This American Life and OK Go Enhance Live Event with Smartphones

This American Life liveThis certainly wasn’t the first event to utilize a mobile application, but it’s got to be one of the most creative. On Thursday night, National Public Radio’s This American Life performed an episode of the show live on stage in New York City and beamed it live via satellite to over 500 movie theaters across the US and Canada. But radio host Ira Glass and special guests OK Go decided that the added visual element wasn’t enough – so they threw in a mobile component.

Pre-event promotion

Ira Glass and company vigorously promoted the event’s mobile companion with on-air announcements, a blog post, a popup ad on the show’s page and internal links throughout the site. The event page also encouraged guests to download the app not only themselves, but to encourage friends and strangers to do so as well by printing and passing out the premade flyers pictured below with a QR code directing users to the download page.

This American Life live, mobile promotion                This American Life live, mobile promotion, QR codes


When the highly anticipated mobile component of the performance came around, as requested by movie theaters everywhere, Ira reminded audience members to remember that under normal circumstances, smartphones and movie theaters don’t mix. “So enjoy this once in a lifetime opportunity,” he joked.

Ira invited Damian Kulash, lead singer and guitarist of OK Go to the stage. “We’re going to play a little song together,” he said, instructing those who downloaded the app beforehand to cue it up, and inviting the smartphone-less to provide percussion using snaps and stomps. The screen below appeared on stage and, like an old school video game, the idea was to keep an eye on the column that matched to your app’s color (mine was red), and whenever a shape hit the line at the bottom, hit the corresponding shape on your phone for a musical note.

digital musical notes

The effect was that, led by OK Go, the 10,000 people watching the live show in disparate locations all played a few tunes together using mini mobile keyboards. The first song was an unidentifiable ’90s rock song (hitting those keys on time is harder than it looks) and the second was OK Go’s “Needing/Getting.” Impressive performance? Check out the video and judge for yourself – but the concept was certainly a creative integration of mobile participation into a live performance.