Instead of six feet tall, Post Malone towers over at what feels like ten. Because, in this universe, anything seems possible. His eyes follow, no matter where I move in the arena. During his concert, he also brings out special guests, including The Kid LAROI for “Wasting Angels” and Fleet Foxes for “Love/Hate Letter To Alcohol.”
In a move that would only be potentially possible at a major festival, I can easily jump to a Foo Fighters set — being front row, to some degree. And it’s for free.
I am only reminded that I am a cartoon, a mere avatar, when I hear another figure — a woman — standing beside me. She starts to cheer for Dave Grohl playing “This Is A Call,” the band’s lead single from their debut album. “I was JUST thinking of this one earlier,” she exclaims, as I’m surprised more by the fact that I can hear other people, just like I could at a typical show… Or, anywhere in the general real world.
This is my first encounter with concerts in what many have called the “Metaverse.”
Meta, the umbrella company behind Facebook, Instagram, and, most recently, the Meta Quest VR headsets, have been working with prominent musicians and companies like iHeartRadio to bring crystal-clear experiences that users can attend right in their living room. While the company doesn’t own the Metaverse, but merely occupies a part of the vast, virtual world, they are also trying to make it a unifying experience between other virtual fans, rather than a solo, isolating one. The goal is to simulate a real-life concert to the best of their ability.
“It’s also about bringing an opportunity to fans to get to experience something together that they might not otherwise get to,” Mina Lefevre, Meta’s Director Of Media Partnerships, explains. “We spend a lot of time thinking about how teens and young adults are using tools to be able to connect with each other, whether you live across the country or in another part of the world.”
“We took feedback from how Post Malone fans were engaging with his concert and applied that to some of our future experiences,” she adds.
And it isn’t just the Post Malone fans who have offered feedback on Meta’s VR experience. While my Foo Fighters watch went off without a hitch, that wasn’t exactly the case when their concert premiered on the platform, as users on social media cited an inability to get into the virtual venue, a lobby that didn’t work, and camera issues.
This issue was largely due to the demand for the band and a free show — as is commonplace for all Meta concerts at the moment. Attendance estimates were also reported by Futurism to be anywhere from 7,000 to 12,000 as a Horizon Worlds VP, Vivek Sharma, cited that “the demand was unprecedented.”
Still, as many concert-goers have experienced throughout the past year, the live music industry has been a whirlwind, with fans of Bruce Springsteen, Bad Bunny, and many more major artists expressing disdain for the way Ticketmaster has significantly skyrocketed prices. And this doesn’t even factor in the bots that buy them for resale purposes. Musicians like Maggie Rogers and The Cure’s Robert Smith have attempted to remedy this through in-person ticket sales and opting out of dynamic pricing.
Yet, it raises the question: Why even go through the hassle when you could attend an immersive experience for free?
The rise in popularity of VR concerts has frequently been attributed to Fortnite, the video game — popular among predominantly younger users — with Travis Scott’s April 2020 concert reportedly pulling in over 12 million attendees. However, he only played for ten minutes, so do with that what you will.
The following day, Minecraft held an immersive concert with Charli XCX and 100 Gecs, which raised over $50,000 for Feeding America. “As far as what we did, anybody could put that together with the right amount of experience and know-how,” 100 Gecs’ Laura Les told Pitchfork at the time. “Hopefully it gets pushed into a direction of more people being aware of it and f*cking around with it enough so that they can throw a party.”
And, with the pandemic being another key player to the growth of VR concerts, as users signed on in 2020 while quarantining at home, the ease of being able to hear your favorite artists’ music was a plus in place of the real thing.
Even after live music has made a significant return in the three years since, this aspect of accessibility also helps bring the feeling of being front row at a high-ticket concert to fans who might not typically be able to attend — whether for financial or other accommodation reasons.
As Malika Quemerais, Meta’s Director Of Artists Partnerships, explains, the filming process can vary in scope, going between “a 180 screen or more versus just the flatness of 2D,” depending on each shoot’s direction.
“I think the biggest difference is in that and the artists knowing how to play with depth-of-field,” she says. “For example, with J Balvin, we played a lot with lighting and the dancers to really give you that depth-of-space experience.”
Meta also works with the company HyperReal, which cites itself as “the future of digital humans and avatars” on their website and has contributed digital technology to Sony, PepsiCo, and more high-level corporations. It’s this partnership that, by working with the estate of the late Notorious B.I.G., they brought the rapper back to life for a special concert. “It’s only in VR where you can have that experience where Biggie’s avatar is interacting with Latto and Diddy,” the team explains.
“Initially, Biggie’s son, in addition to the tons of images and photography they had of Biggie, they were able to use his son to sort of model it a little bit and he looks a lot like him,” Lefevre says. “It really helps if you have the sort of depth of the material that we had because of the Estate being involved.”
In this way, the concerts honor musicians who’ve since passed since the VR filming, as Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins plays with the band in the show.
On the night of certain live events, Meta lets users enter a waiting room before the show starts, building anticipation and giving fans opportunities to talk to each other. As Meta’s reps note, this area might hold more people, while only a few users enter an individual room — rather than the entire waiting room population cramming into one arena.
“We’ve done a lot of work to create that balance of intimacy versus also still feeling like you have the community and social that Malika was mentioning,” Lefevre adds. “Basically, there’s thousands of instances of that same concert, but you yourself would be in there with 10, 15, sometimes 20, depending on which venue it is.”
In terms of the larger impact toward the future of fandom, the company doesn’t just have their sights focused solely on VR, as Quemerais explains about their push to incorporate AR (Augmented Reality) as well. Unlike the experience of putting on a headset to fully be immersed in a realm, Meta’s AR technology brings aspects of a fake reality to the real one — their Instagram filter with LeBron James being an example.
Meta also has plans to expand their Augmented Reality with musician partnerships as soon as later this year, providing fans with even more exciting opportunities to connect with their favorite artists through a digitally unique space.
It might seem strange to think about, considering where social media was at just a decade ago, the future of technology is rapidly advancing, and the Metaverse is just one example of that. While virtual concerts will hopefully never replace the experience of the real thing, they provide another avenue for fan engagement, working with live performances to give fans new ways to experience their favorite artists.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.