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Q&A: Anne McKinnon, Ristband

Anne McKinnon, co-founder and CEO of Ristband, a metaverse platform for creators, explains how live events can maximise tech opportunities

By IQ on 20 Feb 2023

Anne McKinnon

In the most recent issue of IQ, we talked to some of the architects who are helping to shape the industry of the future, to quiz them on their blueprints and predictions for how we may all be operating in a few years’ time. In this final excerpt, we hear from Anne McKinnon, co-founder and CEO of Ristband, a metaverse platform for creators.

IQ: You have an international reputation for technology journalism. How do you see various tech breakthroughs coming together to improve live events in the future?
The metaverse isn’t just one form of technology. It’s the amalgamation of a series of technologies. I think we’ll look back on this period as a really magical time, where the convergence of Web3, VR/AR, cloud computing, etc, reshaped the world.

The a-ha moment for me was the first time I saw Miro Shot perform their mixed-reality concert in Paris, blending gaming tech and virtual worlds in a genuinely powerful and credible live experience. The show stood out because it wasn’t about some kind of novelty technology. At its core it was a live concert, with that magical connection you get from being in a space with an artist performing.

It was one of the key inspirations for me to launch Ristband. We spent a lot of time experimenting with different ways of capturing the excitement and energy of a live performance, but it quickly became apparent that trying to ‘simulate’ a concert would be a waste of time because nothing will ever compare to it. But the question is, “Why do hundreds of thousands of people watch Glastonbury on TV? Why do people who are not in a stadium still enjoy the World Cup? And more to the point, how can we harness the possibilities of these emerging technologies and fuse them with the core of what a concert is? This is the code that Ristband is trying to crack.

“Travis Scott reportedly earned over $20m in revenue from digital merchandise sales for a single concert in Fortnite”

The live music industry operates on slim profit margins. Are there additional revenue streams that the business is missing out on by ignoring metaverse opportunities?
Absolutely. Live music is incredibly expensive to put on – the logistics of huge gatherings of people, security, health & safety, legal implications, lighting rigs, backlines, and transportation costs. The advantage of operating in a virtual world is that these overheads are dramatically reduced. To reiterate, this isn’t about replacing live events. However, being able to exist in the physical and virtual world simultaneously represents a huge untapped revenue stream for the live music industry and artists in general, not to mention other positive aspects such as sustainability and accessibility.

The revenue models of the metaverse are also familiar extensions of the models that already exist in the real world, such as ticketing, merchandising, and memorabilia, combined with revenue models of the gaming industry that churn out mind-blowing returns that have previously been inaccessible to the live music industry.

For example, digital goods offer an amazing extension of the merchandising business. Travis Scott reportedly earned over $20m in revenue from digital merchandise sales for a single concert in Fortnite, in comparison to the $1.7m he made from a single night for his Astroworld tour. This is just a small fraction of the revenue opportunity that’s available. In 2021 alone, over $100bn was spent on in-game digital assets.

What is new here, is how these models are applied in the emergent metaverse where, for the first time, music and gaming culture are colliding en-masse. At the centre of it all is a shared fandom and love for music with a new generation of fans who crave new experiences – an opportunity that cannot be ignored.

The likes of livestreaming and metaverse platforms offer fans who, for whatever reason, cannot attend live shows an ideal way to connect with their favourite acts. How do you see the metaverse developing in terms of concerts in the next five years?
Approaching the music metaverse from a music industry perspective, it was clear that no one in the tech and gaming space had spoken to artists, booking agents, promoters, or the music industry as a whole. We wanted to build a tool that focused on the way people who work in music discover, nurture, and promote music to help artists reach the audiences they deserve.Our early stages of R&D were about working out how we could use the granular data insights the metaverse offers to help artists and their teams find ways to use the metaverse in a practical sense. The idea that the live music industry is about to be ‘disrupted’ is total nonsense. The metaverse is a new tool to extend its capabilities.

We’re in the earliest stages of music in the metaverse, and also the metaverse itself, and what we’re noticing is that it’s actually the merging of music culture and gaming culture to create something entirely new. It’s not just a game, and it’s also not just a concert. The world is changing, and the industry is adapting.

“There’s a huge opportunity for the music industry to capture market value and for emerging acts to hone their skills, build their audience, and get discovered”

How can Ristband help in the development of emerging talent to help create the next generation of headline acts?
Very early on, we realised that live venues and festivals are dramatically underserved by the technology and gaming industries. We experienced this first-hand when we showcased unsigned artists at our launch at the SXSW music festival this year, where 23-times the number of physical attendees joined remotely in Ristband.

More broadly, we’re also seeing kids who grew up on Roblox, Fortnite, and Minecraft looking for what’s next in popular culture. It’s natural they’re looking for the next step in music culture in virtual worlds, and this is where there’s a huge opportunity for the music industry to capture market value and for emerging acts to hone their skills, build their audience, and get discovered.

Take Splash, for example, a Roblox game that 21m kids had played by 2020, each making use of an in-world tool to create a track and then getting in line to perform on a digital stage. While kids in Roblox aren’t yet the age group for going out to experience live music (the majority are under the age of 16), these kids are already making music, performing, and playing games. They are the next generation of fans, and some of them will go on to build successful careers touring stages and festivals in the real world. In the same way that internet culture transformed the music industry, immersive virtual worlds are bringing an entirely new dynamic to what it means to be a music fan, artist, or industry professional.

Long term, how different do you think the live music business will operate compared to how it does now?
There are lots of exciting approaches and innovations in the metaverse and Web3. It’s not just about artists getting paid the maximum amount, it means agents and promoters can operate more efficiently and artist discovery becomes more authentic.
As much as these emergent approaches and technologies are exciting, we have yet to see a solution that is genuinely efficient, effective, and profitable. The future of the music industry, the metaverse, and music culture itself will not be decided by a technology company or based on hype or votes, it will be dictated by the same energy that has guided the music industry since the beginning: song writing, incredible live concerts, and the profound connection that is shared between a fan and their favourite artist as they walk onstage for the concert of a lifetime.


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