Today | Written by Ralph Rozema
For the first time, Justin Bieber performed a live show as an avatar in his own virtual universe. Fans could interact directly with the pop star and contribute to what happened during the show. More singers are trying out metaverse experiences. Brand sponsorships and virtual merchandise are ways for brands to tap into the thriving entertainment trend.
As the pandemic canceled and delayed real-life concerts, Adam Arrigo, CEO and co-founder of Wave, saw an opportunity. Wave is a virtual concert production platform that organizes virtual concerts in the metaverse. The company provides artists such as Justin Bieber the ability to perform as virtual avatars in 3D spaces and allow fans at home to be immersed in the concert. It all happens in a virtual world with real-time gaming graphics. „We are excited to create interactive events that are unlike any other virtual concerts," Arrigo said at the dot.LA summit.
„The metaverse concerts? Did you see Justin Bieber's concert? This is really interesting," says founder Kenim O in a video talk of marketing agency Brand Video Pro. „This metaverse space allows us to create unique experiences with Justin or to see him in different ways. He was so innovative. You saw him standing on a car and it is speeding down a highway. That just isn't possible to see in real life. Each song took us into a new world and we got to see him perform, and that was an interesting and fun aspect."
Ariana Grande's surprisingly human metaverse experience
The DJ Marshmello concert in 2019 was one of the first virtual music events that took place in the video game Fortnite. Nearly 11 million people livestreamed the concert. A little over a year later rapper Travis Scott ventured into the virtual concert space and attracted 12.3 million live viewers.
Around 78 million Fortnite users attended Ariana Grande's virtual concerts within Fortnite in August 2021. The pop star virtually performed five in-game shows that took place over the course of several days. „She understands the space and you know her and her team were really fun to work with," says Phil Rampulla, head of Fortnite brand, Epic Games, in a BBC interview. „We bring one side of the tools and toys to the table and we allow partners to just take all of those things and bolt it into something that truly represents them." Fortnite's Rift Tour concert featuring Ariana Grande is a surprisingly human metaverse experience, magazine Digital Trends concludes.
Virtual merchandise and brand sponsorships
Swedish star Zara Larsson held a virtual event on game platform Roblox. She made, according to the BBC, a seven-figure sum for sales of „in-game items like hats, backpacks and sunglasses." Larsson says in-game concerts and virtual merchandise could be a lifeline for musicians. To make a similar sum from YouTube or Spotify it „would take a long, long time and millions of streams," she observes.
Brand sponsorships and virtual merchandise are ways for brands to tap into this thriving entertainment trend. According to Forbes, Travis Scott's Fortnite concert grossed roughly $20 million, including merchandise sales. His character was wearing sneakers from Nike, a brand partner of both the rapper and Fortnite developer Riot Games. In the case of the metaverse concerts of Ariana Grande, it is estimated that the events made more than $20 million. For Fortnite these virtual concerts proved an effective marketing instrument to stir up interest in the game.
During a metaverse concert revenue flows are different from what you expect in a normal live stream. Shopping platform Lyst has seen direct increases in specific items worn by artists such as Billie Eilish and Dua Lipa during live streams. But in a metaverse concert, merchandise includes digital items such as virtual clothing for avatars, often sold in huge amounts. In Fortnite players purchase emotes, which are dance moves and other actions that your avatar can perform.
Metaverse events need to improve
Justin Bieber held his virtual concert in the metaverse space in November 2021, partnering with virtual entertainment platform Wave. The concert was also livestreamed on YouTube, but visitors needed to watch on Wave to fully interact with the event, including chat messages. The audience could send flowing light to Bieber in some of the scenes. But the interaction was also limited as attendees were not assigned avatars to move around in the digital world.
For artists, visitors and possible brand participation there are more things to improve. „My issue with the metaverse is that the quality of the animation is still so bad," Kenim O, founder of Brand Video Pro, says. „It looks too much like something in the 90s. It was interesting, but the technology is not there to provide full 3D renderings, to render it out in this metaverse type of setting. It is like looking at low quality images in the metaverse." One of the reasons for such shortcomings is the lack of specialized creators. „When I am going into the metaverse I need an experience that is so different, so unique, so mind blowing, we definitely need more creators, people that create these metaverse spaces."
Where is the artist in real life?
At some point in the show, the real Justin Bieber appeared in the lower right corner of the screen. The audience could notice how his real movements were in sync with the movements of his avatar in this live performance. But most of the time the real singer was not visible. „I want to see his movements in real life, because I want to know if it is really Justin Bieber dancing, that is so much more interesting to us."
Showing both the virtual and real world would help people to understand the metaverse and create more interest. An example of this way of presenting is metaverse vlogger Xanadu, who makes it immediately clear how the metaverse works. „If you really want to capture audiences in a way that would resonate with us, it would have been much more beneficial to see the singer in real life. People want to see him, not necessarily a cartoon rendering of him."
Opportunities for brands
As pop stars hold virtual concerts, brands can organize virtual events, such as a product launch in collaboration with an artist. Luxury brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton are offering digital items in games. Gucci introduced virtual handbags and sunglasses to Roblox and the Italian luxury house could even develop its own music event on the platform, as Jing Daily suggests. Brands can sponsor metaverse concerts. Everything is still new, but with the growing number of events it is expected more brands will enter the nascent sphere.
So far, mainly virtual products are offered, such as attractive clothing for your avatar. The next step is offering a real version for home delivery. Pop stars who are earning millions during a single virtual concert are showing ways how it can work. As more developers and creators will take part in shaping the metaverse, future concerts will offer better experiences and opportunities for brands.
Hybrid experiences have the future
Virtual concert platform Wave expects the number of metaverse events will continue to grow. Co-founder Adam Arrigo, game designer and musician, realized the music industry needed a tech boost to perform in a parallel world. The platform now enables artists to perform as avatars and offers fans an immersive concert experience. „For the generation that is growing up with Roblox and Minecraft, you know, this is the way they are experiencing music." With tech innovations the company can offer experiences that add something to real-life events, like virtual gifts. „People love being able to interject something into a show they couldn't do at a real concert."
Ultimately, Arrigo expects live performances will become more like hybrid experiences. „Concerts will probably become something where, if you are lucky enough to go to the physical version, that is going to be more of a VIP experience. But one of the main modalities of experiencing live music, it's going to become virtual."