As anyone with an innovative idea has probably discovered, a great idea can only go so far without support, and when it comes to creating music content in the virtual reality space two key questions often arise: How to convince the music industry to support productions and how to keep fans coming back.
During a panel discussion called Itâ€™s Time To Pay Attention To VRÂ at the Mondo.NYC music and tech conference and music festival at New York Universityâ€™s Kimmel Center, six leading VR music content creators tackled these and other issues facing music VR content.
For one of the panelists, creative director Storme Whitby-Grubb, the answer lies in an approach she calls â€œthinking outside the headsetâ€ â€“ finding ways to maximize the value of content that would appeal to budget-conscious record labels, artist managers and other key industry figures.
Whitby-Grubb, co-founder and creative director of the multiplatform studio Imagu, understands how to utilize both virtual and non-virtual content in creative ways in order to ensure that a labelâ€™s outlay has a good return on investment â€“ and that fans will return for more experiences.
â€œIf you have an artist that has a crazy dedicated fan base that will do anything for their artist, do the headset content,â€ she told me in an interview after the panel. â€œThatâ€™s great.Â But then lead that visual into something that could be offline, i.e., a ticketed event with, you know, a dome activation where people can go, because thatâ€™s real estate.â€
â€œThatâ€™s something a brand might want to get involved in, thatâ€™s something that could be ticketed, that could be sold,” she added. “Thatâ€™s something that merchandise could be purchased.”
â€œYou could bring a b-roll crew and shoot the event, so then you could social additional content. And then thereâ€™s a talking piece, and then thereâ€™s a press look.
â€œAnd thatâ€™s when I think things start to look a lot more attractive to a record company,â€ she said. â€œAs opposed to, â€˜We have to spend money on a piece of content and we have no idea how many people are going to watch it.â€™â€
Whitby-Grubb brings a music insiderâ€™s perspective to her work. The British-born creative director, who now calls Los Angeles home, spent 15 years as an artist manager and live tour producer until she quit managing two years ago and forged a new career on the creative side of the business.
She moved into music video production, and that led her to VR.
Initially, she said, she wasnâ€™t familiar with VR at all, but contacts on the Los Angeles music scene came to her, asking her to concept projects for big-name artists.
â€œI was like, ‘VR? What? What? I donâ€™t understand,’â€ she said. â€œThat was about a year and a half ago, and, you know, the potential and the possibilities just really appealed to me because I have a very vivid imagination.â€
Whitby-Grubb may be in the VR world, but sheâ€™s not of it, and she said that her ability to communicate with labels, managers and artists on a peer basis is key to her success. She sees a disconnect in the way the tech and music communities relate to one another, and she feels her value lies in her ability to see the technologyâ€™s creative possibilities and to translate them in ways artists and labels can understand.
â€œIâ€™ve had a very esteemed manager friend of mine say to me, â€˜Iâ€™d never let a tech company loose in a room with one of my bands without me [meaning the manager] there,â€™â€œ she said. â€œBecause thatâ€™s a business transaction.
â€œBut when you come from, like, a video director world or, you know, the artist, the creative, the music industry world, itâ€™s very different. Theyâ€™re happy to leave people in a room together and just, like, blast out creative ideas.â€
As a child in England, Whitby-Grubb was a rabid music fan who frequented online chat rooms where sheâ€™d talk to people in America about music.
Like any music fan, she couldnâ€™t wait to get the new releases from favorite artists. â€œWhen Radiohead would put a new single out, I would get the first train into central London and wait outside Virgin Megastore so I could buy CD1 and CD2 of â€œParanoid Android,â€ she recalls. Sheâ€™d chat with fellow music fans in line alongside her — a shared community based on mutual love for music.
She said she believes virtual and augmented reality offer the same kind of shared community experience, albeit in a higher-tech form.
â€œAR allows people to come â€“ physically come together in a physical location but still be cool, still be tech, still be forward-thinking, still be exciting, still be new, still got that ownership for young people where, you know, the rest of us are like, ‘What?’â€ she said. â€œAnd thatâ€™s exciting.”
â€œSo itâ€™ll be interesting to see how thatâ€™s going to play out with consuming music, because Iâ€™m excited to see that space grow,” she said.