Music and virtual reality? It’s a creatively-exciting crossover, but commercially it has yet to make a significant impact, with the clutch of music-VR startups’ prospects tied closely to the (slower than the hype predicted) growth of VR-headset ownership. Music game Beat Saber’s million-plus sales are a bright spot, but otherwise there’s a strong sense that the music-VR market is still waiting for lift-off.

That’s why it’s interesting – and surprising – to hear about a project in this area raising $70m of funding. It’s actually a partnership between two startups: Redpill VR and Sensorium Corporation, who are working on ‘social virtual reality’ (SVR) experiences based around music concerts. They’re showing off their new technology at the E3 games show this week, although they won’t be launching commercially until 2020.

The pitch hits familiar touchpoints. “This new SVR technology is poised to provide unprecedented ways for artists, performance venues, game publishers, and virtual influencers to entertain and engage fans globally across interactive environments,” claimed the companies’ announcement. “Fans will experience new visual and sound effects, create their own content and can explore SVR with friends through real-time communication and self-expression, as seamlessly as they would in person,” added Sensorium CVO Ingvar Goldman (CVO? That would be chief visionary officer…)

Details? Redpill VR (which Music Ally first reported on in July 2016 by the way) uses the games-development platform Unreal Engine 4 to create its virtual concerts, complete with social features for fans to interact with one another. Meanwhile, Sensorium has its own tech and music partnerships, and virtual recreations of venues like New York’s Barclays Center and clubs Ushuaïa Ibiza and Hï Ibiza, where it has filmed shows by dance artists like David Guetta and Eric Prydz. So, like British firm MelodyVR or US company TheWaveVR, this is a combined tech and content play.

Which headsets will it support? How will it make money? These questions remain to be answered closer to launch, as does the really big question looming over this entire sector: do enough people want to watch music concerts in VR to make it a viable business model? Thus far for this sector, the argument has been ‘once enough headsets are out there in the market, they will’. Labels and artists have been happy to work with these companies in the hope that they’re right. Redpill VR and Sensorium’s project appears to be a well-funded attempt to justify that optimism, but the jury will be out until music fans’ verdicts are in next year.

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