To say that COVID-19 accelerated shifts in the entertainment industry would be an understatement. Virtual concerts are a big part of that — and their future is bright.
But first, a little history. Virtual concerts are not new, especially not in virtual worlds. The first major band to perform live in a virtual world was Duran Duran, who performed in Second Life in 2006. The video game “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories'' also included a virtual concert performance from Phil Collins (his single "In The Air Tonight") during the same year.
Let’s fast forward to 2020: With COVID-19 restrictions, more interactive concerts are held in Fortnite, with artists such as Travis Scott, BTS, and Diplo. The Weeknd hosted a live, interactive virtual concert on TikTok that pulled in more than 2 million total unique viewers. “The event recorded 275,000 concurrent viewers at its peak, setting a new TikTok record, while videos that users shared with #TheWeekndEXP hashtag garnered more than 1.3 billion video views.” They also raised $350,000 for the Equal Justice Initiative through the sale of limited merchandise. Wow.
If that wasn’t enough, there’s research now too that shows how virtual concerts influence social connection and ‘kama muta’ (or “being moved”). Dana Swarbrick et al.’s research found that live virtual concerts (as compared to pre-recorded concerts) facilitated more social connection, and suggests that audio quality is important for musical enjoyment. They also found that "while videoconferencing was the most popular form of interaction during the pandemic, shared online virtual experiences (such as virtual exercise classes or concerts) were the second most popular form (Miller, 2020)." You can read more about this research here (under "#2: Online Music Concerts").
And you may have guessed this by now, but research also shows that virtual concerts are here to stay. Of the three out of four people who attended an online event during the pandemic, 88% said they plan to do so again even as in-person gatherings return (and specifically 75% surveyed reportedly are planning to attend virtual music gatherings).
Let’s take a look at three of the best virtual concerts that happened this year, and what made them so special. And what does the future hold?
The 3 Most Exciting Virtual Concerts in 2021
“Virtual events were kickstarted with 327 million streams of online concerts in 2020 with 9% of people regularly viewing live concerts,” writes Srishti Das. She continues, “Recent in-game events demonstrate the enormous additional value that an interactive experience can provide — much of [these worlds] would not be possible in real life. The potential for virtual events is extending, rather than replacing their value.”
1. Ariana Grande in Fortnite
Epic Games describes Ariana’s concert in Fortnite as “A musical journey unlike any other, enjoyed by millions of fans worldwide.” Sristhi Das writes, “Instead of just flying around with superstars in the game, Ariana Grande’s concert involved many mini-games. This led to an immersive experience that was different from any previous live-streamed concert. More than being just a live gig, the show turned into a soundtrack for an interactive mini-gaming experience curated by Ariana.”
Interactive digital experiences represent an opportunity for artists to create their own digital universe — and bring their fans into their own mindset. “Such concerts allow a strong digital intimacy and new personalised events: A true way for music to re-invent fandom creation and generate positive sentiment towards the artists, in an era of streaming algorithms which makes their names harder to remember than ever.”
Andrew Webster writes for TechCrunch, “The Ariana Grande tour felt like the culmination of this kind of integrated storytelling. Whereas previous concerts, like Marshmello and Travis Scott, were one-off experiences, the Grande event tied into multiple aspects of Fortnite.”
2. Billie Eilish in SpatialWeb
The Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2021) was hosted entirely online in SpatialWeb, recreating the event that is normally hosted in Las Vegas. The after party culminated with a special performance from Billie Eilish.
“Bob Pittman, chairman and CEO of iHeartMedia, said the event draws on lessons learned from throwing virtual music events during the pandemic, combined with an appetite to provide ‘remote togetherness in a time where actual in-person gathering is limited.’”
SpatialWeb has integrated High Fidelity’s spatial audio — meaning each sound source comes from a defined position in space, recreating the way we hear sound in real life. This makes each sound way easier and clearer to understand, and many conversations can exist simultaneously.
And the result? “‘It was the best example that I have seen of virtual serendipity’, said David Cohen, lead event organizer of CES. ‘The platform did a great job of making those virtual connections, and after all of us living on screens for nearly a year, it was a refreshingly new take on virtual events.’”
3. Secret Sky 2021
Porter Robinson’s Secret Sky “recreated the most meaningful parts of a physical festival. The virtual reality and browser-based event was an ode to the power of live music. The website teleported fans to a lush field full of robed avatars representing real people. Forgoing usernames, every attendee was simply marked with their physical location. White circles on the floor let players join voice chats and mingle with other groups from around the world. I danced in virtual reality with fans from Italy, ID’d tunes with a fast friend from Colombia and anticipated sets with users from the US and Japan over the course of the day,” writes Jordan Oloman.
Jade King reviewed the virtual event similarly. She writes, “By blending player interactions with procedural environmental effects, Secret Sky sets a new benchmark for such experiences in VR, bringing people together to celebrate life, music, and togetherness in a way that gives me hope for the medium’s future.”
It felt to people like a real festival because it was so immersive. “The emotional investment of roaming around a venue with a friend uncovering all of its little secrets coming across perfectly — even though we were miles away from one another.”
And a Bonus Virtual Component for Online Concerts...
Interactivity, spatial audio, and immersion… three key elements that work together to create unforgettable experiences.
And here’s a bonus virtual component that has entered the game as well — social audio. Check out Clubhouse’s recent tweets: “Live DJ sets, performances, interviews… spending tonight just listening and swaying and vibing together with a worldwide audience for Lights On Fest. Bless you H.E.R. for bringing this moment to Clubhouse.” Hundreds of people joined Clubhouse rooms to listen to the festival music and chat… even though they were many miles away from the festival and each other, they found a great way to connect.
live DJ sets, performances, interviews…spending tonight just listening and swaying and vibing together with a worldwide audience for @LightsOnFest— Clubhouse (@Clubhouse) September 19, 2021
bless you @HERMusicx and @IPSY for bringing this moment to CH https://t.co/Yvi4lZOsau pic.twitter.com/6PEzkTvNO6
Clubhouse also just integrated spatial audio via High Fidelity’s Local Spatializer. How does that work? “HRTF technology, which stands for ‘Head Related Transfer Function,’ maps speech to different virtual locations by subtly adding a time delay between stereo channels and replicating the way that high and low frequencies would sound entering the ear depending on a sound’s origin. The result, long used in social VR, gives virtual social experiences a sense of physical presence that good records have been pulling off for ages. Think listening to Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ in stereo with good headphones but instead of sound effects and instruments playing around your head, you’re hearing the people you’re hanging out with arrayed in virtual space.”
Clubhouse’s Head of Streaming, Justin Uberti, explains the benefits: “You have this notion of people [being] in a space, in a room… We try to mimic the feel of how it would be in a circle with people standing around talking.” (And also the less obvious benefits — spatial audio helps reduce cognitive load while increasing intelligibility, too.)
If you’re working on a native app, the Local Spatializer can be integrated quite easily. And it’s self-contained code, so there are no dependencies. Curious to learn more? Get in touch with us.