Is Metaverse the Future of Music? Virtual Technology Convergence with the Music Industry

The two years of pandemic have been a challenging period for the music business, especially the live music sector, and we’ve seen the industry turn to virtual technology solutions to fill the gap. Will this become a new normal? Sergey Bludov investigates if metaverse really can open endless possibilities for musicians, and what the music business can learn from the gaming industry about convergence of virtual technology and live experiences.
7 min read
12/13/21
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By Sergey Bludov
Senior Vice President, Media & Entertainment
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Is Metaverse the Future of Music? Virtual Technology Convergence with the Music Industry

At the beginning of 2020, the global live events industry was poised for unprecedented growth, projected to reach a record-breaking $12.2 billion in ticket revenue. But that all changed last March when the COVID-19 pandemic stopped the live music sector in its tracks. According to the 2020 year-end report by Pollstar, the lack of concerts and other live events led to $9.7 billion in box office losses instead of the enormous gains we expected to see.

Throughout such a challenging period for the music business, we have seen the industry turn to the virtual sphere for innovative solutions to fill the gap. Various experimental collaborations between prominent artists and well-established virtual platforms have proven to be very successful in gathering massive audiences. The question remains: will this become a new normal? Will artists start to rely on the metaverse more often to deliver their concert programs to people around the world who can’t travel to see them in their usual locations?

What Is the Metaverse?

A lot of people are talking about the “metaverse” these days. While the futuristic idea dates back to a 1992 novel by Neal Stephenson called “Snow Crash,” the concept is no longer relegated to science fiction. In simple terms, the metaverse is a virtual environment that people can go inside of as opposed to only viewing on a screen. Visionaries imagine the metaverse incorporating work, games, concerts, shopping, socializing, and everything else in our daily lives, existing as a sort of parallel universe.

Perhaps the biggest reason for the recent surge of interest in the metaverse comes from pandemic lockdowns. It is now common for people to attend virtual concerts, work meetings, and even social events with friends via online platforms. These virtual activities are part of the metaverse concept, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. When our daily lives exist in a parallel universe, technologies such as virtual reality headsets and augmented reality glasses will allow people to “enter” these interconnected virtual communities, thereby blurring the line between virtual and reality.

Another reason the metaverse is gaining attention is the recent announcement by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that the company is being rebranded as Meta Platforms Inc. (“Meta” for short). Clearly, Zuckerberg is focused on the emergence of the metaverse and banking on his ability to be a leader in what some believe will be the next giant wave in the internet’s evolution. Microsoft has also made an announcement related to the metaverse with the unveiling of “Mesh for Microsoft Teams.” The company explains that the upcoming release will combine the mixed-reality capabilities of Microsoft Mesh with the productivity tools of Microsoft Teams.

The metaverse could provide incredible growth and expansion for the music industry. We have already seen the initial possibilities for virtual concerts prove to be highly successful. A comprehensive metaverse could take this success to new heights, as technological innovations combine with creative ambitions to develop engaging virtual music worlds that once existed only in science fiction.

Fortnite as an Experimental Concert Venue

The extraordinarily popular online game, Fortnite, has become a prominent platform for virtual concerts in place of live tours during the pandemic. The game’s massive player base lends itself to hosting events, and several top-notch artists have executed highly successful virtual concerts on Fortnite, including Travis Scott, Marshmello, and Ariana Grande. Unlike traditional live events, the number of spectators is not limited by the size of brick-and-mortar venues, thereby opening up a dramatically new scale for concerts. Rapper Travis Scott hit a record turnout of 12.3 million attendees to his virtual concert on Fortnite. This followed the previous record of 10.7 million spectators for DJ and music producer Marshmello’s virtual show on the platform.

The exceptional popularity of Fortnite among young people makes it an ideal platform for virtual concerts, in addition to enticing a large number of companies to seek ways to connect their brand with the prominent game. According to a study by the National Research Group, Fortnite is played every week by 40% of children between the ages of 10-17. This astounding statistic makes the game one of the hottest platforms for youth engagement and an ideal place for artists to host virtual events. The study further found that teenage Fortnite fans spend approximately 25% of their free time playing the game, while the total number of players has reached 250 million globally.

Following the incredible success of its virtual concerts, Epic Games—the developer of Fortnite—has announced another round of musical performances called the Soundwave Series. The idea is to feature artists from various parts of the world, while players can hear each artist’s music within an in-game interactive experience. Epic announced several artists that will be featured in the coming months, including Australian singer-songwriter Tones And I, French-Malian singer Aya Nakamura, Brazilian rapper Emicida, and Japanese pop artist and music producer Gen Hoshino.

Radiohead’s Innovative Virtual Album Exhibition

Artists are increasingly utilizing virtual tools to compliment the release of new works or, in Radiohead’s case, the reissue of two albums. The band celebrated the 20th/21st anniversary of its classic albums Kid A (2000) and Amnesiac (2001) with a special reissue, titled Kid A Mnesia.

To broaden the scope of Radiohead’s reissue, the band collaborated with Epic Games to produce “Kid A Mnesia Exhibition,” which was released on the PS5 on November 18. The interactive experience was largely shrouded in mystery prior to its launch, and Sony offered up some intriguing yet vague information, stating that Kid A Mnesia Exhibition was “an upside-down digital/analogue universe created from original artwork and recordings to commemorate 21 years of Radiohead’s Kid A and Amnesiac.”

The exhibition is certain to be of interest to Radiohead fans but also to a broader scope of gamers, tech enthusiasts, and more. By collaborating with Epic Games, Radiohead is bringing its music into new realms while embracing fresh technologies to take the band’s innovative creativity into uncharted territories. The virtual art gallery feels like a game as you wander the halls featuring music and artwork from Radiohead’s 2000/2001 albums.

This example of utilizing gamified interactive experiences is sure to be followed by other artists who want to expand the outlets for their music and offer new exciting adventures to their fans.

Will VR Become a Standard Component of Live Music Events?

A growing percentage of music fans are already embracing the power of virtual reality to experience concerts in exhilarating ways that are not possible without technological tools.

Not to suggest that seeing concerts in person is a thing of the past. However, there are many instances where fans simply cannot go to see their favorite band due to the distance from their home, personal physical limitations, or other obstacles. VR not only allows people to see concerts, but the technology also provides a type of immersion that is not possible when watching at the actual venue. With cameras onstage, the audience feels like they are standing right next to their favorite band, with no obstructions or other unwanted distractions.

The metaverse could open up endless possibilities for revenue expansion and increased fan engagement in the music industry. Perhaps your avatar will be able to join your favorite band in the studio while they are recording new music. Or maybe hardcore fans will be allowed to gain an inside look at the creative process as an artist works on writing a song. Imagine being able to attend an exclusive music industry party in a parallel universe. The massive potential is limited only by our imaginations. And while the gaming industry has illustrated the ability to greatly broaden its reach by hosting virtual concerts, such as with Fortnite, music business experts are watching closely and considering the many ways to integrate other pastimes into the future of our evolving industry.

Beyond the exceptionally immersive experience that is possible with VR, the technology also provides the potential to take a concert to an entirely new level. Through the addition of augmented reality, animations, and limitless innovations being conjured up by artists and tech leaders, the future possibilities for enhanced music experiences are staggering.

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