I remember the last time I experienced live music. It was New Year’s Eve, 2019. And it feels like a lifetime ago.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. In an innovative combination of product design and event planning, a new speaker called Oda uses a direct feed from artist studios to bring live music straight to your home on a nightly basis. But don’t think of it as a radio; think of it more like a modern baby monitor for adults who miss the intimate experience of live music. Sure, you can’t actually go to shows in person right now. But for an industry that’s struggling due to COVID-19, this could be a happy medium. And a radically new way to listen to music.
Oda was originally conceived of in 2017, when founder Nick Dangerfield’s friend, artist Phil Elverum, wasn’t able to go on tour. But its launch now comes at an opportune time, as concerts across the globe have been canceled due to COVID-19. There have been some inventive solutions, like a U.K. venue that set up socially distant platforms for guests, and a slew of live streams and Zoom sessions. Oda is unique in that it’s more akin to having Zoom on sleep mode all the time, and musicians can just walk up, activate it, and play.
The Oda speaker is paired with a membership ($79 for a three-month “season”), which gives the listener access to programming that plays through the speaker—and nowhere else. Musicians are paid for evening performances or weekend residencies. The artist is in charge of the experience: They simply press a button to activate the speakers and play direct to listeners. Just like a live tour or a ballet, there’s a calendar of performances, so there’s no changing the channels, but listeners can check out the lineup online before buying a membership. Listeners can put the speaker on “do not disturb” mode if they don’t want to listen to music; they can also use the Oda speakers to play their own music via Bluetooth or a line-in connection.
The speakers are designed to foster an intimate sound, according to Dangerfield. In contrast to smart speakers, like an Amazon Echo, the Oda is made out of natural cherry wood and uses a vibrating panel nestled inside to mimic the way sound reverberates off a live instrument, like a guitar or a cello. The speakers are currently available for pre-order at $299, which Dangerfield says is at cost. “What we’re selling mostly is the connection to the artists,” says Dangerfield, “to show you that our performances are going to be wonderful and weave into your life in a very natural way.”
The programming pulls musicians from across genres, including jazz, soul, and hip-hop, including Ann Peebles and Stevie Wonder contemporary Norman Whiteside. Dangerfield says that the pandemic shifted the company’s strategy in one way—they’re focusing on booking older artists, who are restricted to their homes and at greater risk due to COVID-19. (One such artist is jazz musician Marjorie Elliot, who will perform from her home in Harlem.) But the most exciting thing about this bit of product design is that could be a case study for a sustainable music micro-economy: with membership sales paying artists for live residencies, rather than cents per stream.
With hardware that blends into a person’s home, Dangerfield says the speaker is like a “little imaginary venue.” In a pandemic, I’ll take live music in any venue I can get it.