Front Row Seats From Your Couch: How VR Could Change Concerts

Fill Ryabchikov
    

As the virtual ­reality market and the music ­industry increasingly cross paths, an immersive live-music experience no longer requires setting foot in a crowded venue.

Companies have more creative freedom than ever when it comes to developing music -- VR ­platforms. There’s TheWaveVR, ­allowing DJs to ­broadcast virtual sets; Ossic and Dysonics creating 3D audio (what you hear depends on your head position); and, on the ultra-ambitious end of the spectrum, MelodyVR, which has recorded 1,000-plus shows with more than 500 acts worldwide to create a virtual concert library.

Recently, MelodyVR has captured ­performances by acts like The Chainsmokers, Fatboy Slim, Tegan & Sara and JoJo, and a recent partnership with Warner Music Group will soon give the company unprecedented access to WMG artists’ shows (a free, cross-device app will debut in 2017). “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing to feel like you’re onstage with The Rolling Stones?’ ” says co-founder Anthony Matchett. “If it’s a live show -- say, at London’s O2 -- we’ll have 12 to 15 vantage points that a user can move around in real time. If you want to be onstage, you can be onstage.”

Next Now: The Future of Music

Artists, too, are using VR as a novel way to present their music to fans. When the indie pop group Stargroves and actress-singer Abigail Breslin recently shot the video for their song “Telephone,” they partnered with Nokia, using the OZO VR camera. “It looks like something they’d use to torture Han Solo,” says singer Teddy Watson with a laugh. “But it was so easy and ­nonintrusive,” adds Breslin. By April, fans will be able to watch the video on a variety of headsets.

Hordes of ­concertgoers may not skip an arena date in favor of one on their headset soon: Motion ­sickness remains a common user ­complaint, and audiovisual quality isn’t quite up to snuff. But within the next three years, ­developers see the VR-music ­connection ­becoming more ­commonplace. “I’d love to see a near future where every artist releases an interactive experience with their album or single,” says Matchett. “With any form of technology, it’s so rare to get something indistinguishable from magic.”

A VR Gear Guide

The Luxe Leader 
HTC VIVE 
The most immersive headset, its whole-room tracking ability allows for experiences like Jaunt’s “Paul McCartney: My Valentine,” placing the viewer in his studio as he writes a song and shoots its music video. $799

The Trailblazer
OCULUS RIFT
It’s good enough for Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook’s Oculus has great design, super-advanced tech and now comes with handheld “touch” controllers (but, like Vive, requires a pricey VR-compatible PC). $598

The Solid Splurge
Sony PlayStation VR
The most affordable non-smartphone headset has great motion control — helpful with immersive apps like Harmonix Music VR, which lets you experience tunes in fantastical worlds. $399

The Crowd Pleaser
Samsung Gear VR
The most popular headset (more than 4.5 million sold in 2016), it’s comfy and simple to use (just insert a Samsung phone), with a touchpad for easy app access. $79

The Entry Point
Google cardboard
Buy the build-your-own-viewer kit; download Google’s Cardboard VR apps; insert a smartphone and voila — an instant, if basic, VR experience. $15

This article originally appeared in the March 18 issue of Billboard.