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How Immersive Technologies are Changing the Landscape of Music

Immersive technology in music is having a heyday moment and it’s here to stay. A recent concert on the popular video game platform Roblox featuring Lil Nas X hit 33 million in views across two performances over a single weekend. The Roblox/Lil Nas X virtual concert adds to a year that saw 45.8 million viewers for a Travis Scott/Fortnite virtual concert that took place over 5 performances. For reference, Coachella’s 2019 live stream on YouTube hit 82.9 million views, its largest to date since YouTube began exclusively broadcasting the festival in 2011. Even the famed music festival introduced an augmented reality (AR) app in 2019 where attendees could experience immersive elements that interacted with stages and other fans.

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With COVID-19 forever changing live in-person performances and with no clear future for music venues, many artists and record labels have turned to augmented reality and virtual reality as the next step to connect with music fans. In an attempt to recreate the energy, vibes, & sensory stimulation of a live concert, companies have turned to virtual avatars, stages, and have begun exploring the intersection of gaming and music to reach new audiences. Companies like Wave (with celebrity investors like Scooter Braun and Alex Rodriguez) are deep diving into producing virtual concerts for artists like John Legend, The Weeknd, and Lindsey Stirling. Genies has raised almost $40 million to vye for avatar dominance and has partnered with Gucci and created avatars for artists like Justin Bieber. Genies is just one of many software development kits (SDKs) and augmented reality resources that are now available for creating immersive music experiences, competing with Epic’s Unreal Engine and Unity.

In Indonesia, a recently released app called Modular lets users place an augmented reality stage inside their home, and stream performances by musicians. The experience is immersive and allows the at-home audience to be able to move their camera lens around the virtual stage and experience immersive video & audio depending on where they are in their living room. Beat Saber, the popular game on Facebook’s Oculus VR platform hit 2 million downloads and generated $67 million in revenue for the company from 10 million song downloads. Beat Games, the maker of Beat Saber, launched with just 10 songs, and now feature songs from artists like Linkin Park and Imagine Dragons. The game is so successful on Oculus that Facebook acquired the company in 2019. Instagram even announced a feature for their filters that lets AR creators sync music to effects, with Ellie Goulding launching her own filter for a new song release. Immersive technology has now made its way into ecommerce as well, with AR try-on experiences set to launch on sites for postal employees to buy postal uniforms.

An international study found that 76% of consumers would rather spend their money on experiences rather than physical products. Popular apps like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok all have augmented reality features built right into the product, familiarizing an entire generation with the ability to augment their real world with filters, sounds, & more. Verizon and Snapchat announced a partnership in 2019 and just launched an augmented reality concert in NYC that’s activated when a user scans the New York City Public Library on 5th Avenue. The partnership highlights Snap’s AR technology with Verizon’s 5G capabilities.

But it isn’t just visuals that are being augmented for immersive music experiences, spatial audio is having a moment too. The concept of spatial audio for music and movies dates back to at least the 1970s, but the experience was expensive and cumbersome to produce, and audiences needed dedicated surround sound systems to experience it. With the advancement of audio technology, and with Apple investing heavily in the next generation of AirPods with spatial audio as a marquee feature, it’s clear that immersive music experiences are the music’s industry’s next pathway to reaching audiences. 

Suffice to say, immersive technology is here to stay and with companies like Apple, Facebook, Google, & Snap all hiring for jobs in augmented reality the talent pouring into creating augmented and virtual music experiences is set to take things to an even greater level in the coming years. Augmented reality and virtual reality in music shouldn’t be looked at as just a live concert substitute, but rather, an entirely new technological experience.

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