Academy Xi Blog

Virtual Reality: The future of music tech in 2023

By Academy Xi

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Recently, I attended my first Virtual Reality music concert.

Standing on my bed in my small city apartment, I found myself in a psychedelic, virtual environment, dancing and cheering a DJ on a virtual dancefloor. The performers were HEAVYGRINDER, and the application, TheWaveVR on the HTC Vive.

This was the third flagship show to debut on TheWaveVR — and it was seriously unreal. After removing the headset, I had the leftover feeling of being at a live music. I had formed a memory of attending a music concert with people.

This sense of presence and accessibility — being able to feel like you’re really experiencing live music, without leaving your home — is reason enough to be optimistic about the future of music in VR.

In this article, I will explore additional reasons to why VR is set to impact the music industry in a massive way.

Before we dive in…

Here’s a quick differentiation between the two main types of VR music concerts:

  • 360 VR Video: A real-world concert is filmed using a 360-degree camera. This type of VR concert has gained popularity on mobile-based headsets like the Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream through applications like Next VR. These applications offer live VR concerts, featuring bands like Imagine Dragons and Third Eye Blind.
  • Fully-simulated VR: TheWaveVR is an example of a fully-simulated VR music concert. Performers embody avatars and perform solely within a virtual space (i.e. there is no real-world event). This type of experience is better suited to high-end VR headsets like the HTC Vive as interactive elements like dance are important.

I wrote this article with fully-simulated VR in mind, but it effectively applies to both. In the future, we may see overlaps between the two types, and they may ultimately blend into a single platform.

A new wave of social

Today’s music streaming services, like Spotify, focus on the listening habits of the individual to drive user engagement. Song selections, albums, and playlists are all curated towards YOU based on your previous listening habits. This encourages you to treat music as a personal experience, something that entertains you in isolation.

This is where VR has the potential to offer something incredible to music tech: social experience.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that VR itself is an isolating technology. The truth is, VR has the potential to be an extremely social platform, allowing users to connect, interact, and share experiences with each other from anywhere in the world.

Voice, body language, and interaction help users to feel the presence of other people, making them feel like they’re together and that they’re occupying the same space, regardless of where they are in the real world.

Adding social to the VR concert experience means that it becomes something you do with people — something you do with your friends. When you’re with people you’re more likely to have a profound experience and develop richer memories. These will become memories that you and your friends will talk about for years as something that actually happened: “Remember that time we saw Daft Punk in Virtual Reality?”

On a grander level, there’s something about being part of a crowd at a concert that gives you a powerful sense of unity. Being one in a crowd of people vibing and dancing in sync, heightens the elation you feel when listening to live music. You feel like you’re a part of something larger than yourself, which is an awesome feeling. VR could be the tool that allows people from around the world to come together and unify, by experiencing the same music together.

Gamifying dance

Audioshield first look, VR mixed-reality

It’s like Guitar Hero, but re-imagined for Virtual Reality.

This is how I often describe Audioshield, a VR rhythm game that has you blocking incoming orbs to the beat of a song.

Here’s Dylan Fitterer, the game’s creator:

“Brandon Laatsch (Hover Junkers, Duck Season) had an idea that music works so well in VR because it can synchronize three senses: sight, sound, and touch. I think he’s onto something there. VR’s main strength as a new medium is accurate body inputs, so any game that leans into that is on the right track,” says Dylan.

Accurate body inputs are at the crux of what makes this game fun. The orbs are flying towards the player to the beat of the song and instinctively the player defends themselves with their handheld shields. Through playing the game, the user has been encouraged to move their body to the beat of the music. They’ve been tricked into dancing. You could say that Audioshield gamifies dance.

Once the player is dancing (whether they’re aware of it or not), they’re almost guaranteed to have a good time. The movement of dance encourages the release of feel-good hormones, which makes the player feel elated.

It’s no wonder that rhythm-based experiences like Audioshield and SoundBoxing are some of my most regularly returned to VR games.

TheWaveVR also utilises the gamification of dance through the use of ‘challenges’ — simple but effective tasks that encourage users to dance and interact within the scene (like Jump, Hand Ups, Make Some Noise, and Move It).

During the ‘group hug’ challenge, the crowd huddles together into a giant mess of avatars, awkwardly holding hug poses until the progress bar fills up. Challenges like this bring crowds together and help channel a sense of unity.

Subscribe to the experience

So, let’s say Virtual Reality is going to be the future of music tech. It’s going to be a cultural revolution that will have music-lovers worldwide rejoicing together through shared music experiences.

That’s great, but how will it be monetised?

The most obvious form of monetisation, drawing parallels with the real thing, is ticket sales. Steven Hancock, COO of Melody VR said at Midem 2017:

“The live streaming works in the essence that the second a gig or a festival or a concert sells out, you can switch to a live VR ticket with a limitless capacity, so wherever you might only be able to hold 10,000 people…, 100,000, 200,000 people could buy into that live stream as it’s happening.”

Melody VR has taken a slightly different approach to VR concerts. While TheWaveVR is a completely simulated virtual environment, Melody VR is more concerned with capturing real-world events, using 360-degree filming technologies.

What Hancock is speaking about here is using VR as a complementary experience to the real thing. Missed out on buying a ticket to an upcoming concert? No worries, here’s a cheaper ticket to the Virtual Reality alternative that you can experience in real-time. Of course, it won’t be as exciting as the real thing, but hey, it’s something.

Ticket sales could become the primary source of monetisation when VR concerts start to gain popularity.

The Weeknd, Coldplay, and Katy Perry have an upcoming performance that’s only available as a fully simulated Virtual Reality experience. Would you buy a $5 ticket, even just to see what it’s like? Now imagine this on a worldwide scale. Everyone tuning into the same concert experience from across the globe, each paying $5. And the artist only has to perform once, and they don’t even need to travel!

Another likely form of monetisation could be monthly subscriptions: $10 a month for access to unlimited Virtual Reality nightclubs, concerts, and music festivals. It’s not hard to imagine the Spotify of the future integrating VR concerts into their existing subscription packages in an attempt to outdo competitors.

Whether ticket or subscription based, VR music will be profitable through the leveraging of its worldwide accessibility.

Shooting cats out of cannons

‘Chocolate’, a VR music experience from the mind of Tyler Hurd, could be described as an audio-visual sugar high, or probably more accurately as a bite-sized acid-trip.

This psychedelic, otherworldly experience has you jazzing out to music, shooting cats out of your canon hands, and watching them fall in slow-motion. It’s pure bliss.

Like Chocolate, some things are simply impossible to experience without the use of a VR headset. And of course, some things would be frowned upon by society if enacted in real-life (like shooting cats out of canons).

The potential for boundless and uninhibited experiences is one of strongest draw cards for Virtual Reality, allowing people to exist in ways far beyond their wildest imaginations. This is especially true for music experiences, as exemplified by Chocolate and TheWaveVR.

I reached out to Adam Arrigo, CEO of TheWaveVR, to get his perspective on the potential of music in VR. He wrote back the following:

“When we started working on the project about a year ago, the problem we said we were solving was ‘live music is expensive and inefficient.’ Like other companies, we saw the main value of VR as providing greater access to live music experiences. When we actually dug into what was engaging and unique about VR, though, we found that the real value was creating experiences that are only possible in — and designed specifically for — VR.”

“We stopped thinking of how to retrofit existing experiences and media types to VR and really asked ourselves what type of music content should exist in this medium. How do we amplify what’s good about concerts, give the audience and performer superpowers, create totally new artistic experiences that could transport fans inside artists’ minds, using 3D graphics and interaction design? How do we make it feel like a dream and not a recreation of something that will always be better in real life?”

Arrigo goes on to write about how the affordances of VR open up limitless possibilities for both the performer and the audience:

“The performer can be 10 times the size of the audience, be made of swirling particles that explode to the beat — they can transform the venue with the click of a button. And the audience? Instead of clapping, they can throw a giant pulsing star into the sky, or they can create their own light show that others can contribute to.”

Live music in VR should not aim to replicate the existing concert experience, but should instead aim to enhance it. Each performance could be something unique — something magical and foreign that users could not experience otherwise.”

Arrigo rounded off the email with this:

“We all just need to keep an open mind and keep pushing the envelope of what’s imaginable, because there’s so much incredible stuff coming in the years ahead.”

An actual real-life nightclub

We’ve talked about sociability, gamification, monetisation, and unimaginable experiences, but we’ve overlooked the most important facet of this investigation, and the most important consideration of any new product: What do the users think?

I reached out to TheWaveVR community to gauge user opinion. I received a bunch of comments, but this line from TheWaveVR user Lavender stood out:

“Every time I’ve been to a main headline event, I’ve come away with new friends and memories, and I get the same energy and groove as I do going to an actual IRL nightclub.”

This opinion, widely shared amongst the community, is the main reason I believe that Virtual Reality will be the future of music tech. If our relatively basic VR technology can replicate the feeling of going to a nightclub or concert now, can you imagine what the future of live music experiences could hold? It will be something truly incredible!