“HOLY S**T!! THIS IS CRAZY!!”
“DAAAAMN BRO!! THIS IS SOOOO COOL!!”
“F**K! F**K! F***********K!!”
These are just some of the reactions I’ve got when people try out VR for the first time. And I’m not talking about regular junta like you and me. These are head honchos of some of the leading film studios in the country, people who have made long & successful careers out of creating & consuming content, screaming & squealing like children! If the experience is so engaging that you get a physical reaction from the viewer every time, that’s a winner.
Look. Even though VR may still seem like some Tony Stark wet dream for many, the truth is VR has passed the hype stage. It’s here to stay. It may have taken a while to take off, but the last 24-36 months have seen a renewed interest in this format, driven by major advancements in technology to CREATE (VR cameras, software) and CONSUME (standalone headsets, mobile VR) all types of immersive media. Coupled with better DISTRIBUTION and ACCESS via web-based and OTT VR apps, and faster internet, it has resulted in a surge in the numbers. Global estimates indicate 600 million device owners by 2021 and industry revenue growth from $40 billion currently to $120 billion by 2026. The future’s so bright, you gotta wear those shades!
Numbers aside, what’s the best indicator of VR’s potential in the entertainment space? PORN! Yes, you read that right…Porn. The biggest content producer in the world, the adult industry has been known to pioneer digital innovation. It was the first product to make money on the internet, established online payments & drove the streaming/data consumption business long before the likes of Netflix & Prime. It’s generally considered that if the porn industry embraces innovation, the rest will soon follow suit.
And guess what? Already the fastest growing industry in the world, after the introduction of VR it is estimated that the porn industry will double its pace in the future. Advantage VR I’d say!
So what is the X factor about VR that makes it so appealing? In my opinion, it’s really down to one key attribute: IMMERSION. Virtual reality is capable of giving users an immersive experience that goes a notch above the on-screen visual experience that smartphones and 4K screens are capable of delivering. VR is highly captivating and engaging – there is no fourth wall between the consumer and the content, allowing the user to evolve: from ‘watching it’ to ‘living it’. A VR experience is incomparable to any other digital offering. Period.
Music & video have always been conjoined twins, and with VR it’s no different! The scope of VR in music is staggering, with a variety of applications that can empower musicians and fans, and enrich the overall experience for everyone!
The most obvious use is live-streamed concert experiences in VR. Several artistes have done VR shows, including Imagine Dragons, Imogen Heap, Liam Payne, and Billie Eilish. And it’s not surprising as there is one very simple economic reason for the live music industry’s increasing embrace of virtual reality: it removes the limit on attendance for live concerts. Now, in addition to those who pay to actually be present at a concert, the music industry can monetize fans that couldn’t obtain tickets, or couldn’t travel to the venue/city/country.
VR lets the music industry combine the best of both worlds: the spontaneity and singularity of live music with the reproducibility and accessibility of digital content. MelodyVR is championing this, offering a wide variety of concerts and exclusive access to artistes. The app has already attracted $100 million in funding and boasts an ever-increasing roster of artistes and experiences thanks to deals signed with the three majors – a clear sign of the underlying expectation of success and interest from the music industry. So the next time a pandemic strikes and music businesses across the globe are adversely affected as they are now, the VR live streaming industry could well be the saviour.
However, a VR concert is still just a ‘viewing’ experience. While it may offer a unique, fully immersive experience, it barely scratches the surface in terms of the scope of VR to create a highly engaging emotional connect with the viewer – and herein lies the true potential of this format. It has the power to bring the artistes and their music closer to the fans as never before. It can help artistes create a following of ‘superfans’ by bringing their work closer to people, and having them be virtually present and engaged at the various key points in the artistes’ journey.
With this technology, music lovers won’t just be listening or watching a piece of content; they become part of the artiste’s life, maybe even part of their decisions. Picture yourself in the studio with your favourite artiste while they are recording their album, or jamming at home, or even just out on a drive discussing life! No matter how many concerts you’ve been to, or videos you have seen on YouTube, this kind of exclusive access was unimaginable, something money couldn’t buy… until now.
Some of my favourite VR experiences in music have been intimate ones, where I’ve been transported into the artistes’ personal space, and felt like I was part of their world. I’ve travelled around the world with U2 while they have jammed with fans in their homes. I’ve hung out with Grammy-nominated Syd & her band The Internet, as she took me through her songwriting journey – from composing a basic tune in her bedroom studio to shaping the track with her bandmates in her practice pad, recording it in the studio and then finally taking to the stage to perform it live. I’ve driven around Detroit with Eminem and Sway Calloway while they chat about music and the city. I’ve even chilled with Slash at the Los Angeles Zoo! And all this without leaving my Versova flat!! Hah! F U travel ban!
The technology is there. Virtual reality experiences and devices will only get better, cheaper, faster etc. So it’s really up to the artistes, producers, and VR visionaries to create opportunities for people to access different VR music experiences. It will be fascinating to see how this space evolves, and the impact of artistes letting fans into their own VR universe, rather than simply engaging with a single music video or concert.
With virtual reality, music can be more powerful, especially for fans looking for a more engaging & immersive relationship with their icons. And being a nascent format with literally no ‘back catalogue’ to fall back on, VR content creators today have the opportunity to reach out to an audience across the globe that has invested in devices & are hungry for content. Just like “YouTube stars”, we may, one day, have a generation of Global virtual reality superstars, each with an extended family of ‘superfans’ that have closely participated in every aspect of the artistes’ journey till date, making it part of their own.
The trip is just beginning… Strap on!
Written by- Shatadru Sarkar, a Music Industry Professional & Virtual Reality Content Producer.