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I stream, you stream, we all stream (for live streams)

If there was one positive story to emerge from the unrelenting stream of bad news that was 2020 in live music, it was the dawn of the live stream. From the feel-good, lo-fi bedroom shows of March 2020 to the slick, professional ticketed events that become the norm by the end of the year, the willingness of fans to first consume, and then pay for, concert content beamed to the comfort of their homes was a small glimmer of light for the industry in the darkest year in memory.

A year on from the global shutdown that devastated the international live music business, how has the livestreaming market evolved, and where do paid-for concert broadcasts fit into touring plans in future – particularly when non-socially distanced shows are possible once again?

According to James Sutcliffe, chief marketing and content officer for LiveNow, the concert market is playing catch-up with sports, where pay-per-view (PPV) events – particularly with combat sports such as boxing, as well as ‘sports entertainment’ like professional wrestling – have long been the norm.

Unlike many companies in the livestreaming space, LiveNow “wasn’t, as a business, conceived in reaction to the pandemic,” explains Sutcliffe, who joined the company just before Christmas. Part of the Aser Ventures Group, whose Eleven Sports network holds broadcast rights to the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Uefa Champions League and Formula 1 across its platforms in Europe and east Asia, LiveNow was born out of Aser founder Andrea Radrizzani’s desire to “apply the things he’d learnt” in live sports to music, Sutcliffe continues.

Learning from its sister company’s experience in the sporting world, world, LiveNow was able to provide the industry with a quality product, free of the technical problems that plagued some newer platforms, right out of the gate, says Sutcliffe. Music events broadcast by LiveNow in 2020 include some of the biggest live streams of the year, including One World: Together at Home, Dua Lipa’s Studio 2054, Ellie Goulding’s Brightest Blue Experience, Gorillaz’ Song Machine Live from Kong and Pete Tong’s O Come All Ye Ravers, as well as a number of smaller livestreamed shows.

Another firm well placed to capitalise on the pause in physical events is Sansar, whose president, Sheri Bryant, says the digital concert boom of the past year is validation of its vision for social live experiences in the virtual realm.

“I think we’re way off having thousands of people in a field again, unfortunately”

Formerly part of Linden Lab, the developer of Second Life, Sansar launched in 2017 but came into its own over the last 12 months, with its platform used to create virtual-world festivals and venues for Glastonbury Festival’s Shangri-La (Lost Horizon), UK promoter LWE (Tobacco Dock Virtual), London Mela festival (Melatopia), German club Boothaus and Serbia’s Exit Festival, among others.

“We’ve believed in this for years,” says Bryant, who adds that 2020 “was a case of right place, right time” for Sansar, which found itself in high demand and years ahead of its newfound competition in the virtual concert space. “Now, it’s about fundraising and trying to grow as fast as possible, as we can’t keep up,” she continues. “We’re having to turn people away.”

For MelodyVR – which launched in 2018 as the first virtual-reality (VR) music platform – concerts will form part of a wider digital music offering that also includes music streaming from Napster, whose parent company, Rhapsody International, it acquired last year. The AIM (London)-listed company will soon rebrand as Napster Group, launching a new, integrated Napster app later in 2021.

It, too, was responsible for some of 2020’s most-talked-about streams, including Wireless Connect, a three-day VR stand-in for Wireless festival in July, and Live from O2 Academy Brixton with the likes of Fontaines DC, Blossoms and Tom Grennan, and hopes to build on that success this year – Covid-19 allowing – says Steven Hancock, co-founder and chief relationship officer of MelodyVR.

“We’re all on tenterhooks to see what the big promoters do – our strategy is to see what live looks like in its traditional sense,” he explains. “We’ve got some ideas around big showpieces, but there’s no requirement for us to rush this year.” (MelodyVR recently raised just over £8 million to help build and launch its new app.)

“But what we do know,” he adds, “is that ‘hybrid’ shows” – livestreamed concerts with a small, often socially distanced physical audience – “are going to become the norm. I think we’re way off having thousands of people in a field again, unfortunately.”

“Right now, as a promoter, there are very few other ways of making any money”

“I don’t perceive any concerts of note this year,” agrees Conal Dodds, co-founder and director of promoter Crosstown Concerts, which has partnered with PPV concert platform Stabal for its own on-demand shows, the first of which – a reunion concert by British folkies Bellowhead – took place in December.

Expanding into live streams is “completely inspired by Covid,” Dodds says. “People’s summer schedules are evaporating, festivals are tumbling away by the day… right now, as a promoter, there are very few other ways of making any money.”

Unlike one-and-done streams that can’t be watched back, Crosstown gives fans the opportunity to buy a deluxe ticket that gets them 30 days to watch the show, as well as additional exclusive content. “Anecdotally, 60-70% of sales so far have been for the more expensive of the two ticket options,” says Dodds.

Both Dodds and Bryant say they see a place for part-physical, part-digital hybrid concerts as restrictions on real-world events are gradually lifted – Bryant says almost all major Sansar-hosted shows in 2021 are “‘parallel’ events” – as does Russ Tannen, chief revenue officer of concert discovery and ticketing platform Dice, which rapidly repositioned itself as a platform for ticketing and promoting live-streams in the early days of the pandemic.

“We made a call in April that it was time to give livestreaming a go,” recalls Tannen. “I was very sceptical – we’d never talked about livestreaming before the end of March – but obviously it took off very quickly and before long we’d had thousands of streams entered into the app.”

Dice’s live-streaming successes to date include a string of shows with Ric Salmon and Brian Message’s Driift, including Laura Marling, Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue (who sold 30,000+ tickets), Rough Trade, David Bowie’s Lazarus and DJs David Guetta and Bicep – as well as thousands of events with emerging and mid-level artists, whose fans are willing to pay similar money for digital concerts, at least during the pandemic.

The concert market is playing catch-up with sports, where PPV events have long been the norm

“It’s obviously Nick Cave, Kylie, etc., that got lots of headlines, but there’s actually a really interesting middle section of emerging artists, people like Black Country New Road, Cinematic Orchestra, who are also putting on viable shows and delivering really great live experiences,” Tannen says.

As to the hybrid question, “what we saw before lockdown is that socially distanced hybrid shows were selling really well,” he adds, “so I think we will see more of those – they will happen again and they will sell.”

“This summer is not going to happen in any major way,” says Sutcliffe, “so that hybrid model will be key as the first step back to live.”Whatever the reason – whether it’s fear of Covid, or maybe because they haven’t got the vaccine – a lot of people are still going to be scared to go back into a stadium, so this allows for both: a [physical] live ‘experience’ and the livestreamed show.”

Interestingly, a large proportion of the people who are buying tickets for live streams aren’t regular gig-goers temporarily shut out of venues, according to Tannen.

“One of the reasons I think they’re going to stick around is that we’re reaching a different demographic,” he says. “Maybe it’s people who have moved out of the city, or are a bit older, or for whatever reason can’t get to a venue, a lot of those people don’t want to be locked out of live music.”

Similarly, Dodds says Crosstown aren’t necessarily focusing on acts the company has promoted before. “We target people that we think there’s an audience for,” he explains. “We’re not really going after a young audience, as I don’t think they’re prepared to pay £10–15 for a concert broadcast – our target, really, is grown-ups.”

“Everyone is interested in capturing that incremental revenue, and livestreaming is part of that”

Even after non-socially distanced, full-capacity shows return, live streams will offer artists and promoters a reliable additional revenue stream for little risk or outlay, Sutcliffe adds. “If you sell out the O2 in London and then do another 20,000 tickets on top, that’s pure profit,” he says. “We don’t want to replace live – nothing beats the live experience – but [with streaming] we’re able to dd a layer of extra value for fans, artists and the industry.”

“The objective used to be 75%, 80% – whatever the magic number was, once you reached that, everyone was happy,” Hancock echoes. “But it seems like now, from the agents and promoters we’ve spoken to in the last year, everyone is interested in capturing that incremental revenue, and livestreaming is part of that.”

Dodds says while it “remains to be seen whether people want to continue [doing dedicated live streams] after live music returns, “it’s definitely something that could augment touring in the future, particularly if all shows on a tour are sold out, or for territories where people aren’t able to tour.”

For some performers, even archive performances can be repackaged and ticketed as a standalone ‘live’ stream – British comedian James Acaster, for example, sold 30,000 tickets at £10 each for a show that was originally filmed at the end of 2019, Tannen explains.

For virtual worlds like Sansar, where fans participate in the show as opposed to simply watching, the key to long-term success is “deeper engagement,” both between fans and artists and between the real and virtual words, Bryant suggests.

“One thing we explored last year is this thing we call ‘windowing,’” she says, “which allows different audience from around the world to mix and mingle, blending the lines of who and what we consider ‘real’.” Windowing, Bryant explains, involves putting up an LED screen on which real-world concertgoers can see and communicate with the Sansar avatars, and vice versa, with those inside the virtual world able to see the physical concert crowd.

“I’m hoping the live streams coming out now might ignite that little spark that we need to plant in the heads of gen Z”

While everyone IQ spoke to sees a place for livestreamed or virtual concerts post-pandemic, all are clear that they must not – and cannot – replace the live experience, instead functioning as an add-on to physical shows that benefits the industry and live music fans alike.

However, from a sustainability point of view, consumer willingness to pay for live-streams could enable artists to reduce the environmental impact of their tours by playing fewer physical dates, Sutcliffe suggests. “I’m romantic about live, but we have to be realistic about the situation,” he says.

“The logistics involved in an international tour – from the many forms of transport to hotel rooms, bars, restaurants – has a huge environmental impact.” From a coronavirus perspective, “that’s also a lot of movement that the world won’t allow to happen again quickly.”

Dodds agrees, stating, “As something to augment tours – maybe by adding a few livestream-only dates, with an extra show filmed at the be ginning of the tour – it’s definitely an option for artists who want to minimise their carbon footprints.”

For Tannen, the hope is that live streams can help get the next generation of concertgoers – for whose attention concerts are competing with video games, esports, YouTube, Twitch, social media and countless other electronic distractions – excited about live music, just as watching and rewatching old pop-punk videos did him at the turn of the millennium.

“I had all these Warped Tour VHSes [tapes], and they’re what got me obsessed with the idea of live music,” he says. “I’m hoping that might be the same with the live streams that are coming out now, that they might ignite that little spark that we need to plant in the heads of gen-Zers. We need to make sure the kids that are coming through want to go and watch shows, the same way we did.”

 


Read this feature in its original format in the digital edition of IQ 97:


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

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Major streaming services to branch into virtual events

Spotify is developing a feature that will alert fans to an artist’s upcoming virtual events, according to a tweet by reverse engineer Jane Manchun Wong.

The streaming service ordinarily lists an artist’s live events on their profile page, but according to Wong (via TechCrunch), it is now transforming that feature into virtual events discovery.

The platform already works with ticketing partners including Ticketmaster, Songkick, Resident Advisor, Eventbrite, AXS and Japan’s eplus, and therefore virtual event listings wouldn’t be difficult to implement.

The feature isn’t yet available in the public-facing version of the Spotify app.

Elsewhere, Jay-Z’s streaming service Tidal has spent US$7 million on tokens issued by the company behind Sensorium Galaxy, a new VR “social metaspace” in which users can attend alternative-world concerts, nightclubs and festivals through a VR headset.

Through the purchase, Tidal has acquired access to broadcast their content within Sensorium Galaxy, which is due to launch publicly in early 2021.

Sensorium says that its “Social VR technology” is poised to “provide unprecedented ways for artists”

Lior Tibon, COO of Tidal, says: “Our relationship with Sensorium provides Tidal with the opportunity to gain exclusive rights for its stellar artist roster to have their shows and music broadcast exclusively within Sensorium’s themed virtual entertainment worlds.

“The Sensorium Galaxy is a next-generation platform for entertainment consumption which will elevate the connection fans have with their favourite artists, and bring artists’ vision to life in a new and exciting way.”

Sensorium says that its “social VR technology” is poised to “provide unprecedented ways for artists, performance venues, game publishers, and virtual influencers to entertain and engage fans globally across interactive environments”.

Alongside Jay-Z, Tidal’s artist co-owners include Lil Wayne, Rihanna, Calvin Harris, Daft Punk and Coldplay’s Chris Martin.

Earlier this week, it was announced earlier this week that streaming service Napster will be acquired by live music virtual reality platform MelodyVR.

The US$70 million acquisition will eventually combine Napster’s library of over 90 million audio tracks and Melody VR’s catalogue of virtual live music shows, to create a platform where users can stream music and experience immersive live performances.

 


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Immersive music startup MelodyVR acquires Napster

Live music virtual reality platform MelodyVR is acquiring Rhapsody International, which operates as music subscription service Napster.

The US$70 million acquisition will eventually combine Napster’s library of over 90 million audio tracks and Melody VR’s catalogue of virtual live music shows, to create a platform where users can stream music and experience immersive live performances.

“For music fans today, live and recorded music are intrinsically linked. We are as keen to see our favourite artists perform live as we are to listen to their albums,” says MelodyVR CEO Anthony Matchett.

“Our purchase of Napster, one of the music industry’s original disruptors, is born out of our wish to deliver the world’s foremost music experience, available seamlessly across audio and visual media and in turn presenting a truly next-generation music service.”

Napster CEO Bill Patrizio commented: “This is a tremendous outcome for two organizations with complementary platforms and loyal audiences, and we could not be more excited to be moving forward as one company.”

“Our wish is to deliver the world’s foremost music experience… a truly next-generation music service”

“The product, technology and cultural synergies of Napster and MelodyVR will bring tremendous innovation for music lovers, artists and the entire music industry. Good things come from being together, and we look forward to creating a powerful platform that combines our strengths and offers an even wider range of content to consumers, creators and advertisers.”

The UK-based MelodyVR broadcast its first live concert in virtual reality in 2018 with Liam Payne in London, after releasing its app – touted as the world’s first dedicated virtual reality (VR) music platform – in 2019, and subsequently partnering with O2 in the UK.

Since Covid-19 hit the industry, the company has delivered a digital edition of Wireless festival in London and live music VR series, Live from LA, which has featured artists including Cypress Hill, Kesha, John Legend and Tori Kelly.

The shows were available to watch in 360° for free via the MelodyVR app and VR headsets.

MelodyVR and Napster, which is currently 84% owned by RealNetworks, will operate independently for the foreseeable future.


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Final line-up for VR Wireless Connect revealed

Festival Republic and MelodyVR have announced the full line-up for Wireless Connect, a three-day virtual reality music festival taking place from 3 to 5 July.

The event will see exclusive performances – filmed in MelodyVR’s LA studio and custom-made studio in Alexandra Palace, London – from acts including Stefflon Don, Mist, Steel Banglez, Jay1, as well as additional footage from Wireless 2019 featuring Skepta, Young Thug, Rae Sremmurd and more. 

Other performances will come from Yungen, Unknown T, Big Narstie and Deno in the UK and from Saweetie, iann dior and 24kGoldn in the US. The full line-up and schedule can be found here.

Wireless Connect will be available in 360​° immersive virtual ​reality on smartphones and VR headsets via the MelodyVR app. It will also stream on the Wireless Facebook Live and YouTube channels.

Free to watch, Wireless Connect fans are encouraged to make a donation to the Black Lives Matter movement

Free to watch, Wireless Connect fans are encouraged to make a donation to the Black Lives Matter movement via a Crowdfunder, which launches at 5 p.m. BST today (29 June).

Radio station Capital Xtra will air artist interviews and provide the soundtrack to those bringing the festival experience to their home.

A celebration of rap, grime, hip hop and RnB, Wireless Festival was forced to cancel its fifteenth anniversary edition this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Acts billed to play the event in London’s Finsbury Park included ASAP Rocky, D-Block Europe and Lil Uzi Thug.

Ben Samuels, North America president of MelodyVR, was one of a number of music industry innovators to take part in the IQ Focus Innovation Session last month. All previous IQ Focus sessions can be watched back here.

 


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Kiss, Iron Maiden to headline virtual Download fest

Festival Republic has revealed the line-up for the virtual version of Download Festival, Download TV, with exclusive footage from headliners Kiss, Iron Maiden and System of a Down.

Download Festival was among the first major UK events to cancel it 2020 edition due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In its place, Download TV is airing on the original festival weekend, from 12 to 14 June, available to watch on the festival’s social channels and on YouTube. Fans can subscribe to Download TV on YouTube here.

The virtual event will feature a day time programme of interactive activities, live artist Q&As and lockdown performances, with the evenings bringing footage of live performances from the acts billed to play the event this year, including Korn, Deftones, Babymetal, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, Creeper, the Offspring and the Darkness.

Past Download performances from headliners Kiss and System of a Down will be resurfaced for the event, while Iron Maiden promise “something just for Download TV”.

Festival Republic has revealed the line-up for the virtual version of Download Festival, Download TV, with exclusive footage from headliners Kiss, Iron Maiden and System of a Down

Download fans are encouraged to put tents up in their gardens, wear festival merchandise and send photos and videos in to the festival page to ensure a “celebration of the Download community”.

Fellow Festival Republic event Wireless Festival is also taking place in a virtual form this year, partnering with music-focused virtual reality company MelodyVR to produce Wireless Connect. From 3 to 5 July, pre-recorded live performances will be brought to Wireless fans in 360° virtual reality.

Performances will be recorded from MelodyVR’s studio in Los Angeles and the 10,400-capacity Alexandra Palace in London. The Wireless Connect line-up will be announced in due course.

MelodyVR’s Ben Samuels was among tech leaders to take part in IQ Focus panel The Innovation Session yesterday, discussing the most effective ways to monetise virtual shows. The panel is available to watch back on YouTube or Facebook now.

 


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‘The future is bright’: Tech leaders talk monetising virtual shows

The heads of some of the industry’s most inventive companies starred in the most recent IQ Focus panel, appropriately called The Innovators, which discussed the flurry of innovation going on behind the scenes during the ongoing halt in concert touring.

Dice’s UK managing director, Amy Oldham, began by speaking on the importance of “identifying the value” in new platforms and innovations. “In the beginning [of the pandemic], there was a lot of noise and a lot of not-very-good-quality shows,” she explained.

“Lewis [Capaldi] is a great example” of what the industry should be working towards, she added. “We did his show exclusively a few weeks ago. He did an acoustic set of the first album, and it actually felt like being on a night out – you had people taking photos of themselves hugging the TV saying it’s the best £5 they ever spent.”

Tommas Arnby of Locomotion Entertainment said his client, Yungblud – whose Yungblud Show Live (described as a “rock-and-roll version of Jimmy Kimmel”) was one of the early highlights of the livestreaming boom – was supposed to be “doing five sold-out Kentish Town Forums” in London this week, and his online presence is “about how to recreate that” live experience.

“In the very beginning these bedroom and kitchen performances played an important role,” but now people expect a more polished experience, said Ben Samuels, MelodyVR’s president and GM in North America. “What we’re doing is investing a lot to ensure these shows look and feel fantastic. […] They should be the best thing to actually being on stage or in the front row of a real show. So production values have been crucial to us.”

“Artists have to feel comfortable and confident about charging for their content”

Sheri Bryant, president of online ‘social VR’ platform Sansar, said a virtual concert should be looked as “additive; it’s not going to replace the live performance”.

Oldham – who revealed that Dice is now selling tickets in at least 113 countries following the launch of its livestreaming platform, Dice TV – agreed that while everyone on the panel is doing a great job keeping fans engaged while touring is on hold, “one thing we haven’t nailed is giving artists confidence that just because they’re doing something on a stream doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be charging.

“All the movie studios are shut, and yet we don’t see them dropping films online and saying, ‘Just pay what you fancy!’ Artists have to feel comfortable and confident about charging for their content.”

Chair Mike Malak, from Paradigm Talent Agency, compared charging for online video content to the transition in the recording business from fans pirating music to (legally) streaming it, noting that “we all grew up watching free YouTube videos”.

Bryant said Sansar wants “everyone to be able to experience” the platform, suggesting offering both a free tier and a “VIP experience” that could include perks for those who’ve paid, such as meet and greets with an artist or special powers inside its virtual world.

“The most important thing for us is to show agents and managers that people had a great time,” said Prajit Gopal, CEO of livestreaming platform Looped. “That’s always been really important – going back to them and showing them,‘Here’s the reaction, and this is why you should be charging for it.’”

“Imagine if this happened 20, 30, 40 years ago – it would have been catastrophic”

With talk turning to sponsorship in virtual events, Oldham warned that “sometimes you can oversaturate an artist by doing too many partnerships”. However, Bryant said the music industry has much to learn from the wider entertainment business when it comes to getting its talent out there.

“Look at how the YouTube stars, the Twitch streamers got big: through hard work and with lots of exposure,” she said. “If you’re good and you’re getting out there, you’ll see that growth. I don’t think people should be precious about exposure – you want to be across as many platforms as possible, because you never know when one of them will see a big spike [in traffic].”

The discussion ended on a positive note, with Samuels highlighting how fortunate the live music business is to have all this technology at its disposal at such a difficult time.

“Imagine if this [coronavirus] happened 20, 30, 40 years ago – it would have been catastrophic,” he said. “In a weird way, we’re lucky this happened now, with all these platforms that can continue to bring high-quality content to fans and enable artists to still make a living.”

Arnby agreed: “All these choices, all these ways to connect… The future is very bright.”

The Innovation Session is available to watch back on YouTube or Facebook now.


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Innovators take the virtual stage for IQ Focus panel

Following last week’s The Venue’s Venue: Building Back session, IQ’s popular Focus series of virtual panels turns this Thursday to the flurry of innovation going on behind the scenes during the halt in concert touring.

The Innovation Session will feature insights from a who’s who of music-industry freethinkers and groundbreakers, who’ll discuss with the new ideas and green shoots that are rising from the current situation.

Joining chair Mike Malak, senior agent at Paradigm London, are Sheri Bryant, president of virtual world builder Sansar; Tommas Arnby, CEO of Locomotion Entertainment (Yungblud); Amy Oldham, managing director UK of ticketer-turned-livestreamer Dice; Ben Samuels, North America president of virtual-reality pioneer MelodyVR; and Prajit Gopal, CEO of celebrity video-chat/streaming service Looped.

Expect discussions on livestreaming, 3D venues, tipping, videogaming, virtual worlds and much more.

The Innovation Session will be streamed live this Thursday, 21 May, at 16.00 BST/17.00 CET.

Get an automatic reminder when the live stream starts at Facebook or YouTube.


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Together in Electric Streams: Inside the business of livestreaming

Here’s a great pop-quiz question: can you name the first ever artist to perform live online?

Zooropa-era U2, perhaps, with the band’s prescient satirisation of a dystopian technological future and the emptiness of consumer culture? Or the Rolling Stones, who rode 1994’s Voodoo Lounge – a ragged and glorious return to their rock and roll roots – around the world for 13 months, raking in an astonishing US$320 million?

Or maybe it was Brian Eno, a technological and conceptual pioneer who, at the time of the internet’s invention, was playing around with self-generating musical systems?

Nope. Nope. And nope. It was, in fact, an unknown rock four-piece from California called Severe Tire Damage, who broadcast a 90-minute set in June 1993 and promptly declared themselves “House Band of the Internet” (although you were close if you guessed the Stones – they were fourth).

Of course, a lot has changed in the intervening 27 years: the internet is now the primary means of consuming music for fans the world over, and never more so when you’re quarantined at home for an unspecified amount of time due to a global pandemic.

But as we all know, the rise of streaming services and platforms has been mirrored by a collapse in revenue for artists. Live shows remain one of their few reliable sources of income, yet with concerts now an impossibility for the foreseeable, a huge hole has been left in their earnings. A host of future-orientated new apps, platforms, and digital services – many of them employing virtual and augmented reality – have rushed in, aiming to fill it, but how realistic are some of their claims, and what can artists really hope to earn while replicating gigs in the digital realm?

It should be noted that many of the ideas or tech here are not new. Second Life hosted the first virtual concert back in 2007, while last year, Marshmello gave the “first-ever live performance in a video game,” DJing for 11 minutes in Fortnite.

Understandably, though, there’s a new urgency in the sector, with platforms reporting an explosion in use over the last few weeks as both fans and musicians grapple with the new reality; a captive audience, desperate for entertainment, are glued to their devices.

“Over the last month … active users, watchtime and broadcast hours have all jumped 40–50%”

“Between 22 February and 22 March, revenue from our iOS sales increased by 255%,” says Anthony Matchett, founder and CEO of MelodyVR.

“We’ve had a four-fold increase in new users signing up over the last month,” says Rudiger J. Ellis, of Switchboard Live. “Daily activity on our platform has skyrocketed,” adds Jake Branzburg, president of YouNow. “Active users, watchtime and broadcast hours have all jumped 40–50%.”

It’s a trend confirmed by everyone IQ spoke to, with many choosing to ramp up advertising, expand, or roll out new features to take advantage of this surge.

All these platforms, at their core, fall into variations of one of two concepts: video hosting and streaming platforms, or some form of virtual or augmented experience.

YouNow is the former, allowing anyone to broadcast live video 24/7. So too is Streamlabs, an ‘all-in-one livestreaming app’.

Restream allows users to broadcast live video to multiple social media networks simultaneously; Switchboard Live is a multi-streaming platform geared towards all types of live content; while Switcher Studio makes capturing video from multiple angles and editing it in real time, a cinch.

On the other side is MelodyVR, a platform that claims to put fans “inside huge live performances”. According to Matchett, “Music lovers can watch performances in immersive 360° on smartphones or in VR via headsets. And they can choose where they watch from – from deep in the crowd to on stage with the band.”

“YouNow partners earn anywhere from three to five figures per month by sharing their talents”

Sansar, a new live events destination from the makers of Second Life, goes one step further. “The future of concerts is virtual,” declares their website. “Join the revolution.”

To this end, the company has built an entire virtual universe of thousands of connected, user-created spaces to socialise and perform in. “Audiences of all kinds can come together for innovative events and stunning, photorealistic live performances,” says press and marketing manager Hari Raghaven.

Just like everyone else, artists the world over are in lockdown, too; bored, frustrated, and eager to connect. Many have taken to social media to broadcast rudimentary performances and even clips of their daily lives.

TikTok, Twitch, Instagram Live, YouTube, and Facebook are full of these, with stars such as Coldplay, Christine and the Queens and Keith Urban giving fans raw, unvarnished footage and encouraging a community vibe.

But such posts are not a long-term solution. As ever, the question of monetisation looms large, for promoters and event organisers as much as the artists themselves.

“Restream is not the end platform – we’re just the middleman between an artist and, say, YouTube,” explains Victor Bous, the company’s head of marketing. “We just help you increase your reach, grow your audience, and make your streaming experience better.”

It’s a similar story for Switcher Studio, and Switchboard Live – both are more of a tech solution than a platform explicitly designed to generate income. Streamlabs goes one further and allows donations and tips to be made direct to content creators.

The self-enclosed virtual environments of Sansar and MelodyVR allow for far greater – and, it is hoped, far more lucrative – monetisation

“We take a 0% cut from donations, and handle all main payment methods,” says George Kurdin, Streamlabs’ product manager. On top of that, content creators can sell merch via the platform, and may also monetise their stream on their own via affiliate deals, ads, and direct brand sponsorships.

“For some it has been quite lucrative – we’ve processed over $500m in donations over the last few years.”

YouNow offers an extra tier for those looking to cash in on their audience. “Musicians with a strong following can apply to the YouNow partner programme,” says Branzburg. “YouNow partners earn anywhere from three to five figures per month by sharing their talents. Community members support partners by subscribing to their broadcasts monthly and/or by sending them virtual gifts – the more gifts partners get, the more they trend, and the more they earn.”

But the self-enclosed virtual environments of Sansar and MelodyVR allow for far greater – and, it is hoped, far more lucrative – monetisation.

“Because Sansar is the only live events platform that allows partners to generate multiple revenue streams in customised virtual spaces, we are the go-to platform in the space,” says Raghaven. Access to a fully integrated ticketing system, merchandising and sponsorship offerings, and microtransactions (peer-to-peer tipping, so that fans can send money directly during a live show) are just some of the options offered. The virtual-reality element allows them to go even further, though; Raghaven says artists are only limited by their imagination.

“They can have special tiers of tickets – a more expensive VIP ticket, for instance, that grants special in-world privileges or access (the ability to fly, say, or entry into an exclusive meet-and-greet). They can sell real and virtual merchandise – branded virtual tees, hats, jackets, you name it – that can be purchased for their avatars or in real life, and within their virtual space they can include branding from external sponsors.”

Being based on an actual, real-world show, MelodyVR aims to leverage scale to help performers maximise revenue. “MelodyVR means that no event is ever sold out, and no show is off limits,” says Matchett. “Artists’ performances can reach fans around the globe, both in real time and on demand, in a way that we see as the ‘next best thing’ to physically being there.”

 


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The show goes on(line): Concerts get creative amid global shutdown

In a matter of weeks, the global live music industry has come to a virtual standstill, with shows called off and fans forced inside by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

But while ‘normal’ concerts are off the cards, a wave of virtual events are springing up to take their place, taking advantage of social media, virtual reality and online worlds to bring fans closer to artists at a time when both concert performer and concertgoer are stuck indoors.

Sweet streams
By far the most popular way of connecting with housebound fans, many of the world’s biggest artists, including Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Pink, John Legend, country singer Keith Urban and Latin star Juanes have streamed live performances on their social media accounts in recent days.

Others, such as Miley Cyrus, Christine and the Queens and Lizzo, are broadcasting largely non-musical content that offering a glimpse into their self-isolating lives, while likes of Bruce Springsteen are making past concerts available for free. UK singer Yungblud, meanwhile, took the opportunity to create The Yungblud Show Live, an anarchic hour-long show (featuring a concert segment, drinking games and a cooking lesson) filmed in LA following the postponement of his upcoming tour.

In the classical music world, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra has made its ‘digital concert hall’ video streaming service, featuring over 600 concerts spanning more than a decade, free to all before 31 March.

“We already miss our public very much and hope that in this way we can remain in contact with our audience, at least virtually,” says Olaf Maninger, the orchestra’s principal cellist.

Elsewhere, in Europe’s clubbing capital, promoters have gone one step further by creating a 24-hour ‘virtual club’, dubbed United We Stream, in order to “save Berlin’s club culture in quarantine”. (The German capital’s nightlife been on lockdown since Friday 13 March.)

Launching today (18 March) at 7pm local time, the initiative will see the empty clubs streaming several hours of DJ sets and live performances every day, with the venue changing each night. Participating clubs include the Watergate (which will host tonight’s first show, with Claptone, Monika Kruse and Mathew Jonson), Tresor, Kater Blau, Salon Zur Wilden Renate and Sisyphos.

Fans are encouraged to donate €10, €20 or €30 a month in exchange for a ‘virtual club ticket’, with all funds going directly to a relief fund to support clubs and event organisers during the closure.

“We already miss our public very much”

Faces for radio
Miami’s Ultra Music Festival (UMF) was the first major western festival to fall victim to the coronavirus, having been pulled by city councillors just over two weeks out, on 4 March.

Now reborn as a ‘virtual audio festival’ on US satellite/internet radio platform SiriusXM, Ultra will take the form of an audio-only event, running from Friday 20 to Monday 23 March (its original dates) and featuring live performances by DJs scheduled to perform at Ultra Miami, including Afrojack, Major Lazer, Martin Garrix, Above and Beyond, Armin van Buuren, Nicky Romero and Oliver Heldens.

Ultra Virtual Audio Festival will be broadcast on a temporary SiriusXM channel, UMF Radio (channel 52), which will also air previous Ultra sets by stars such as Marshmello, the Chainsmokers, Kygo and Carl Cox.

Scott Greenstein, president and chief content officer of SiriusXM, says: “With the postponement of beloved events, necessary changes in people’s everyday life and need for social distancing, we know our listeners are seeking a sense of community more than ever.

“To encourage that, we are pleased to be working with Ultra Music Festival to provide our listeners with this virtual audio festival featuring the diverse line-up of artists the UMF delivers year after year, as well as exclusive fresh, new sets from some of the biggest names in dance music.”

UMF 2020 ticket holders will receive an email in the coming days offering access to UMF Radio and other SiriusXM programming.

In the UK, meanwhile, the cancelled Country to Country (C2C) festival – due to take place on 13–15 March at the O2 in London – was replaced a special show on BBC Radio 2, which was originally to have broadcast from the event.

Radio 2’s Country Festival, presented by ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris, Bobbie Pryor and the Shires’ Ben Earle, featured live performances from artists scheduled to play C2C, including Luke Combs, Eric Church, Darius Rucker, the Cadillac Three, Old Crow Medicine Show, Brett Young and Tenille Townes.

“We know our listeners are seeking a sense of community more than ever”

Game on
Passing the time while ill by playing video games is nothing new, but the current period of self-isolation will be the first time many experience a live event inside a virtual world. Marshmello’s groundbreaking Fortnite concert last year opened the floodgates opened for live music in gaming, with rock bands Korn (in AdventureQuest) and the Offspring (in World of Tanks), DJs Ekali (in Minecraft), Reggie Watts and Blasterjaxx and EDM label Monstercat (in Sansar) among those to have organised large virtual concerts since.

Mojang’s Minecraft – the open-ended world-builder which, with nearly half a billion players, is arguably the biggest game in the world today – is no stranger to hosting music events, holding its first live concert, with AlunaGeorge, Broiler and Lemaitre, in March 2016. It also hosted Fire Festival, with Ekali, Arty, Hudson Mohawke, Luca Lush and over 5,000 ‘festivalgoers’, early last year, with another 80,000 tuning in via live stream.

Upcoming live entertainment in Minecraft includes Second Sky-inspired music festival Second Aether, which will take place on 28 and 29 March, and an as-yet-unnamed festival set to take place at Club Matryoshka (a virtual nightclub hosted on a private Minecraft server) on 26 April.

https://twitter.com/ClubMatryoshka/status/1237750285428121600

Sansar, a virtual-reality online world from Linden Lab, the maker of Second Life, also plans to host several virtual live events in the months ahead. Sansar – which has partnerships with Monstercat, Spinnin’ Records and Roddenberry Entertainment (Star Trek), among others – yesterday (17 March) released a guide to creating an event inside the game, touting its credentials as a platform for “free virtual events amid [the] coronavirus emergency”.

“Sansar is no stranger to large-scale live events, and we’re here to help you and your audiences stay safe, productive and connected during the coronavirus outbreak,” says Sansar community manager Galileo Linden, noting that the game can accomodate “a conference for work, an educational workshop, a live performance or even a music festival”.

“We’re here to help you and your audiences stay safe, productive and connected during the coronavirus outbreak”

Reality check
Amid the gloom on global stock markets, MelodyVR maker EVR Holdings was one of few shares not in the red on the London Stock Exchange (LSE) today, its value surging with growing demand for concerts on virtual-reality headsets, according to the London Evening Standard.

In its Covid-19 update to the LSE, EVR says it has has seen a 56% spike in sales for MelodyVR over the past week as most major concerts were cancelled. “MelodyVR’s technology was originally created to enhance the live experience for music fans around the world who were unable to access performances either as a result of their location, age, cost of attendance or ticket availability,” the company explains.

“The restriction of both mass gatherings of the general public and international travel has already begun to adversely impact the global music industry, and while our vision was never to act as a replacement to live events, we believe that our technology affords fans the closest possible opportunity of experiencing the next best thing to actually being at a venue or show without physically being present.

“We have not sought to actively capitalise on the events of the last few weeks, yet having experienced a 56% increase in average sales over the course of the last seven days we anticipate this trend of MelodyVR platform usage to continue.”

Also having a good day is popular rhythm game Beat Saber, which announced today it has sold more than two million copies, cementing its reign as the best-selling virtual reality-exclusive title. “[T]he game has also proven to be a successful platform for artists to connect with fans, selling over 10 million songs through downloadable content,” reads an announcement on the Oculus blog.

 


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Why deeper engagement is crucial for the industry

When The Osbournes premiered on MTV in 2002, it changed broadcast entertainment forever.

Suddenly, audiences were let into a celebrity’s world like never before. This access, along with the advent of social media and artist-controlled channels, propelled by the launch of a new generation of mobile devices, accelerated our connection to talent further still. And the barriers between fan and artist became erased in a way that was never imagined.

As we dive into a new decade, it’s worth taking a moment to consider where we are heading – and how technology will continue to enhance this relationship.

2020
New technologies have always presented new opportunities for the industry, and 2020 will deliver fresh impetus for virtual-reality (VR) adoption. For artists, this will provide the opportunity to create new ways to engage with and deepen their relationship with fans, as the technology crosses into the mainstream.

For the first time, thanks to 5G, we’ll be able to watch high-quality immersive entertainment experiences in VR on the move via our mobile devices. We’ll have the ability to play an interactive game, watch the NBA live or stream a concert in real time – while we choose our viewing position on stage. The ability to stream premium content on your mobile device with no latency will accelerate the shift away from traditional linear viewing.

But it’s not just via the smartphone that access to VR is growing; new hardware such as the Oculus Quest is proving hugely successful, with a three-month waiting list helping to drive headset sales up by 31% in 2019. With music experiences such as Beat Saber selling over a million copies, we’re now seeing true audience adoption and engagement.

Once, a meet and greet for a few minutes after a show was all that was available to music fans

Experiences are everything
Virtual reality can open doors into places and experiences we never dreamed possible – be that viewing from the unattainable front-row seats at a Broadway show or being in the Star Wars universe. For music, VR can bridge the gap, transporting us to live events and places we never thought possible.

Where once a meet and greet for a few minutes after a show was all that was available to music fans, that has now changed exponentially – and experientially. In virtual reality we can stand in our idol’s shoes, and it’s a powerful moment. All the barriers that might have stopped music lovers from seeing their heroes live (particularly real for young people) – cost, age restrictions, sold-out events, distance and access issues – are swept away. And the artist and label benefits through a new revenue stream and enhanced engagement with fans.

Millennial audiences are embracing such experiences, driven by FOMO and the ability to share; 78% of them would rather open their wallets for an experience over material possessions.

Deeper connection
At MelodyVR, we are using the immersive power of VR to generate a genuine feeling of presence and emotional connection to create meaningful relationships between fans and artists. We’re opening the gates to major events and building exciting new original content strands that place fans at the centre of the artist’s world, be in the studio, backstage at the show or on stage with them.

We are brought some of these sentiments to our inaugural Open/R Music Discovery Month in January. While introducing some of the best new talent onto the platform, we’re positioning the fan in the scene with the artist, part of the entourage, providing a previously unattainable connection. Fans can get inside the heads of the artists they admire, experiencing their stories through a new more personal lens, taking the journey with them. It’s the sound of the future, presented in the medium of the future.

With VR, the possibilities are endless and restrictions are few

Freedom of expression
With VR, the possibilities are endless and restrictions are few. For artists, this means more space to express themselves freely, without dilution or misrepresentation. This can only mean the opportunity for more genuine understanding and connection between music lover and music maker.

The trick will be in how we work with artists to express their creative visions, work with them to create global event moments and support their careers in totally new visual ways. For the music industry, this represents a real opportunity and the next level of engagement with fans, building on the social platforms that already exist.

Audiences don’t just want deep engagement with the talent they love – they demand it. This is about technology allowing fans to live and breathe music in a way that’s never been possible.

 


Iain Funnell is SVP of creative, content and editorial, at MelodyVR. MelodyVR will present as part of the New Technology: Pitch it to win it session at ILMC next month.