When Warner Music Group’s chief digital officer and EVP of business development Oana Ruxandra appeared for a keynote at the NY:LON Connect conference earlier this year, gaming and the wider metaverse loomed large in the trends she was excited about.
WMG has been backing that with investments – for example in games platform Roblox – and now there are two more deals relevant to this space.
The first is a partnership with startup Genies, which describes itself as “the world’s largest avatar technology company”. It helps celebrities and brands create avatars, but also regular fans – who can then be sold ‘digital wearables’ (from clothes to tattoos) in the form of – and you may have seen this coming a mile off – NFTs.
The WMG deal involves doing all this for its artists, so they can “produce and distribute virtual beings that facilitate fan reach across immersive platforms and metaverses”. A separate tie-up between Genies and Dapper Labs (another WMG investment) will create the pathway to selling items as NFTs too.
The second deal for WMG is both partnership and investment, with startup Wave. That’s the company that began life as a music-focused virtual world called TheWaveVR, before pivoting to become more of a production tool for livestreams – artists performing as avatars in computer-generated environments in shows that could be streamed out to YouTube, Twitch, TikTok and other non-VR video services.
Wave will now be working on some of these shows for WMG artists, including ticketing, sponsorship and ‘in-show interactions for fans’ to help them make money. In the latest example of the interconnected investment web of major labels and DSPs, WMG is joining Tencent Music as an investor in Wave.
The bigger trend here, as ever, is of the major labels looking to invest in companies that can help them do more with games, virtual worlds AND digital collectibles. Which is also an interesting trend in itself: that one of the answers to ‘what can you actually do with an item you bought as an NFT?’ is ‘use it in your virtual life, across one or more platforms’.
WMG is not alone in exploring this: the three majors (and a number of indies) are keen to forge partnerships that will help them scale experiments up beyond just individual performances within particular games or worlds, to become something they can grow into ongoing income for a range of artists – and, of course, for the companies’ themselves.