Streaming live concerts with On Air is brilliant – I just wish there were more shows

Olly Alexander from Years & Years holding an On Air neon sign
(Image credit: On Air)

These are tough times for people like me who love live concerts but who *cough*ErasTour!*cough* don't love paying hundreds of dollars to see them. So I was delighted to spend last night with a front row seat to experience the gorgeous pop of Years & Years' Night Call show. 

It delivered everything I love about big pop shows – great music, brilliant staging and that all-important atmosphere – without anybody spilling beer down my back, talking through all the good bits or getting their seven-foot pal to stand right in front of me.

I was watching the show via On Air, which is a dedicated streaming platform for shows. Prices are a lot lower than actually going to a show – £8.99, rising to £12.99 if you want Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos (trust me, you do). Also, because the shows are filmed with very high production values, you're getting a much better audio experience and a much clearer view than you'd get at the actual gig.

I watched the show on a big Samsung QLED TV with an Apple TV 4K and a set of AirPods Max to handle the spatial audio, and I was genuinely blown away by how good it was. The audio could have been a bit louder – years of too-loud gigs mean I'm nearly in ear trumpet territory – but the sense of space and atmosphere was genuinely astonishing and utterly immersive. And Years & Years frontman Olly Alexander is just as magnetic as a pop star as he was in the heartbreaking TV show It's A Sin. I had a great time.

That's the good news. The bad is that while On Air is really good, its catalog isn't.

What shows can you stream on On Air?

At the time of writing (August 2023), there are just 14 shows available to stream: a Beethoven, a Mozart, a Dvorak and a Brahms, the aforementioned Years & Years, three operas and single shows by 10CC, UB40, All Time Low, Admin Van Buren, HRVY and the People Just Do Nothing TV show spin-off Kurupt FM.

There are eleven older shows listed too, but they're no longer available to stream– so it's a little frustrating to see shows by the likes of Becky Hill or Anne-Marie listed when you can't enjoy them. And it's also telling that most of those shows aren't recent: while Hill's show was streamed in late 2022, the others are from 2021 or 2020.

That's a shame, because after watching Years & Years I was keen for some more live music – and I couldn't find anything on the service, so I ended up spending hours watching exclusive things on Apple Music (the Harry Styles concert is great), on Amazon Prime Video and inevitably, on YouTube. I also ended up ordering some used live DVDs after being unable to find them to stream anywhere.

That's pretty telling, I think. While many services have a decent selection of live concerts they're usually in the form of music documentaries rather than actual shows. As much as I like those, shows such as the recent ZZ Top documentary on Netflix or the Beastie Boys Story (pictured) on Apple TV Plus made me want to hear all those songs again, plus the rest of the hits, without all the interview bits. 

Beastie Boys Story

(Image credit: Apple / Atiba Jefferso / Glen E. Friedman)

And the places that do have shows, such as Amazon Prime Video, seem to have an incredibly random collection. Again and again I kept finding that the only shows I wanted to see were on YouTube, often with dodgy video quality and even dodgier origins.

I think the record labels and the musicians' management are missing out on some huge opportunities here. I'd happily pay thirteen bucks to stream a show from a current artist whose tour I can't afford or whose tickets sold out so fast I didn't stand a chance. Lorde or Boygenius in Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos? Sign me up! And I'm sure super-fans would spend even more for a livestream rather than a delayed on-demand version.

I think, too, there's probably an even bigger market for old fogeys like me who want to relive the gigs we went to before we started grunting as we got out of chairs. I'd happily pay for a remastered show by, say, REM at their peak, for my eldest to stream the Slipknot tour we couldn't get tickets for, or to experience the forthcoming hi-tech U2 Vegas residency where ticket prices seemed to start at nearly $700 and all the dates still sold out in seconds.

I don't know whether the culprit is the streamers wanting too much or the artists and their labels wanting to protect their ever-rising ticket prices. But given the sums splashing around the best music streaming services today live music seems like a really odd omission: when you consider how many gigs could be streaming, it looks like artists and labels are missing out on a big pile of money while we miss out on some incredible experiences.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.