Should the Music Industry Invest in Virtual Reality?

friends dancing using the VR simulator togetherness

With more than 40% of Americans wanting to view music videos and live performances via virtual reality devices, what are the obstacles to making this reality?

If you’re a frequent concert goer like me, then you’ve probably been shoved around in the audience or had a limited view of your favorite artist, as every fan fights for the best possible spot. Or maybe you prefer to avoid the crowd and kick back in the lawn seat area where you’re free from all the rowdy behavior; however, you risk missing out on the details of the artist’s performance or the expressions conveyed to listeners within eye contact proximity.

These experiences add to the legitimacy and reality of the concert experience, but no Panic at the Disco! aficionado wants to miss out on Brendon Urie shirtless and belting “Bohemian Rhapsody” from the vantage point of the front row. So how can music artists improve the concert experience and where is the future going in regards to performances and the music industry as a whole? The answer might be VR, or virtual reality, which could allow you to experience a performance from the front row in the comfort of your living room.

A study from March of 2016 by Horizon Media reported nearly twice as many Americans consider VR to be “an exciting new innovation to own” than the Apple Watch before its release (82% vs. Apple’s 44%), so we know the public is interested in this technology. Another study by Frank N. Magid Associates found that 41% of Americans would choose music videos as a top choice for VR content and live events. There are even numerous analytical projects that have predicted global VR revenue to steadily increase.

Based on these insights, it appears that VR has the potential to revolutionize the music industry as we know it and a number of various corporations are currently investing in this technology, including Facebook, Google, Intel, HTC and Samsung. VR headsets such as the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Samsung Gear VR have been released, and there is much anticipation about the release of the PlayStation VR.

However, just like any other technology in its infancy, VR is not without roadblocks. When I think about its implementation and the issues that control its level of success in the musical world, three specifics come to mind.

1. VR must transcend its role in music to serve as a tool in everyday life – looking must become doing. Yes, VR in the music industry may allow us to control our field of vision from perspectives never before seen, but VR will need to transcend in the areas of practical use and sustainability to rival other devices and enhance long-term revenue and profitability.

2. With a prices ranging from $11 – 800 for VR headsets, quality experiences remain inaccessible for many, and cheaper technologies (such as a Google Cardboard headset for 360˚ videos) may damage VR’s reputation and deter others from trying advances in VR technology. Motion sickness issues also have been associated with cheaper VR headsets and may have a significant impact on the wearer’s experience.

3. While Americans are becoming more aware of VR devices, there are stereotypes that affect advancements in the music industry. A national study found that 60% of participants believe that VR technology is primarily for gamers, while 66% see VR as a technology that is too expensive.

Despite some initial obstacles, music artists have already taken what we can consider “baby steps” toward embracing VR. Taylor Swift released a 360˚ video app featuring her hit “Blankspace” that takes fans on an interactive mansion tour. Bjork, the iconic Icelandic artist, released the world’s first VR album in June and has included VR experiences in her international tour. Other tracks that have been released as 360˚ videos include U2’s “Song for Someone” and The Weeknd’s “The Hills (Remix).” Even Sir Paul McCartney has a range of experiences available through VR platform company Jaunt. A newer and exciting collaboration between Deadmau5 and Absolut Labs combines the music and gaming industries in an interactive VR journey. Here, the user must safely guide the famous electronic music producer and performer to the stage – and once there, they are able to feel as if they are experiencing the performance from a new and thrilling position.

Other areas of potential for VR in the music industry include live streaming of concerts and music festivals, as well as an even more exciting feat – the rebirth of music videos and creative storytelling. VR has the potential to advance storytelling to the point where the viewer not only sees footage from different angles and viewpoints such as a 360˚ video, but in which they could spend time with the artist during the song writing process or even view the incident that inspired the track, opening up a whole new path for artist-fan interaction. This could be key in what VR music officials define as true “immersion,” a form of “navigating the past.” Kimberly Cooper, co-founder of VR software company Prologue Immersive, gives the perfect example of this in an interview with Fader Magazine, “Imagine being able to journey to November 30, 1982 – the day Michael Jackson’s Thriller dropped – or to travel back in time and be in the studio when The Beatles or The Rolling Stones recorded their masterworks.”

While exciting opportunities await to benefit the music industry, how the music industry deals with VR challenges will determine its success in years to come. Music industry executives must address the listed issues in order for consumers to see additional value in investing in VR devices. I, for one, eagerly await the day where quality VR is accessible to the majority of the public and where I can experience Coachella, Lollapalooza or some other famous music festival with VR technology. Such ideas offer exciting opportunities for the future of the music industry, and even more fascinating will be how artists use this technology for a new and totally immersive experience.

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