The Reality of Virtual Concerts: Concert-going in the Metaverse Age
Brett Ineson,
President, Animatrik Film Design

Discussion around the metaverse continues to expand. Despite ambiguities in what platforms and products will dominate in the Web3 space, industries across the board are scrambling to find their place in the ‘metaverse’.

The music industry has a long history of evolving with technology, whether it’s the change from physical to mp3 or the wide adoption of streaming platforms. Artists such as Method Man have branched out into NFT art, while Kings of Leon, last year, were the first band to release their album as an NFT. Alongside changing the ways artists are selling content, the metaverse is also looking to change the way people attend concerts.

Virtual concerts are nothing new, but after COVID lockdowns prevented in-person shows, they faced a resurgence in popularity with some of the biggest names in music taking to the digital stage. Even now as the restrictions ease up and festivals bring in thousands of fans, audiences are more receptive than ever before to attending virtual concerts. A report from Morning Consult that explored the public’s interest in and concerns around the metaverse found that 61% of millennials and 56% of Gen Z would be interested in attending a music event in the metaverse.

The virtual concert where performers would be replicated by VFX and game design teams while an old recording of the song played, as seen with Phil Collins in GTA: Vice City Stories, is a thing of the past. The evolution of motion capture, virtual reality and game engines mean virtual concerts are no longer just a digital imitation of an existing performance, but an experience in their own right.

Late last year, Justin Bieber was the latest big-name artist to take to the digital stage, partnering up with virtual entertainment company Wave to create a live experience. With performance capture by Animatrik, Bieber’s performance was motion captured, and this in turn was translated into a digital character. Using motion capture meant that Bieber’s dancing and other movements were represented as they would be for an in-person show. A behind-the-scenes snippet of the concert had Bieber in the motion capture suit alongside the digital performance which showed how synced the digital was with the real dance. The Bieber virtual concert was also effective in showing how a usually passive at-home audience can interact with the performer, even without the use of virtual reality goggles. Viewers could be featured on stage via their webcam, and Bieber would address them individually, creating an experience replicating that kind of interactivity that was previously only possible with in-person shows.

Another way in which virtual concerts are becoming more of an interactive experience, one which captures the spontaneity of ‘real life’ shows, is through video games. Rather than have their performance presented via a live streaming platform, these shows are attended within a video game. In April 2020, Epic Games collaborated with the hip-hop artist Travis Scott for a concert within the game, Fortnite. Leading up to the event, the games’ map began to change, with a digital stage taking shape, and Travis Scott-inspired unlockables dotted around while players roamed the game. For the actual event, a giant Travis Scott marched around the map, performing a song as players could run around and watch from numerous angles. As the set progressed, players were taken underwater, before being flung up into the air, flying around as Travis Scott performed his final song. Compared to virtual concerts of the past that aimed to replicate live shows, the Travis Scott Fortnite concert made full use of its gaming platform and engaged the audience on a level that would keep them hooked.

Video game-based virtual concerts bring new audiences to artists. The Fortnite concert had over 28 million virtual attendees and saw Travis gain 1.4 million followers on social media and ticket searches increased by a staggering 419 per cent. For some artists, the virtual stage is not just an alternative, but their sole output. Virtual heavy metal band Pentakill teamed up with Wave to bring a concert to their audience based entirely within the game ‘League of Legends’. The eight members of the band recorded their performance in motion capture – similar to the Bieber concert. For this performance, however, motion capture was also used to capture the instruments of the band. They created a performance that was more true-to-life and more engaging for the audience. Similar to the Travis Scott performance, the Pentakill concert also made use of its gaming capabilities, where players would have to collectively ‘defeat’ an enemy character for the concert to proceed.

It can be easy to suggest that the rise of virtual concerts stems from the COVID pandemic and improvements in technology, but it’s artists themselves who have blazed the trail, with the vision of creating a new way to independently bring their music to fans and elevate the live experience. Developers, in parallel, have been the conductors of this orchestra in a sense, harnessing new technologies to build new possibilities Knowing that the live, in-person concert experience can never be truly replicated, creators are making full use of their digital platform capabilities. Whether it’s gaming platforms or webcam interactivity, audiences are engaged in ways that are only possible in a digital environment.

As the metaverse continues to grow, so do the opportunities in which audiences can access, and interact with, live performances. One recent example of cross-audience interactivity can be seen with Shocap Entertainment and The 7 Fingers’ ‘Carry Me Home”: a hybrid theatre, circus and concert based on the music of Didier Stowe. The world’s first live virtual circus and music performance was presented in a ‘multi-audience’ model, with a virtual audience watching either via video stream or VR and simultaneously to an in-person crowd. This type of show represents a shift in how virtual concerts can harmoniously coexist with in-person performances.

About the author

Brett Ineson has close to 20 years’ experience in visual effects and sits on the board of the Motion Capture Society. He has worked in production with industry leaders such as Weta Digital and in technology development with Vicon, Lightstorm Entertainment, and Autodesk. Brett founded Animatrik Film Design in 2004 to specialize in performance capture for film, games, and television. He consistently pushes the boundaries for Virtual Production as a whole through the development and deployment of new solutions and innovations.