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You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet - Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

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VR Goggles

Virtual Reality is here, and its potential for musicians is becoming apparent already – as far as fan engagement is concerned, but also with regards to synch deals. Because without music or sound in general, every VR experience feels boring and unreal. Granted, right now, it still looks weird, wearing oversized cyborg goggles while diving into a world no onlooker experiences. But whoever had the chance to try out this technology will know how difficult it is, to separate between reality and its virtual counterpart.

Virtualy Reality combines 360 degree and 3D shots, to put it simply. It’s the visual equivalent to surround sound. The pictures are subsequently assembled, a process dubbed “stitching” in tech speak. The better one stitches, the more realistic the experience. By this time there are camera systems on the market, which enable a seamless viewing experience. NextVR is a company, claiming to have such a system. The fact that the world’s biggest concert promoter Live Nation allows the company to film its concerts and make them available in VR suggests that NextVR isn’t exaggerating.

Live on stage with the band

The way the company compresses data with its own, in-house technology, in combination with the high-end cameras it uses, lead to a smooth viewing experience. So in case you cannot make it to the gig, you can witness it from home. The kicker: you can choose between different camera perspectives, depending on where in the stadium, arena or club the cameras are set up: in front of the stage, on the stage, on the backmost stands, on the roof of the stadium. Sky’s the limit.

Bands that want to offer their fans something truly special can set up a camera on stage, in the middle of the action, and interact with it. Drummers or keyboard players can let their fans take a look over their shoulder during the entire gig. It gets really interesting when artists decide to take their fans on a virtual tour through their studio, or even their private home. Can you imagine something cooler than being virtually present in your idol’s studio, with a 360-degree view that is. You’ll be able to observe what the artists is up to in the vocal booth, what knobs the engineer is twisting, what the feature guests are up to while they’re waiting for their turn. This is just an example. The possibilities are endless. Virtually.

Changing reality

And all of that’s possible before even calling Augmented Reality into play. Brad Allen, the executive chairman of NextVR, told this author about a Coldplay concert that his company recorded. There was a black curtain behind one of the cameras, so a 180-degree view was sufficient. There was no reason, wasting quality and bandwidth to film a black curtain. That doesn’t mean, however, that a boring background cannot be harnessed as well. Remember, we’re in a virtual room. There’s nothing that cannot be generated. How about a button to buy the band’s merch, or a blackboard listing the band’s upcoming tour stops, including a link to buy tickets. The interactive nature of such gimmicks increase the feeling of actually being at the event.

A whole new world of possibilities to interact with your fans opens up. Granted, at the moment the required hardware – the VR goggles – is pretty clunky. What is more, a good model is pretty expensive. You have low-priced alternatives like Google Cardboard for example, which turns your mobile phone into VR goggles. The quality, however, won’t suffice to realistically depict the scenarios we just described. At leas not in a believable way. But just like any technology, VR is going to become suitable for the masses over time. Once the high-end goggles look like an Oakley – and also cost the same – the path for mass adoption will be paved. You can still do fun stuff today, without spending loads of money.

Hashplay is a company that promises anyone to easily create VR locations. The company founders call it “Wordpress for VR.” Once a virtual room has been set up you can create so-called hotspots that allow you to embed audio, video, pictures and streams in that room. Imagine accompanying an album release with such a virtual room, in which your fans can look around. Music videos and listening previews can be embedded into the room in creative ways. It doesn’t have to be a room either. It can also be Mars, the Grand Canyon or an ice floe in Antarctica.

No music, no fun

As mentioned in the beginning, most VR apps, worlds and experiences need music, or at least sounds, to create atmosphere. This opens up a new field for artists to license their music. As we all know the music industry is not the best contact when it comes to licensing songs, as absurd as that may sound. You would think that the message that was spread during the streaming revolution had been clear enough: licensing need to be easy in the digital age, otherwise the development of new apps will come to a standstill, just because the music isn’t available. Since then, not much has changed in the realm of licensing. So in case you’re an artist and a member of a collecting society the VR revolution may incite you to pressure the people in charge to bring their business up to date.

If, however, you’re already moving outside traditional structures, VR opens up this whole new world aching for music. Just like the games sector, the VR sector will look for music that’s not controlled by GEMA, SUISA, PRS etc. Once that happens, you should be ready.

VR meets blockchain

Finally, lets briefly venture into the blockchain world (the author still being convinced that it’s the most revolutionary technology of all time). A few tech geniuses have put their heads together to combine VR and blockchain, as there isn’t a standard file format for VR yet. It is their goal to create a file format that contains the audio and video files, but also all the required licenses. It’s called .bc. “This format contains everything you need to be able to work with a song: the contacts of everyone involved in the song and entitled to remuneration, how much they’re entitled to, in what countries the song’s available, when the license ends, etc,” Benji Rogers, one of the geniuses explains. Thanks to the blockchain technology, this information can automatically be utilized to split the earning and transfer them to all involved in real-time.

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