While concert halls across the country are shut down from the coronavirus pandemic, festival app and platform Buzznog has released new technology that puts artists back on those stages. Called Evolve, the new XR (augmented, virtual and mixed reality) experience platform virtually recreates iconic venues and allows artists to perform there, or create their own performance spaces.
Evolve has officially launched following the recreation of seven Knitting Factory stages and a pilot performance from The Mowgli’s at Knitting Factory Brooklyn in August. Already digitized venues include Knitting Factory Boise, Knitting Factory Spokane, Big Sky Brewing Amphitheater in Montana, Myth Live in Minnesota, The Regent in Southern California and Elevation 27 in Virginia.
According to Buzznog founder and CEO Phil Elias, the company was content working as a white label app and platform for festivals and events, with more than 193 planned this year in roughly 30 countries before COVID-19 shut down major events in March.
“When COVID shut down everything in the industry, like everybody else, we were kind of forced to pivot a little bit and just take a step back and say, ‘What’s needed out there?'” Elias tells Billboard. “We wanted to take a little more premium approach and really try to do things that were more engaging and experiential for fans rather than just a performance.”
Through Evolve, fans are able to use their device’s camera to virtually place the augmented reality stage wherever they’d like, as well as watch the performance on a web browser. Fans can then engage with a variety of interactive features including options to activate fog, lighting and other special effects on-stage; position the cameras to ensure ideal sight-lines throughout each song while also offering unique perspectives across the venue space; and dial-up audience participation and background noise from the virtual crowd.
The platform also offers additional opportunities to stream and monetize the performances through content, merchandise, gifting, ticketing, gamification and more. Artists can also set up virtual meet and greets through the platform and entire bands can be rendered together from separate locations during a performance.
Evolve also gives venues the chance to make money during a tough financial time for most, since it can recreate spaces through images and specs alone — meaning no Buzznog personnel has to visit the facilities. The venues are not charged for the recreations and are in complete control of booking who can and cannot play their virtual venues. These renders only take a matter of days to complete, according to Elias.
“When it’s tough out there, you don’t go and try to get more out of somebody,” Elias says. “Anything that is monetization, we share a portion of our revenue from that with the venues. And through our past relationships with what we were doing with festivals, we are able to package brand opportunities to help support the venues more. It could be naming rights or a series ‘brought to you by.'”
“Phil and I first worked together on Desert Daze Festival and had a great experience. He was then one of the first people I turned to when considering how to raise the stakes in live streaming, in addition to exploring new technology that offers the most compelling experience, while also engaging with both fans and artists in a different and memorable way,” Morgan Margolis, Knitting Factory Entertainment president and CEO, tells Billboard. “I’m enthusiastic and dazzled by this new AR/VR experience and look forward to seeing where KFE and Buzznog grow in expanding both our partnership and technology in the future.”
While building the technology, it was important to Buzznog to make sure Evolve was scalable so that venues and artists could use the platform anytime and for varying needs. With the collection of venue on the platform, artists could virtually tour throughout the country without leaving their homes and continue to create revenue for the live music ecosystem. Elias says many platforms have been able to create premium one-off virtual events, but he sees Evolve being utilized even beyond the pandemic including for hybrid live and Evolve performances.
Even when live music returns, “you’re not going to do performances 24/7,” Elias says. “We wanted to leave it completely up to the industry to decide how to use Evolve.”