The club is jam-packed with eager fans dancing with their hands up, but before you can join them you have a job to do. You must get Deadmau5, the electronic music producer and performer, safely to the stage. With help from a digital avatar of Deadmau5’s cat, Meowingtons, you have to maneuver over and around sound equipment and security guards as selfie-seeking fans begin to swarm. When you finally deliver him in one piece, you’re awash in the sounds of his latest track, “Saved.” You look up, down, left, right, and you are standing in the middle of a concert. The crowd comes alive, dancing to the pulsing music.
This is what it’s like playing Deadmau5, an interactive virtual reality game. The project, a mix of game-engine graphics and 360-degree video, is a collaboration between Deadmau5 and Absolut Labs, the liquor brand’s idea incubator. The game is to be released on Wednesday. It’s one of a number of virtual reality projects in the music industry, which wants to stake its claim in a growing form of entertainment that could become an avenue to additional revenue and a new approach for musicians in connecting with fans. But until the public fully embraces virtual reality, partnerships with brands like Absolut have become a path to helping finance projects and put headsets in the hands of viewers.
“It was a good way to get our feet wet,” said Deadmau5, who added that he was already working on a bigger virtual reality project. “This is opening the door to serious stuff.” An avid gamer, he was actively involved in the demo, even donning a motion-capture suit to record his movements running, jumping and dancing.
Virtual reality allows some artists to explore the intersection of art and technology. “Björk Digital,” an exhibition of video works with virtual reality elements, including footage filmed inside Björk’s mouth as she sings, will open at Somerset House in London this September. Last year the experimental rocker EMA performed a score to a new virtual reality installation, “I Wanna Destroy,” at MoMA PS1 in New York.
Only a few acts have delivered live concerts in virtual reality. Coldplay recorded a show in virtual reality in 2014, and the start-up JauntVR has released several concert clips, including Paul McCartney singing “Live and Let Die.” Absolut Labs streamed a concert by the Canadian electronic act Bob Moses in virtual reality last year.
Although limited, the performances were enough to whet the appetite of the music industry, and music labels and concert promoters are lining up to partner with technology companies.
NextVR recorded the Coldplay concert in 2014 and announced in May that it had teamed with Live Nation to broadcast more concerts in virtual reality. For NextVR, which specializes in streaming live sports events in virtual reality, the deal helped it expand its offerings, said David Cramer, NextVR’s executive vice president for corporate strategy.
Universal Music Group, which puts out music by Kanye West and Taylor Swift among others, and iHeartMedia announced a similar partnership in January. “To their credit, U.M.G. has been extremely open to experimenting with this new platform, which makes them the perfect partner,” John Sykes, president of iHeartMedia Entertainment Enterprises, said in an email.
Interest in the technology is outpacing actual VR music products, however, and few virtual reality performances have been released. Despite originally announcing a plan for six to 10 virtual reality experiences this year, Mr. Sykes said iHeartMedia was focused on bringing at least one virtual reality element to its annual music festival in September.
And NextVR has released only a single song, “A Sky Full of Stars,” from the Coldplay concert. Mr. Cramer said that NextVR was compiling a lineup of acts for filming, to be released this summer.
Distribution has been slow because the music industry is waiting for the virtual reality ecosystem to catch up, according to Ben Lang, a co-founder and executive editor of Road to VR, an publication that covers the virtual reality industry. “A lot of these deals are strategic announcements to ward off other companies and show market leadership,” he said.
One setback has been logistical: It is still a challenge to get virtual reality viewers into consumers’ hands. Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR allow users to view free content on their mobile devices. Higher-end gear, like the $600 Oculus Rift and the $800 HTC Vive, both released this year, offer more enhanced viewing. The $400 Sony PlayStation VR will introduce virtual reality to video game consoles this summer.
“The number of VR headsets out there does not justify filming an entire concert series,” Mr. Lang said. “You definitely don’t want to put out your content before people are ready to view it.”
Despite the lag, technology start-ups like Vrtify continue to produce virtual reality content, waiting for the public to catch up. The company has worked with Florence and the Machine, Mumford and Sons and Sting, producing virtual reality content from their live performances for its platform. Vrtify introduced a beta version of its platform in January, and plans to release the platform in October.
Instead of finding a partner in the music industry, Vrtify sought to work with artists and music publishers to obtain the rights to songs on its platform. Although its competitors, like NextVR, give away content, Vrtify is experimenting with subscription and pay-per-view models. Facundo Diaz, its co-founder and chief executive, said 70 percent of the revenue went to the owner of the content, and the company received 30 percent, an arrangement similar to the music-streaming business, which has become a significant part of the music industry.
“This kind of revenue-sharing model gives us access to music labels and artists,” Mr. Diaz said. “It has opened a lot of doors for us.”
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