Following on my post from yesterday about anticipating the kinds of experiences people will want from concerts comes this article from Wired about virtual reality and music. Evidently creating content for virtual reality is proving to be a challenge and music is so far the best showcase for VR.
Outside of games, music is almost certainly the most popular content type in VR right now, which makes sense both technically—right now, VR’s best for quick viewing periods, about the length of your average song—and creatively. Both formats trade in experiences, connection, and immersion.
VR is one of those technologies for which there’s no obvious demand or need. Interesting maybe, but a novelty. Like the Apple watch. Fun, but no one needs one (which explains why, despite Apple’s cool factor, it is so far not a consumer success).
But technology analysts are bullish and suggest that VR will be a $120 billion business by 2020, so there’s a rush to perfect the technology, figure out the creative content part and build a business model.
Here’s the premise the industry is working on for music:
You don’t go to a concert for the sound quality; you go to be part of something…
In other words – the essential part of the concert is the experience. Music is at the center, the engine of the experience, but it is the desire to be part of something communal that makes it appealing.
Ultimately, VR’s appeal to the music industry goes way beyond music videos. Imagine getting a front-row seat to a concert halfway around the world, live-streamed to your couch. Or maybe you and your friends all put on your Hololenses and watch an acoustic set right in your own living room. Next time Beyonce makes a visual album (Limeade!), you could be part of it. You could go to a concert, then go see a VR doc of the band practicing—and feel like you’re there too. Music is about connection, closeness, shared experience.
So far, VR music experiences are at best a curiosity – 360-degree cameras don’t blow you away and they don’t yet make you feel like you’re there. Technology has always had a big role in music – from advances in instrument technology like improved valves, hammers, and mechanisms – to improvements in recording technology. Everyone wanted CDs when they came out because the playback was better quality than vinyl. Technology has improved music.
But more recently technology has a spottier track record. It has not only not improved the sound experience – MP3 sound quality is crappier than CDs – it has made it worse. And iTunes and other music services’ metadata tagging systems are a frustrating experience and an aggravation for classical music fans. This suggests that at least in pop music, sound quality isn’t the most important thing – convenience is.
So will VR be more convenient or will it deliver a better experience? It could be both, and in classical music it would have to be to be of interest. Ultimately VR could be a bridge between the real and virtual worlds. Imagine you’re at a concert and with a click you’re onstage sitting next to the concertmaster. Or maybe you have a seat in the rafters but a click adjusts the sound to what you hear on the main floor. Broadcasts of concerts and sporting events switch between camera angles. So what if you could be your own editor and choose your own perspectives? Or overlay information about what you’re hearing in real time? There is an orthodoxy about the concert hall that sound should be pure and organic. Important sure. But what if that’s not the most important part of the experience for most people? If we keep building concert halls pretending that it is, we may not be going where the audiences are.