It’s been a tough few years for the live music industry. It was already a difficult environment with Ticketmaster scandals and last-minute cancellations. The pandemic then poured fuel onto the fire, with increased health risks and significant financial pressure put on struggling artists. While the argument could be made that the live music industry is broken beyond repair, one solution potentially provides salvation: the metaverse.
The metaverse — both the virtual world and the concept — are constantly evolving. The misconception is it will solely be a virtual reality (VR) experience and the term is often erroneously used interchangeably with gaming platforms. Instead, the metaverse is built (or rather, being built) on the convergence of augmented reality (AR) and VR technologies, which enable multimodal interactions with digital items, virtual environments, and people. As a result, the metaverse is a web of networked immersive experiences and social multi-user persistent platforms. From virtual spaces for performance to defining an artist’s identity and even how they ticket their shows, the metaverse can revolutionize how we experience live performance. It is becoming a space to empower artists, and it’s been estimated that implementing these kinds of metaverse concepts can help the live industry grow its revenue to exceed $200 billion by 2024.
The metaverse is being built on the convergence of AR and VR technologies, enabling multimodal user interactions.
The music industry has always evolved with technology — from vinyl to CD to MP3 and streaming. Artists have had to evolve with it, embracing social media to self-promote, experimenting with performing online, and combining digital elements with their live performances. At the core of all these developments is the desire to connect with fans and galvanize them to spread awareness of the artist. As a marketing strategy, going to where your fans are has always been the driver for change. It’s why we’re seeing more in-game interaction with brands and artists and players. When the pandemic rendered physical events effectively illicit during lockdowns, the development of the metaverse became the next logical step for these interactions. Not only could it resurrect the events industry, but it could even help it to flourish — even future-proof it.
MTV recognized the metaverse’s significance in the industry when it introduced a new metaverse performance category at this year’s Video Music Awards (VMAs), with Korean pop girl group Blackpink receiving the VMA for Best Metaverse Performance in PUBG Mobile. Eminem and Snoop Dogg also teamed up for a metaverse-inspired performance. For their collaboration ‘From The D 2 The LBC’, the artists partnered with Yuga Labs, an NFT and cryptocurrency company best known for the Bored Apes project, to create a mixed reality live performance.
Artists can customize their Yabal virtual concert environments.
Successful in-game live performances, including the Astronomical concert by Travis Scott in 2022, had been drawing in younger audiences and creating opportunities for fans to directly interact with artists in a way not possible before. MTV’s new category was created to honor virtual concerts as well as recognize the potential of the metaverse as a new platform to experience music. Virtual and mixed reality events won’t replace real-world live performances; instead, the metaverse offers an augmentation of the music experience: greater accessibility to artists with more chance of fan interactions. Live events are now location agnostic and the metaverse offers an entirely different experience, rather than watching a live event like an online viewer through teleconference. After all, everyone has Zoom fatigue by now.
How we interact with one another virtually centers on molding movements within the metaverse to match individual avatars — a concept known as ‘motion printing.’ How we move in the real world is authentically replicated in the metaverse, since the way we move — our physicality — is as much a part of our identity as our fingerprint. How we present ourselves in the virtual world matters just as much, if not more, than in the ‘real’ world. It’s no surprise that fashion houses have been some of the first to enter the metaverse and experiment with NFTs for designs. Motion capture can be used to create a genuine representation of the unique movements of an individual in the metaverse — their ‘motion print’. When the digital avatar replicates the physicality of an artist’s real-world experience, the virtual live event seems more authentic and a sense of connection to the moment, and between artists and fans, is created.
An example of a Yabal virtual performance venue.
Artists experimenting with virtual avatars is not a new concept, however. Gorillaz is a successful band known only for its animated online personas. DJs like Deadmau5 follow suit, using a mouse mask in all their performances and remaining otherwise anonymous. He’s taken this one step further in the metaverse. Using an Xsens MVN Link motion capture suit, Deadmau5 projected his avatar into virtual space, testing a mixed-reality event. Recently Teflon Sega, a 2D anime singer with 10 million plays on Soundcloud and 15 million plays on YouTube, has come to prominence due to his immersive interactive concert Wave. The mystique around the identity of the virtual singer is what makes the character so captivating, blurring the lines between science fiction and reality. He’s since transitioned into a full, 3D metaverse native, describing himself as a “metatruborn.”
Yabal, one of the rising AAA metaverses, is the perfect example of how motion capture technology is becoming critical to the future of live entertainment. It’s a metaverse specifically created for live entertainment, empowering seamless interaction between physical and virtual worlds, and providing the highest quality experience for users. The man behind the idea is Dominik Faber, who uses motion capture to enable artists to create authentic, intimate in-game live shows. His argument is that virtual environments provide a new level of intimacy around artist engagement, something that’s unattainable in the real world. By capturing authentic facial movements with a device as simple as an iPhone, and realistic body movements with the Xsens suit, and then displaying these in real-time, the user experience is elevated and makes individuals feel much closer to the artist. In a time where people have never felt physically further apart, this provides an opportunity to revolutionize and potentially save the live music industry.
Hugel, a popular DJ, performed a live virtual show in Yabal.
In all these examples anonymity is part of the brand; the artists adopt a virtual avatar as a way to both define their acts and create a space to interact with fans in a safe and controlled environment. Despite the concealed identity, fans can still identify their characters as true extensions of the artists. This is largely due to how they are captured and projected into virtual space, specifically how they move, rather than just relying on a generic avatar with pre-generated movement.
But beyond creating deeper bonds between creators and audiences, these virtual platforms can offer a place to empower artists. For Wave, Teflon Sega partnered with the Quincy Jones-backed NFT marketplace OneOf to produce his concert. This marks one of the more integrated uses of immersive, interactive, and live events with NFTs and NFT commemorative posters. Collaborating with other metaverse teams such as The Dematerialised, Teflon uses NFTs, blockchain, and Web3 to revolutionize concert ticketing, ensuring an even distribution of proceeds. In a time where the biggest stress to music touring is financial, with venues taking chunks of proceeds to cover losses, NFTs offer a way for the artists to manage the control of their money.
An avatar created by Yabal founder Dominik Faber.
Twenty One Pilots had previously capitalized on this trend when they performed a live concert on the gaming platform Roblox. The concert experience mixed concert moments with gaming and social activities, using Xsens suits to capture the motion print of the band. The pre-show activities already had 12.5 million views and Roblox heavily invested in quests, coins, rewards, and virtual merchandising (“verch”) for this concert. By liaising with the content platform, the band was able to communicate more directly with the fans and have greater creative control over the feel of the concert. This bypasses the struggle between artists and their labels or streaming platforms, with the metaverse empowering artists to own their own digital music content through NFTs. Through streaming on YouTube, Twitter, Twitch, TikTok, Facebook, and Roblox, creators ultimately gain control over the venues and spaces they operate with, and nurture close connections with fans.
The metaverse, therefore, provides salvation for artists and fans due to its accessibility and creative control. In a system free from the real-world issues of physical space, artists can define themselves as they wish, adapting their motion prints into their virtual realities. It also gives them the power to control their art and is being recognized by mainstream entities. The combination of music artists and creative technologies experimenting with a new way to perform live music promises a new wave of music for people to access all over the world.
Remco Sikemma is Movella’s Senior MarComms Manager