The Beatles stopped touring because technology couldn’t keep up with them.
They couldn’t hear themselves over the screaming crowd. There were no venues equipped to deal with their fan base. When they played Shea Stadium, it was all they could do to stay in tune and play together properly.
But they were playing through the stadium PA, and their own amps— that’s it. The PA is the same system baseball announcers talk through: tinny, high-mounted megaphones. They had no big stacks of special speakers set up or anything. They had no lights or screens for a crowd that size; jumbo-trons didn’t exist yet. This is how early they arrived in the technological history of live music.
There was no efficient ticketing or crowd control at any of the venues they played, so there were riots in the streets. There was no artist “handling” for that scale vis a vis that intensity and so even moving The Beatles around safely represented a logistical problem. At every turn, their public and creative impact strained infrastructure and user experience. Eventually they just quit in disgust, and focused on studio recording.
The Beatles’ art literally broke the technological constraints of their time.
Today, we have Coachella, and Electric Daisy Carnival, and Beyonce just played Dodger Stadium. Venues and sound systems exist that can handle hundreds of thousands of people. The world of pop was blasted wide open by The Beatles, and technology worked hard to catch up. The mania and collective celebration they instantiated changed the way we consume entertainment.
We tend to think of things flowing the opposite direction. Technology has such primacy in our culture right now, and we imagine technology driving art— new tools unlocking new ways for us to make things, connect, and enrapture audiences. We’re always playing catch-up, trying to learn those tools, trying to stay ahead of the game, that’s how we picture it. We try to fit inside Facebook and Instagram; to play by their rules.
But we rarely think about moving things the other way— we daren’t imagine we can make art so innovative, or new in terms of structure or public disruption, that technology struggles to keep up, struggles to digest what we’ve done, our tech apparatus choking on our vision in disbelief and in the throes of its own evolution.
The Beatles did it, though.