Tonight is Music Ally’s Future Music Marketing event in London, where we’ve gathered a panel of opinionated experts to give their views on whether a selection of technologies are hits or hype – or a bit of both – for helping musicians reach fans.

The final topic up for discussion wrapped in several futuristic technologies: virtual reality, wearable devices, the internet of things and location-based services. There was an introductory presentation by Music Ally’s training manager Nikoo Sadr, followed by the panel debate.

Our panellists for the night: Sammy Andrews, head of digital, Cooking Vinyl; Dino Burbidge, director of innovation and technology, WCRS; Niamh O’Reilly, digital director, Sony Music; Katie Ray, digital marketing consultant, Modest Management; and Jessica Roe, CEO, Level Theory. The moderator was Music Ally’s Eamonn Forde.

Sadr talked about the investments in virtual reality from Oculus Rift – bought by Facebook for $2bn – as well as Sony and Microsoft. “So far they haven’t really been accessible, and they’ve been expensive,” she said. “It will be interesting to see if this really reaches a massmarket soon.” She noted that The Who, Paul McCartney and Bjork have all been involved in experimental VR projects. Japanese artist Kumi Koda made a VR music video, too.

“It will be interesting to see how gaming and virtual reality change things,” said Sadr. “And porn!” quipped Andrews. But moving swiftly on, Sadr talked about the coming age of wearables, with 45.7m wearable gadgets expected to ship in 2015, mainly fitness bands and smartwatches – with the Apple Watch going on sale next week, and hailed as potentially bringing the idea to the mainstream.

Finally, she talked about location technology, and plans to deliver media and music to fans based on their location – at a gig for example, through apps like DropKloud and Traces.

Kasabian have experimented with VR, through a partnership with O2 around a live show. “It was I believe the first ever audio-visual experience like that, and it just enhanced the experience. They were on-stage with Kasabian, they were in the press pit,” said O’Reilly.

Burbidge noted that Oculus is “just a telly at the end of the glasses… all the processing power comes from your computer up a cable!” and he noted that something like Google Cardboard lets people create cheap virtual reality headsets for their smartphones.

Andrews said “there’s a lot of potential there” – Cooking Vinyl is working on a VR project, but isn’t ready to announce details yet. “I’m sure it’s going to be on a lot of people’s Christmas lists, including mine… that’s the game-changer, when it becomes massmarket. It’s going to be a game-changer for gaming and for music IF we find the right applications for it.”

Ray said Modest! used VR with Five Seconds of Summer at a live event. “We had fans physically crying, and we had people who had to stand behind them because as they put them on and saw the band: the footage was basically you were in the rehearsal studio with the band… You were just hanging out in a world that you just don’t get access to. Which just blew their mind. This was the closest to the band’s own private world that they would get… It was a lot of fun. Fans were amazed and blown away by it. There’s potential there, but there’s this problem of creating a massmarket.”

Roe has experimented with VR in her work outside music, for Red Bull. “Testing stuff is great, and there is so much potential, and it is all an experiential thing that you can offer people. But the big problem with things like Google Glass: once you start putting technology on you and start walking around, people get self-conscious,” she said. “Google Glass, the technology was amazing. Some of the gaming technology I looked into: you’re going for your normal run, and to incentivise you to go faster, you can look behind you and there are zombies chasing you. In terms of fitness, that’s amazing!”

What’s the potential for music in the wearables and location area, if any? Andrews talked about Apple’s beacons technology. “At the moment in live events especially, we can’t make sales… but if you turn up to a gig, and you go through the door or when you come out of the gig on a high and something on your phone says ‘did you enjoy that gig? Do you want to buy an album?’ it’s chart-eligible!” Will people be freaked out though? “We don’t know if we don’t try!”

Burbidge warned that not many companies are doing stuff with beacons beyond retailers, but something else about Apple intrigues him. “But one thing they’re not talking about is once you’ve got one of these on your wrist, you don’t really need one of those any more [these being a smartwatch and those being a smartphone]. “All of a sudden this [the phone] is just going to become a server in your pocket. That’s where wearables are going.”

Roe noted that wearables aren’t a new thing: there have been watches capable of taking calls for some time. “It’s basically just strapping your phone on your wrist. It’s interesting because it’s more portable… but it’s not a game-changer. And specifically for music, to be able to carry music with you all the time is a great thing, but we tried that with iPod Shuffles, having something tiny and carrying it with you the whole time.” The implication being it didn’t really work.

Burbidge said “inherently it’s just a watch – it’s a watch that does some really cool stuff but inherently it’s about how you use it. It’s like messaging really”.

Read the other reports from our Future Music Marketing event
Messaging apps
Video and online ads
Streaming services

Music Ally’s next Learn Live webinar will help you understand what’s required for artists to thrive in new international markets!

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Stuart Dredge

Music Ally's Head of Insight

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