Guest Post by Cortney Harding
Recently, an expert in VR told me that the format was in its “iPhone 1” moment -- a cool gadget embraced by the tech elite but largely shunned by the mainstream consumer due to high cost and limited utility. When the first generation of iPhones was released, I remember thinking that it was nuts to pay $600 for a breakable gadget that only worked on one network, and while it looked pretty sexy, my Motorola Razr was doing the job just fine. A few years later, after the app store exploded and the price dropped, I gladly tossed my old flip phone, and today, even the most mainstream, late-adopting consumers have largely converted.
Along with changing how we consume information, the smartphone is what allowed streaming to explode and altered the way to consume music. And now VR has come along, another brand new format that will likely shift the way we listen, watch, and interact with sound -- and although it’s a few years off, artists need to start thinking about VR and the opportunities it presents.
The live music space is perhaps the most obvious place to start. Watching concerts in VR will never replace attending a live show -- there’s still nothing like standing in a room with friends seeing a band you love up on a stage. But it will expand the market tremendously and create a new revenue stream for artists. Currently, the capacity of the venue they play on a given night in a given city limits their audience for that one show, and there are only so many shows a band can physically play. Most clubs also cater to a narrow audience -- by starting shows late, they cut out older listeners who have to be up for work the next morning, or parents who love music but can’t arrange for someone to watch the kids. If you live outside a major media market, you’re out of luck. If you are disabled, you’re out of luck -- even ADA compliant venues offer substandard accommodations for the most part. If you’re a woman, a minority, or an LGBTQ person, there are certainly places you might not feel safe, even if you really want to see a show. Great VR concerts allow people to participate, and will only add to the live market.
VR will also allow users to relive concerts -- now everyone can see what it was like to be at Woodstock, or the Velvet Underground’s first show. Going even further back, students could spend time at classical events or operas -- a great learning tool for kids who might not have access to big city cultural institutions.
Beyond that, VR offers up a number of new commerce opportunities for musicians. Now an artist can offer music lessons anywhere in the world -- if you want to learn guitar from Bonnie Raitt, it can be totally possible to pay some money and have her virtually teach you. Artists can also create VR apps that allow fans to spend a day seeing the world through their eyes, and shopping in the closets. Imagine that you could spend time playing Beyonce on stage in front of thousands of fans, then go check out her shoe collection -- and if you see a pair you like, one click and they’d appear at your door a few days later, with Beyonce getting a cut of the sale.
Finally, VR offers a whole new avenue for storytelling and connecting with fans. Many musicians who don’t have strong visual identities or see themselves as multimedia artists are intimidated by VR, because they feel like they have nothing to contribute -- but with a little creative thinking, they can come up with something fantastic. Maybe it’s the story of their hometown, or a virtual tour, or spending time in a virtual studio.
Regardless of how artists choose to use it, Virtual Reality is a method of storytelling and communicating that will change the business forever. We’re a few years from it being mainstream, but musicians should start thinking about it and preparing now, otherwise they risk being left behind.