What is the real potential for music in the metaverse? As head of strategy, audio initiatives at Meta, Fred Beteille has plenty of opinions about that.
He shared them in his keynote at the NY:LON Connect conference on Friday, interviewed by Mirek Stiles, head of audio product at Abbey Road Studios.
Beteille pitched his company’s music strategy in the metaverse as a sensible step on from its existing music efforts, licensing music for people to use in their posts on services like Facebook and Instagram, and providing tools for artists and rightsholders on the back-end.
“In my mind, it’s a logical extension of all of those things. Can we build additive elements to an already existing industry and an already existing infrastructure?” he said.
“It couldn’t be a more exciting time to be doing this. I think we’re at the beginning of a revolutionary phase in music, and elsewhere. Gaming and all sorts of other areas as well. But specifically music, I think we’re at the beginning of the next revolution, or evolution, of where everything’s headed.”
So where IS everything headed? What does the metaverse really mean for the music industry?
“The short answer is we don’t… no one knows! Anyone who says they know the specific answer is definitely lying,” he said, before talking about some examples that may help the music industry to think about the metaverse.
“The obvious one is VR. You can go into VR, and you can experience different worlds. Meta’s home-base for that will be Horizon Worlds, where people can create their own worlds, create homes, create things, have avatars, have digital goods and all that,” he said.
“That’s kinda the beginning. Imagine if you could also map versions or areas of the real world. Let’s take a silly example: imagine we could create a virtual map of New York,” continued Beteille.
So, people would be wearing their VR headsets and exploring the virtual New York, and would be able to place objects within it: “I wanna put a balloon here, I wanna put King Kong climbing the Empire State Building!”
‘It’s hard to really grasp the revolutionary-ness…’
But then there’s a future augmented reality aspect to this universe, accessed through the future iterations of devices like the Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses that Meta unveiled in September 2021.
“In the future, there’ll be some sort of interface in front of what you can see in the real world. So imagine those objects that you’re placing in virtual reality existing in the real world. So you’re looking through a lens and you’re looking at the Empire State Building, and King Kong is on the Empire State Building,” said Beteille.
“That’s just one way to think about it… but the other piece of the metaverse is even the 2D apps that we have now. We’re in a 2D app, well there’s avatars on that, so that avatar in the 2D app where you can make a post or show yourself as an avatar, will exist in the augmented reality world, will also exist in the virtual reality world,” he continued.
“And these things should tie through. So for example if you buy some sort of digital good, or an NFT or something like that, it should exist across all of those things.”
“It’s hard to really grasp the revolutionary-ness, if that’s a word, of all these things. Because it’s going to tie not only this futuristic technologies like VR and augmented reality, but it will bring it into even our apps that we have today on things like our phones.”
So how about music? Beteille pitched this set of new worlds in the metaverse that span AR, VR and regular apps as “a whole new level of opportunity to expand businesses, to expand connection, to expand creativity, to expand collaboration and communities, and there are no boundaries”.
The quintessential music use case is live concerts, he added. People put on a headset, go into the metaverse and watch artists play live, with a choice of viewing spots that go well beyond the cheap seats.
“And that artist now, instead of just saying ‘Cool, hit the merch shelf on the way out’, and there’s a long line so you might be like ‘screw it, it’s too expensive, I don’t feel like waiting’, the artist there [in the metaverse] is like ‘hey, I’m offering an NFT for XYZ’, you can click a button or nod your head or whatever it might be at the time, and buy that,” said Beteille.
“And now you have that NFT, you can take it anywhere you want, all around the metaverse. So what you’ve done is added more access, you’ve added more business, you’ve added more everything to this entire thing.”
“It’s hard to understate the leaps that we’re gonna go through over the next few years, and from the things I’ve seen inside Meta, it’s the most exciting time to be working in the music business. So I would encourage everyone to hold on tight, and be prepared to innovate, and adapt.”
‘It’s up to us as an industry to really dig in’
He riffed on that idea of innovation, while also offering the music industry some warnings about just pursuing whizzy technology for technology’s sake in this field.
“It’s up to us where it goes… it’s up to us as an industry to really dig in, learn how these things [work], make these things accessible to more people. The more that we can simplify some of the complexities around things like NFTs, anything around web 3.0… it’ll create more opportunity, not only for businesses, but for human beings to have really cool experiences,” he said.
“Technology’s job is to reduce labour: our need to work drudgery in jobs. But also to create wonderful new experiences that don’t exist today. Things that can’t be done,” continued Beteille.
“Think about all the things that we’re going to be able to create. There’s also a cautionary tale there. If the technology isn’t making the world better, then we have to really think about what we’re doing.”
“There’s an element we have to figure out too, which isn’t just metaverse, which isn’t just technology. It’s about consciousness. Humans have this compulsive mindset a little bit, and I think that drives people to do strange things with technology,” said Beteille.
“The metaverse, because it’s more immersive, because it’s more about being in a place with someone else and experiencing things together, it’s an opportunity for us to level up how we use technology, and make it additive and better for everyone.”
He encouraged the music industry to think hard about “the things that will bring people joy” in these new worlds, and work closely with artists to create them.
“What are the things that artists really wanna do with fans to build a community, so that people feel a sense of belonging? If people don’t have that, that’s where I think things might go awry,” he said.
“If we could find those things that people will really, really love, and invest in those things together, that’s how we’re going to drive the industry forward.”
‘I do think artists are a bit overwhelmed…’
There was a final warning about the expectations on artists to get to grips with the metaverse and all kinds of other technologies, while also continuing to create their core art: the music itself. A concern expressed strongly earlier at NY:LON Connect.
“We’re merging this creative world and this technical world. I do think artists are a bit overwhelmed by what is going on right now,” said Beteille, harking back to his days as a young musician where his entire focus was on writing and making great songs.
“The purist artist really wants to do that. Now, if you layer the requirement of like ‘oh, you have to understand NFTs, you have to do posting on this, this, this and this, and it goes on and on and on to all the things you have to be responsible for. I think we may lose a little bit of that creative purity.”
“The onus is on us as technologists to figure out how to make that stuff super-easy to comprehend and use, so we allow those artists that are naturally the creators out there to do their thing,” he continued.
“These things should be additive and simple rather than this drudgery thing, because [if not] we’re going to leave people out! The idea isn’t to leave people out. The technology is supposed to bring people in and bring people together more.”
“So I think we have a long, long way to go there, because right now I don’t even think I understand how to use all this stuff, so I don’t understand how we could expect a band to figure out how to manage that. It’s something we’re going to continue to work on.”
Beteille’s session was part of the ‘New Frontiers for Music – Gaming and the Metaverse’ track at NY:LON Connect, which was sponsored by AudioMob. Read our full NY:LON Connect 2022 coverage here.