The final session at our Sandbox Summit Web3 Special conference this week focused on music in the metaverse, building on preceding talks from Decentraland’s Iara Dias and CrossBorderWorks’ Vickie Nauman.
Those were followed by a panel moderated by Music Ally’s head of training Kushal Patel. He was joined by Nauman and Dias, as well as Alex Kane, CEO at Volta; Roman Rappak, chief creative officer at Ristband (and frontman of the band Miro Shot); and Dave Haynes, partner at FOV Ventures.
Rappak kicked off, talking about his hope “for this to get away from the idea of music in the metaverse being some kid on a laptop standing near an avatar of Travis Scott, and thinking of it in the way of being able to diffuse something happening in the real world to billions of people around the world”.
He also suggested that what’s exciting about music in the metaverse is the way it’s forging stronger links between the music and games industries.
“Music is about experiences. The music industry as a construct is, like, 100 years old. So music for thousands of years was about people creating experiences, and I think that it’s weirdly by using all this new technology, it’s a return to the essence of what an artist is or a musician is.”
Kane offered some more historical context, suggesting that the trajectory of people’s expectations around live music has seen a shift from “musical virtuosity being the core focus” to as much interest in the spectacle around that music.
His theory: the next phase of this will be “interactive, somewhat generative experiences that are constantly unique” and that artists, not just technology companies, will be leading the charge.
“A lot of artists want to be Daft Punk, but people don’t realise that you can be now. The new tools are getting there. They’re getting to a place where you can create a persona, put yourself inside of a world – Volta’s one of them, Ristband is one of them – and really become that persona: live in a world that you want to perform in.”
Haynes noted that it is still early days for music in the metaverse – “we’re probably year five or six of what is a 20-year cycle… there’s still so much to be figured out” – and said that this is what investors in the technology will have in their minds.
Earlier in his career, Haynes worked at music startup TheWaveVR (now Wave) which had an innovative and genuinely-fun VR app for virtual concerts and club nights, but whose audience was limited by the fact that “not that many people had VR headsets”.
Haynes said that when his fund invests now, he’s looking for ideas that match what music fans actually want to do in games and virtual worlds, and which are not too ahead of their time.
“If you’re trying to build the next ‘Oh, well, we can build music when everybody has AR consumer glasses’… well, unfortunately we’re not all going to have AR consumer glasses for another five years!”
Nauman talked about the interactions she’s seen between games companies and the music industry, talking about her experience trying to persuade labels and artists to license music to VR game Beat Saber in its early days.
“Rightsholders tend to be kind-of risk-averse. They take all the chances and the risks on the artists and writers, but they don’t take that many chances when they’re licensing,” she said, while noting that “when we started writing the first cheques” some of those doubters quickly came around.
“There’s something that has come out of gaming on monetisation that I think is going to be really, really powerful in the metaverse. Because you take some of the gaming engines, gaming methodology around engagement, and you combine that with artist-centric experiences… people are hungry for these!” she said.
“And because artists have global fanbases now, even if they go on a 50-city tour that doesn’t get cancelled by Covid, they’re still going to reach just a fraction of their fans. Metaverse and these virtual experiences of all different shapes and sizes, really can, I think, close the gap around serving a global audience and being able to do that in meaningful, intimate ways.”
“As opposed to things that are just watching a film of a concert that was done three days ago in Madrid. These can be real-time. They can be in-person. They can really feel very, very intimate and personal, and that’s ultimately what all fans want.”
The panel talked about one of the challenges in working on metaverse projects: interoperability. Doing something with one game or virtual world often can’t be carried across into others as things stand.
Dias suggested that the companies behind these metaverses need a switch in thinking: user-centric rather than product or profit-centric.
“Once you focus on the user, then companies will work together to get the interoperability, because that will offer more value to their users,” she said. “I think that will be really healthy for us to move ten times faster, if we are actually opening up more and collaborating.”
She also called for the music industry to “be less conservative and be more explorative at this time, and perhaps worry about licensing afterwards, but now more like collaboration and revenue-sharing or something like that, instead of just going ‘how much are you gonna pay me licensing this and that?’”
Haynes returned to the interoperability question, suggesting that “there’s a lot of almost religious debate around do we want all these closed walled gardens or do we want an open metaverse?”.
His answer: “There’s not one model that rules them all. We’re not religious about it being an open and completely interoperable metaverse, because that might not make sense,” he said.
“But actually, as investors and as companies and as artists that are looking to work in this area, you want it to be, because the more interoperable, the more open it is, the bigger the total addressable market is.”
“If you hear Tim Sweeney at Epic [Games] talk about this, he puts it really well. He wants everything to be interoperable because he wants that whole pie to be much bigger. There might be lots of players who are all sharing, but if we’re all sharing a bigger pie, it makes a lot of sense.”
Rappak offered another thought on where interoperability between different games and virtual worlds will come from: the technologies used to build them in the first place.
“The standards will probably come from the game engines,” he said. “If you’ve made a commercial with BMW and you’ve used Unreal Engine, you can literally drag the asset into a game or you could drag it into all these other things. So if there is any kind of standardisation, that’s where it will come from.”
The conversation turned back to what artists and labels are doing in the metaverse, and where the potential really lies in those projects.
Rappak is keen for the discussion to widen out beyond the biggest examples – major artists putting on events for millions of people in platforms like Fortnite and Roblox.
“It’s this idea that you do a big activation and get the most people… and you need to do one big thing. But I’ve found that the better way to think about it is thinking about it like social media campaigns,” he said.
“With the social media campaign, you don’t spend a hundred grand to do one Instagram post and make a really good Instagram post. You do a sustained thing where you understand, you A/B test, you see what works, what doesn’t.”
“You build a path with understanding what users want, what works and what doesn’t… So the best thing you can do, rather than thinking there’s some big win, is to say: how do we learn how to use this new medium as quickly as possible?”
The panel finished with each speaker being asked what kind of new features and music experiences they’d like to see in the future.
Dias talked about “crazy activations” where artists try to do things that wouldn’t be possible in the physical world, citing one of Decentraland’s features – ‘smart wearables’ that can be coded to have a certain function (flying, for example) to be used in an event.
“I would love to see metaverses acting in some sort of way as DSPs [streaming services] so the user can select the music that they want to hear, and then they can create their own parties and things like that,” she added.
“And pay directly with their wallet, and that payment – because it’s on the blockchain – can go directly to the rightsholders. I would love to see that in the metaverse, and that technology exists. It’s just a matter of talking to the right people, which I’m trying to, actually!”
Nauman offered more encouragement for experiments, with a reference to the earlier days of the digital music industry.
“20 years ago when music was disrupted… when the industry was unstable and we didn’t have revenues, this control started to happen. Every single [startup/tech] company that was trying to do something different, they got put in a bucket to do a similar model to somebody else, because it was easier for rightsholders, it was easier for licensing,” she said.
“We don’t know what the killer [metaverse] app is, but I think it’s going to be artist-led, and I think we need to give the artists room to experiment.”
“We need to have a paradigm shift around bringing rights and letting those follow the artist, as opposed to having labels and publishers be the ones that are determining where the artists can play. And try some things!”
“I feel like artists are always the ones that are going to push the technologies,” she continued. “Maybe they’re not always the best people to do the contracting! That’s why there’s labels and stakeholders around them. But we need to empower them, and we need to let it happen, and we need to see where the creative people are going to pull the technology, and start to build business models around that.”
Haynes talked about the potential for virtual reality experiences – “there’s now 15 million people with headsets… I think that medium will have a resurgence: it’s really the most blank canvas for the most creative output” – and also for artists to bring metaverse skills into their teams.
“How can we do world-building? Bring somebody into the team who knows Unreal Engine 5, bring a digital artist, start experimenting with some of these immersive formats, and think about the world-building your artist can do to fully immerse the fans. That’s really the potential of the metaverse.”
Kane is also looking forward to what the next generation of hardware – augmented as well as virtual reality – could make possible for artists, based on what they’re doing already with Volta’s tools for creating and streaming performance visuals.
“Building these worlds and these performances and these experiences within which they can place themselves and perform in,” he said. “The logical direction for that is once everybody has their AR headset, those performances actually just become reality overlays for whoever who wants to download that, and walk around the world in it.”
Rappak had the last word, and made sure it was a true conversation starter (not to mention eliciting a spontaneous cheer from parts of the room).
“Think about live music and the first discovery, whether you were at the Hacienda, or whether you were at the Cavern, or you were at KRS-One’s first gig. If you compare that to being on a laptop in like a low-poly world and standing near something, music in the metaverse at the moment, it’s kind of bollocks! It’s not very good!” he said.
“Imagine the visceral excitement of being in front of an artist that’s expressing themselves. So there’s that side of it, and there’s the side of how are artists supported? How IS the next Joy Division or the next Smiths or the next whoever gonna emerge?”
“One of our tracks hit a million streams, and it works out that that’s two grand. So for a million streams, you’re still standing in Tesco comparing meal deals, just after you’ve paid your rent. And you think, well, where is the way that these two worlds connect? Where is it where it supports it?” he continued.
“I don’t think the metaverse is like: ‘oh we’ll all just be going into these virtual worlds watching music’. I think it’s the same way as if you watched Glastonbury on your TV this weekend, you would never sit next to your mate on the sofa and be like ‘I don’t think it’s as good as being there, this doesn’t feel like we’re there’. It’s just an extension of what happens.”
“For us, the core of it is: how can this new medium and this new expression of music… how is this just another type of music video or another type of televised concert? And I think there’s lots of exciting things happening, and again, we’re far away from it, but there are some things that are really going to start taking shape.”
Music Ally’s Sandbox Summit Web3 Special was held in association with Cirkay, Fanaply and Global Rockstar, and supported by Tuned Global. You can read all our coverage of the sessions here.
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