Twenty-one pilots in concert as Roblox avatars

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Before launching a series of concerts in Denver at the Bluebird Theater for Twenty One Pilots’ post-pandemic return to live music, the rock duo made a stop at a video game platform.

Isla Lohr was among the crowd, although not a huge Twenty One Pilots fan, and voted for the set list based on the coolest staging. The 12-year-old, who lives outside of Seattle and has attended several virtual concerts, said she preferred them to the in-person shows she attended with her family. For this gig, she was also a digital lookalike, decked out in rainbow hair and rainbow sunglasses.

“I like better being an avatar because you don’t have to deal with crowds or boring people,” said Isla, who also enjoyed doing other online activities throughout the set. Twenty One Pilots. “It’s cooler because you can do a lot more with it because it’s not real life.”

Virtual performances are becoming increasingly mainstream and sophisticated, with top performers such as Ariana Grande, Easy Life and the Weeknd also among those moving onto the digital scene despite the easing of pandemic restrictions. As in-person gigs have started to pick up this summer, with ticket sales indicating strong fan demand, industry executives say virtual gigs can be complementary to much more lucrative gigs and are gaining ground as a new media.

“We’ve seen a tremendous amount of change over the past year with the digitalization of everything, and we don’t think we’re going back to a world in which we’re not more digital,” Warner Music Group Corp said. digital chef Oana Ruxandra.

Virtual concerts started to gain popularity before the pandemic hit and gained momentum once lockouts and quarantines took hold, providing artists and fans with a secure way to connect through cellphones. , computers, game consoles or, for the most immersive experiences, virtual reality headsets.

“For the first time, the market has understood what we do,” said Adam Arrigo, CEO of WaveXR Inc., whose technology turns artists into avatars who can play in video games, on social media and on the web. Wave’s own platform.

Supporters say the call is expected to last in part because virtual shows can accommodate a much larger audience than real-world shows – 27.7 million people watched at least one of Travis Scott’s five performances over the weekend. end in “Fortnite” from Epic Games Inc. in April. 2020. Virtual concerts also allow fans, who usually see and chat in the form of avatars, to avoid travel expenses as well as headaches such as long queues or minors having to persuade them. parents to chaperone them to a show.

While streaming shows have potential – Mark Mulligan of Midia Research calls them a new video format that “could be to live music what pay TV is to sports, creating an even bigger market in the long run.” core business ”- they have a long way to go. According to Midia, only 9% of consumers have streamed a concert live, and audiences are turning to early adopters and young men.

Tickets for live-streamed concerts grossed $ 600 million in 2020, according to Midia, although most shows are free and artists are exploring other ways to make money, including tips and sponsorships. . Some sell special effects such as the ability to make virtual lawyers dance on stage. Some offer virtual products, or “verch,” such as group t-shirts or hats that avatars can wear, for a few dollars a piece. Shows can also include exclusive songs, games, and other perks.

Dillon Francis plays virtually.


Photo:

Wave

The Twenty One Pilots concert on Roblox Body

The social entertainment platform included the ability for fans to vote on the order in which they could hear the duo perform five songs. Pre-recorded 20-minute sets were played at the start of each hour from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon, with the lineup changing each time based on the votes of the participants. The event has been visited more than 13 million times, according to the group.

For a gig during a virtual recreation of London’s O2 arena hosted in “Fortnite” in June, UK band Easy Life performed a song that is not available anywhere else. To hear it, participants had to go to a special area of ​​the virtual venue.

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“It was a reward for those who did,” said Sam Hewitt, the band’s 25-year-old bassist and saxophonist. “In a world without physics, why shouldn’t we be as creative as possible?

Easy Life also added horn instruments to its alternative pop songs for the performance, which drew 10.8 million attendees, according to the quintet.

Roblox helped Twenty One Pilots create their virtual show while Easy Life hired members of the “Fortnite” creator community to produce their performance and enlisted help from Epic along the way. The venue sponsor O2 as well as members of both bands and their labels also played a role.

Virtual concerts aren’t limited to video games.

Stageverse, an app launched in September by venture-funded startup Stage Inc., streams recorded live concert videos from a virtual location where attendees interact via avatars. It is currently streaming a video of the rock band Muse’s 2019 concert tour for free over the next few weeks at scheduled times on iOS, Android, and Oculus Quest devices.

In August 2020, The Weeknd drew three million fans on a show featured on TikTok. The R&B singer appeared to viewers as an avatar created by Wave, Mr. Arrigo’s Los Angeles-based startup that has raised more than $ 65 million in funding from music industry heavyweights such as Justin Bieber and Braun scooter.

In the future, tech makers predict that many more places for online entertainment will take shape in the “metaverse,” a term that refers to the next evolution of the Internet in which endless users can be together. line and create their own virtual spaces.

Wave has experimented with different ways of making money. Alison Wonderland, a DJ, sold tickets for $ 10 a pop; a Dillon Francis show was free but offered fans the option to spend on virtual effects such as giving the electronic DJ laser beams to the eyes; a John Legend show was sponsored by Yamaha and People magazine.

Wave, Epic, and Roblox aim for artists, young and old, to independently develop and promote shows on their platforms. “We want to create a sustainable ecosystem where we provide tools to the music industry,” said Jon Vlassopulos, Head of Global Music at Roblox.

Nate Nanzer, vice president of partnerships at Epic, expects virtual concerts to take place one day within “Fortnite” as often as once a week.

Last week, Epic announced it would host a series of musical performances in “Fortnite” by popular artists in markets outside the United States, which began this weekend with Egyptian singer Mohamed Hamaki. Roblox recently launched “Listening Parties,” allowing artists to present new music to fans while they play games and chat.

Global music tours have come to a halt during the pandemic, forcing some artists to broadcast live for free. The WSJ is heading to a SHINee concert in Seoul to see how K-pop groups are creating virtual shows that fans around the world pay to watch from their homes. Photo: Daniel Smukalla for The Wall Street Journal

Ms Ruxandra, of Warner Music, who is an investor in Roblox, said the goal is to go beyond one-off gigs into a mix of physical and digital experiences that foster continuous interaction between artists and their fans. .

“Our lives will be both physical and digital and a lot of our experiences will be gamified,” she said.

Write to Anne Steele at Anne.Steele@wsj.com and Sarah E. Needleman at sarah.needleman@wsj.com

Copyright © 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8


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