November 14, 2017:10 talking points around music and virtual / augmented reality

10 talking points around music and virtual / augmented reality

PRS for Music held an event at its London offices last week exploring the impact and potential of immersive technologies on music – including virtual, augmented and mixed reality (VR, AR and MR).

There has been plenty of hype around these technologies, often fuelled by the companies making headsets and content, but from licensing and creative standpoints, there are also plenty of unanswered questions.

The panel at the event included consultant and executive producer Will Saunders; PRS for Music head of online licensing Nick Edwards; artist, songwriter and producer Chagall; Ben Green of BGA Rights Consultancy; Nicholas Minter-Green of Parable VR; Chris Helm of Blend Media; and Music Ally’s own Stuart Dredge.

The moderator was PRS strategy director Graham Davies. Here are 10 of the talking points from the event, from creative issues to licensing and monetisation concerns, which our industry will be chewing over to ensure we make the most of immersive tech in the years to come.

We have to wait for the consumer to catch up with technology

Will Saunders: “The idea of augmented reality is exciting because right now it’s being used. It is something that goes directly onto mobile devices. That means you don’t need a headset… The idea of the physical and the digital coexisting at the same time is incredibly powerful…

But the consumer adoption of those technologies isn’t there just yet; it will come, but right now you can only get it in specific locations. In China this is a massively growing space right now – social VR and VR in physical places.

I am not a sceptic – this is a question of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ with regards to adoption. It’s really about the processing power of technologies… It’s about the speed with which technology can deliver on the promise of technologies.”

Making immersive content is not enough: we have to make immersive content that people actually want to use

Chagall: “One of the challenges here is whether or not VR is going to work in the real world. It depends on whether or not we make anything good with it. We need to create things that we actually want to be in or want to be a part of. That is one of the biggest challenges.

I must admit there were a couple of times I used VR, but I didn’t have the ‘Wow!’ thing. I felt that I would rather just go to a concert and experience this with other people in the real world. I wasn’t very amazed by it.

Since then I’ve changed my mind! I had a really good VR experience at a festival in Holland last year. It completely blew my mind because it wasn’t supposed to be realistic. It was a rendered and digitally created environment. It had a very nice soundscape and it was very calming.

That was really powerful for me. Even though it didn’t look like the real world, within a minute I totally accepted that that’s what the world looked like. When it was finished, I really didn’t want to leave. That’s what everyone wants to make; things that people don’t want to get out of.”

New collaborations are possible – but that can create a licensing conundrum

Ben Green: “There is an argument that says immersive video is just like any other audio-visual media and you have rightsholders who are contained within that piece of content. That can be music but also scriptwriters, performers, still photography, possibly even archive footage that is being blended in with it.

All these different elements have to be cleared and permissions sought to use in this new product or programme. We are in the experimental phase at the moment for this platform where everybody is checking everybody else out.

As ever, there is always a balance between the rights that the producer wants to then distribute the material and make sure that it’s on a multitude of platforms; that’s versus the rights owner who naturally wants to protect their rights – not only their existing rights but also any future rights that they might have or that this may develop into.

There’s always that tension and there’s always that balance between the existing copyright holder and the producer. Where it is best used is where they actually collaborate in tandem. That’s where the artist gets together with the producer and actually creates something new and exciting. It’s not just a straight performance of a live gig. It’s where they do something incredibly different. This leads to lots of interesting challenges from a rights point of view where you have new intellectual property created.

By way of example, say you had a VR concert and the user came up on stage and potentially created some new music with you on the guitar next to you or played a solo. What happens with that intellectual property that the user created? Is it covered under the user agreement when they check a box to say they are using this platform?

You can start to see that the implications are massive here… Technically that creates intellectual property and you have to make sure that that is cleared or squared off. The producer needs to think about lots of these things.”

Licensing must move in lockstep with the technological possibilities

Nick Edwards: “We’re seeing a huge change and a huge opportunity, but it is not clear where it’s going to go. If it has music in it, we view it as licensable.

We have to work with the industry to make sure that the structure and the rights packages that we are able to deliver are robust enough to cover the type of content that is being made available and that the remuneration for our members is at the right level which allows them to get paid when their music is exploited. Things are moving very quickly here.”

If handled right, we could see a new and richer form of listener engagement with music

Chagall: “In the past we’d immerse ourselves in music and look at the record sleeve as we listened. But we don’t do that anymore. We listen to music all the time and everyone has headphones in everywhere, but I feel that maybe we’re not really listening that much like we used to.

That is part of a project that I am exploring where I want to use VR to assist people to stay in the moment and be able to listen to music in that way. I don’t know if what I have in mind will be ‘real VR’, which is interactive. I think it might be more passive because music listening is usually passive.

Our attention span is so short these days, so what I am hoping is that audiences will want to experience music from start to finish and pay attention to it. That will hopefully also make funding bodies or labels support music a bit more that is maybe not mainstream; that’s because we will be more interested in any kind of music that is maybe not that easy to listen to on the first listen.

What I am hoping is that I will be more encouraged to experiment as a musician and make more interesting music than music that would be a copy of something that already exists just because it will hopefully help me to pay my rent.

I am hoping that as a medium it can help to make people interested in music that they haven’t heard before… With the difficulties of selling music and all the problems around streaming, I think artists are a bit stuck. I really hope that this can help in a way to support all kinds of music and genres.”

We have to throw away the old tropes of creativity but ensure we still keep the old standards

Nicholas Minter-Green: “I am not saying that we have to apply old tropes to the new medium, but what we do have to do is bring old standards to the new medium.

Just because it’s immersive doesn’t mean that it can basically be underwhelming or poorly produced and not entertaining. The standards of the old world need to be brought in, but with the imagination of the new world to pull viewers into it and make it worth the effort…

What we need to be better at as an industry is meeting people where they are today […] There is a lot of what I call “festival fodder” stuff created for a handful of people that is not going to recruit the world into this technology because it can be a bit indulgent and for a very small audience.

We have to be better at just accepting where the technology is and doing our best to meet the audience with they are at the moment.”

Spatial audio could necessitate a new type of licensing

Chris Helm: “Spatial audio is one of the things that, from a licensing perspective, is really interesting. Within 360 video, Facebook has a really good spatial audio toolkit. Google has just released a web API that enables people to integrate spatial audio really easily into 360 and VR experiences.

What is interesting about spatial audio from a rights perspective is this: if you’re a rightsholder or a writer, it opens up different ways that you can experiment with your audio. So if you look to your left, you will hear a different sound than you would if you looked over to your right. That’s a very basic example.

As a writer or as an artist, you can break down the different stems of the track and build them up within an immersive experience. That is interesting from a rights perspective, but also in terms of how you can think about monetising existing rights by breaking them down and placing them within a spatial setting.

That comes down to the type of technology and content that you can offer through interactivity. You can already enjoy spatial audio on your phone through 360. From an immediate monetisation point of view, as a rightsowner and as a musician, you can start looking at that right now.”

Nothing will happen unless artists and their ambitions are properly supported

Chagall: “Educating artists about what you can do with this medium is all well and good, but they still have to make it. At the moment it is quite unsupported to come up with new things, to make new things and to develop new things – especially from the music industry […]

The industry finds it a little bit difficult because it’s not been done before and they are not sure what people are going to think or if they’re going to spend any money on it. It is pretty difficult to make anything, even if you have a really good idea. It’s really important to get that running and to get funding. VR is a very promising medium within which to make things have a bigger impact and to last longer.”

Stuart Dredge: “There is a funding gap. If you go to label and say you want to make a really immersive long-form album, they will say they can’t make any money on that. And until there is a market and there is money, the issue is about how you fund this stuff.

Brands are quite interested in this and there is money to be tapped there. As an artist, you have to figure out how you fund the creation of this. It’s not even about how you make money from it; it’s about how you make it and who you work with.”

How to protect copyright when it becomes interchangeable

Ben Green: “There is a question here about licensing the existing work and whether that is changeable or whether it is pure. Products are evolving that enable users to change parts of the programme. One question for rightsholders or creators is around if they want the music changed or not. Some may be happy for that to happen.

If the music is changeable, how do you track the onward use of that if it becomes shared intellectual property with somebody else? Related to that is licensing into a VR product where the user may be going down the corridor into a room where actually your music isn’t heard.

The producer is licensing your music for the possibility that the user goes into Room Y and hears your music. But they may go off and a completely different track and not actually ever hear your music. It comes down to a balance between the producer and the rights owner.”

Chris Helm: “The permanence of the copyright would still exist in you would be licensing that in on a sync basis like you would do with a video game. In the game, the player can go left or right and they might not hear the music but the actual publisher of the game would license in your content and that is your protection around the interchangeability around music.”

Be excited rather than scared about all the new places your music could be used

Nicholas Minter-Green: “Rather than think about the problems you may have monetising the idea that someone is going to wander past this virtual room, instead think about all these virtual rooms that are going to be created where your music will play that would never have existed before.

There may be challenges about exploiting every last percentage of the rights, put the good side of this is that there is almost going to be an infinite new set of places where music can be experienced. That’s the upside.”

Eamonn Forde
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