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The History of Live Music Performance

Concerts serve as not only a form of entertainment but also a form of comfort, release, inspiration, and expression. For anyone reading this, live performance has been around all their lives. Live performance has been a staple in how music has been shared for hundreds of years. Although some of the oldest performances recorded aren’t quite the same as the modern performances, they established roots for live performance to morph and change into what we know today. Check out the timeline we crafted based on our research.

100,000 Years Ago:

Researchers of prehistoric times have speculated that music was used way back before humans even knew what it was. Although the “music” played in prehistoric times may not have been what we determine as music, and more like mimicking animal and nature sounds using the instruments.

40,000 Years Ago:

Archaeological researchers have indicated that people in prehistoric times took the tools used for carving and piercing and created instruments for entertainment purposes. One of the most interesting were the Divje Babe Flute which was made from the femur of a cave bear then pierced with holes to create one of the oldest known flutes in existence. There’s speculation among researchers that the instruments like the flute were used for entertainment or religious purposes.

8th century B.C.–6th century A.D.:

It was in Ancient Rome and Greece that researchers discovered that live performance became an important part of culture. Music accompanied marriages, funerals, other religious ceremonies, and within theatre. It was in this time period that we saw direct literary references to music and its importance in ancient society. There is an abundance of musicians depicted on ceramics and other art pieces from this period of time. Beyond that, live performance became more of an entertainment aspect, an important staple of events.

Middle Ages (476 AD – 1453):

As religion swept the Western world and became an important facet of many peoples’ lives, churches were getting resurrected all over the place. With it came the use of instruments like the organ to accompany religious services. In some ways, churches became early music venues, a place to experience live performance before it was considered so.

The Baroque Era (beginning in 1600):

This was the peak time for many composers still talked about today. Johann Sebastian Bach began playing his music in churches for others to enjoy. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart began playing compositions in grand ballrooms for the entertainment of others. Around this time is also when the first public concert that required admission was orchestrated by the English violinist, John Banister.


Banister held a series of concerts at his own house. The audience were given the chance to demand what music Banister performed as long as made a payment of one shilling. 


Thomas Britton begins to hold weekly concerts in Clerkenwell eventually requiring yearly subscriptions to concerts at his house instead of payment upon arrival at each event. If you had 10 extra shillings to shell out, you could go to as many concerts as you wanted to.


Opera becomes a popular form of entertainment and with it comes the construction of huge music halls and a need for an orchestral ensemble. Through the 18th and 19th century, orchestras begin to grow and become more prominent. Opera and the accompanying music gives more people a reason to go someplace else to experience music for entertainment beyond what composers were offering. Although one didn’t have to go out to experience live music. “In 17th century France, concerts were performed in the homes of the nobility, for only the nobility” (Source).

Late 1800s:

Classical music had been the most popular and known genre for years, but in 1895, jazz began to form and grow in popularity.


The microphone debuts, converting sound to an audio signal.

Early 1900s:

Jazz and blues were played and danced to in bars across the United States. Some have even said that it was jazz who paved the way for modern concerts.


The first known audio speakers are born, giving musicians a way to further amplify their sound and reach. Amplifiers and instruments like guitars develop the ability to go electric.


Rock ‘n’ Roll is born and concerts become a standard, especially in the United States.


Here comes the development of conventional concerts we know today. The modern concert model, if you will. One who helped get the ball rolling was American promoter Bill Graham who “introduce[d] advance ticketing (and later online tickets), modern security measures, and hygiene standards” (Source).


Around this time, live music and how it’s experienced expands further, increasing concert sizes, creating massive musical festivals, and changing the look of concerts. This is the time of Pink Floyd who brought pyrotechnics, synthesizers, and light shows into performances. It was more than just about the music. It started to also become about presentation.

1980 to the present:

Concerts became of the most popular forms of entertainment in the world, bringing in millions and (by present day) billions of dollars. Buying tickets moved from waiting in line for hours at the box office to sending in orders through the mail to eventually going digital. It’s hard to pinpoint a particular year when it moved to digital (believe me, I tried), but that is when the live performance revenue burst wide open. People were now able to reserve front row seats, buy VIP and side stage experiences and become involved in live performances more than ever before. It’s not surprising to go to a concert and hear all the fans singing along to a song louder than the artist. 

With the current state of the world in 2020, live performance was turned on its head. Live performance isn’t allowed to be what it used to be for the sake of the world’s safety. Yet, like in every age of live performance, people always find a way. Music and live performance are always adapting, always trying to get bigger and become the best it can be. Artists may not be playing at a festival or their local concert venues, but that doesn’t mean they’ve stopped playing. Live performance has moved digital in the form of streaming, video-recordings, and live-from-home. This is something that was always in foreground but never given as much attention. Now, music-lovers are wondering, is live performance moving to digital for good, or is live performance destined to return in its glory? Will in-person concerts return by 2021? Only time will tell.



Writer: Kristen Petronio


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