prompts from the constantly updating Twitter board.
But the major highlights were driven largely by the music: unbilled Freddie Wong accompanying DeStorm on electric guitar, the Gregory Brothers turning Double Rainbow into a raucous group sing-a-long, Nice Peter imploring people to “just put the lenses down — realize you’re here. This isn’t YouTube. You’re really here.” I hope people did that, because it was a darn good concert. And by the end of the night, the dance floor was full.
I’ve done a cursory look at the footage online from Tuesday night, and there are some good recaps. However, like all great live events, there’s just no substitute for having been there.