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Will Virtual Reality Be Music's Next Frontier?

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Although the music industry is often slow to fully embrace game changing technology, Virtual Reality has been gaining steady ground, and possesses the potential to dramatically alter the landscape of the music business in the not-too-distant future.

Guest Post by Bas Grasmayer, from the MUSIC x TECH x FUTURE weekly mailing

It wasn’t until last year that the potential of virtual reality (VR) really clicked with me. I saw a segment on TV where they demonstrated concerts filmed with 360 degree cameras and was instantly sold. It didn’t just convince me that VR was going to shake things up for music, but it’s the next frontier for digital. 

And music really could do with some shaking up.

The new status quo

Let’s look at the online music landscape in the West. For streaming services we have Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, and Pandora. For streaming on web we have YouTube, Soundcloud and Bandcamp. These players have been coming up for years and while many other services exist, they’ve been increasingly pushed into the margins. There is no shortage of new concepts for music services. It has just become incredibly hard to penetrate the status quo.

An admission

When I realized that Soundcloud could go the way of MySpace due to licensing and money issues, I was sad initially. A little angry even. Then optimism set in. For many services, their collapse would not be noticeable- consumers would just move on to a very similar service. Soundcloud is so unique however, that it would leave a big hole. That vacuum would create a lot of space for innovative startups to compete for audiences looking for a new home. While that fragmentation is confusing to the point that back in 2011 people wanted a ’Next MySpace’, it also makes things dynamic, exciting and experimental. Last month Soundcloud managed to strike a deal with Universal and secured debt financing, so that vacuum will not happen.

Well, it will not happen in that space, that is.

The VR vacuum

2016 is not the year of VR. Unless you go look for it, it will be easy to ignore VR completely. It is also a tremendously important year for VR. The devices are here, the technology is pretty accessible, and there will be enough people out there to test your products. Investors are ready, too. The foundations of this space are being laid right now, just like the foundations of the current online music landscape were laid in the late 2000s. 

Music itself is hard to monetize. The monetization comes from context: live, background listening, merchandise for fans, active music exploration & discovery, or active listening like with vinyl. If you’re skeptical about completely immersive music experiences, realize that ultimately, the VR space will converge with AR; augmented reality, which places a digital layer onto our physical reality. It could be argued that listening to music while commuting already augments your reality.

This is something very exciting to look forward to and it’s going to completely change things and add new revenue streams for artists, entrepreneurs and the industry. Universal knows this and is launching VR concerts in collaboration with iHeartMedia this year. To get a feeling of how rapidly things could change beyond 2016, have a look at the below graph by forecasting firm Digi-Capital. 

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