Imagine being at Beyoncé’s concert in Sydney, Australia or at a Taylor Swift concert in NY – while never leaving your own home in Kentucky. No, it’s not time travel, it’s technology: There are now 3D videos that whisk you away to experience a lifelike concert as if you were really there. As the music industry is always on the lookout for the next cool thing, naturally 3D music experiences are getting a lot of attention. We can already see ample examples of interactive music videos, 360 degrees live concerts, virtual composition and 3D music integration in VR gaming. These types of experiments create an unforgettable, emotionally heightened experience.
There’s a promising future for 3D music experiences, and lots of advantages. One is that VR widens the access of the audience to the artist. When it comes to live concerts, high expenses are a big hassle – not everyone is lucky enough to live in London or Rome and have all the big (and small) names come and play right in their backyard. Many people have traveled far and wide to see their favorite bands or singers, paying not just for admission fees but also for plane or train tickets, hotel rooms, yada yada. Many people can’t afford this luxury more than once a year, or ever – so they pick and choose who’s “worth” the expense. By making these shows available in a new kind of platform, whether in live broadcasting form or by uploading recorded shows, people are no longer limited by distances, and can enjoy much more reasonable prices. Now, instead of one or two shows a year, they can see two shows a month, or as many as they want, without going bankrupt.
The question that always comes up when discussing VR is: Can a virtual experience truly replace the sweaty, tiring, but exhilarating chance to see Mick Jagger move like only he can on stage? Maybe not. But while people save up for the big shows or wait for bands to come to their home town, they can watch other shows and more artists right from home. This way, they can support the music they love and the artists who create it even if they can’t come all the way to Copenhagen and throw their panties at Hayley Kiyoko.
In addition, tickets are often limited, and many can’t attend due to lack of available seats. Just like in the 2018 World Cup Soccer Games, where getting tickets was a complicated mission, and many flew over to Moscow and still couldn’t get any tickets or had to pay enormous last-minute sums. But now, concerts can sell more tickets than the seats available. With VR, space is no longer an issue. Limited funds, travel difficulties, lack of tickets, or any other physical or mental restrictions, can no longer prevent people from being there, rocking along with the crowd (in their own living room).
That’s not the only advantage of VR concerts. In a 3D experience, a multitude of 360 cameras record images from different positions, far and close-up, so the audience can view the concert from a variety of fascinating viewpoints that might not even be available to people who are there in person. Being able to see your idols from new perspectives could make it more appealing than ever for fans to get the VR experience, even if they were at the actual show.
Musicians might even opt to go full virtual, forgo a costly venue and perform solely on virtual platforms. Imogen Heap’s concert collaboration with TheWaveVR is a great example. Others may choose a whole other direction – Ariana and the Rose turned their glam-game up to 11 with a fully immersive experience that combined a non-stop disco party with live performance and an on-site 360 music video that got the audience lining up to get their chance to see it, only to come out and drag their friends to see it again.
And it’s not just live concerts. 3D experiences transform the way artists provide music to the audience. They give musicians the opportunity to offer their audience a vista of behind-the-scenes interactive experiences related to their music, that go deeper than the veneer of a music clip. And many are already trying this new tool – Gorillaz made a space-horror VR video for their song Saturnz Barz. Muse have created a full-on sci-fi revolution clip seen through the “eyes” of a drone for their song Revolt. OneRepublic got a colorful sweeping love story with Kids. Whether it’s mainstream like Avicii’s Waiting For Love or avant-garde like Björk’s Stonemilker, VR has a strong foothold in the music industry, drawing artists from all genres and styles to create immersive experiences.
3D videos may even disrupt the music industry’s current financial model. Musicians were hurt by the digital revolution when records stopped selling and music became available for free or for a minor fee. With VR music, in some ways, we’re going back to a model where an album was a paid-for product and a standalone work of art – a more immersive experience than just background music on TV that plays during a social gathering. The music industry went from being audio focused to visual focused, with music clips being increasingly important and critical to a song’s success. VR fits into that trend, as it can generate revenues from Pay per View memberships, ads and more.
One of the fastest growing fields in VR is, of course, gaming. And sound has always been a major part of the gaming experience – from the blips and blops of Pong and the famous 8-bit Prince of Persia theme to the fully orchestrated soundtracks of games like Civilization and Call of Duty, composed by some of Hollywood’s greatest composers, some even winning Grammy Awards for their work. Music and sound are an integral part of a game’s identity and immersive abilities.
The emergence of VR gaming opens a whole new world of challenges and opportunities for composers. Award winning video game composer Winifred Phillips delved into this subject in this year’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco (GDC) and later with 4-part article on Gamasutra. According to her, composers today face new questions like whether to compose the music in 3D or in 2D or even both, whether to make it diegetic or not – that is, whether to have the music emanate from within the world of the game or overlaid like the voice of a narrator, and how to make sure the music feels natural in an environment that is supposed to erase the line between real and virtual and understand when it shouldn’t. The answer, like in most cases of 360 media, is context. Playing around with the options and understanding what works best for your project.
There are more than a few apps out there that are already experimenting with the concept of music in a VR environment. Many go for the classic “Guitar Hero” route of punch-X-with-Y-to-the-sound-of-the-beat, like Beat Saber, Audioshield and Holodance. These can be visually stunning and plain fun, but don’t necessarily count as breakthrough achievements in VR music. Others are treading into music composition territory with virtual instruments and tools, some less traditional than others, that allow you to create new music or play around with famous songs and remix them, being the DJ you always wanted to be. Great examples are Exa, Electronauts and the more eccentric upcoming Lambchild Superstar by OK Go front man Damian Kulash.
VR music companies are already starting to grow. MelodyVR is a British startup formed in 2015, that is trying to create an iTunes for virtual reality music and live performances. Over the past years they have recorded live shows and videos of hundreds of artists like Wiz Khalifa, Macklemore, Fall Out Boy, Kasabian, and even the legendary The Who, and they have signed contracts with record giants such as Warner, Universal and Sony as well as venues like the Alexandra Palace. On their platform, viewers can get music for a price that ranges from £1 for a single song and between £8 – 15 for a full concert.
While their revenues for the first half of 2018 aren’t particularly high, the app has yet to have a worldwide release and their recent round of funding gives them about two years’ worth of padding to get the platform up and running and increase their user base. Considering these factors, it would be worth checking user reaction outside the UK and US and see how the company shapes itself in the coming years.
And they aren’t the only ones in the field – platforms like NoysVR and TheWaveVR (with the latter already gathering more than $12 million in funding) are trying to combine VR music with a social experience, enabling their users to not only listen to their favorite artists, but also to interact with each other in a new shared virtual environment. This type of companies paves the way for new kinds of music collaboration and connections, such as playing in music chatrooms with artists located anywhere in the world and maybe even opening a new door for music education; People can enjoy live 3D music lessons and practice, coached by top experts anywhere in the world, heightening engagement and increasing accessibility and reducing fees.
When 3D music experiences flow right into the headsets of millions of people around the world, the future of music looks totally interactive. In ways we can’t even predict, VR has the potential to change the way we listen to music, and the way artists share their work.