As the two-year anniversary of the global COVID-19 pandemic begins to hurtle toward us, we are no closer to knowing when our social lives will return to normal or what will the new normal be. The effect this has had on businesses like nightclubs, music venues and musicians have been immeasurable. With crowded in-person events either made impossible — or far more difficult and laborious — at many points over the last two years, changes to the industry that were already set in motion have been accelerated. Namely, the music industry’s adoption of digital instruments, among others and, increasingly, the Metaverse.
First coined by science-fiction author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 cyberpunk novel Snow Crash, the Metaverse is described as a virtual world where individuals could interact with each other in the form of avatars on a successor form of the internet in order to escape a dystopian (see disease-ridden) world outside. Sound familiar?
Thirty years on from his prophetic vision and in the mid of a global pandemic with restrictions that continue without an end in sight, now is the time to bring the music metaverse to life. With live music revenues not expected to recover until 2023, one way of supercharging its recovery — and providing a new tech-enabled alternative to traditional live events — would be to take more of our events into the virtual world.
Debates rage on about what this Metaverse should look like. On one hand, there are libertarians, crypto-enthusiasts and the privacy-minded who are arguing for a decentralized future of Metaverse with no one individual or entity in control. On the other hand, there is Mark Zuckerberg (and likewise) who is pitching for Metaverse to be a successor of Facebook and centralized version of which would be a natural option. If we are all going to be spending much more of our time there, the best option is clear: One in which we all have a say.
Related: A letter to Zuckerberg: The Metaverse is not what you think it is
In a way, the Metaverse is already here. (Although even with COVID-19, our world isn’t nearly as dark as the world Stephenson laid out.) Artists like Justin Bieber, DeadMau5 and The Weeknd have all played virtual concerts in recent months. And, although some of these events stretched the definition of metaverse somewhat — less of a VR-fuelled immersive experience and more of a 2020s version of Habbo Hotel — it’s clear the key ingredients are there for a fundamental shift in how we think about live music.
This prospect is particularly exciting for smaller acts. As any promoter or small-time musician will tell you, tours are both a necessity for any musician who wants to make their art their career but also a time-consuming and expensive operation. A Metaverse “tour” (or series of shows where artists cater to various time zones) in which overheads are minimal will remove barriers to live performance not only for fans but for artists, too.
If you’re a small enough act that only a few large population centers will house enough fans to make a live show worthwhile, the concept of a virtual gig — where fans from across the globe can congregate regardless of locality — is an exciting possibility. This is where niche fan bases and eccentric communities of music lovers will really win.
Curating events in the metaverse
Clearly, there are many ways in which a decentralized metaverse can enhance the music industry. But, another blockchain-based technology is also worthy of attention: decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs). DAOs are community-powered groups that function almost like a board of directors. Only on this board, everyone gets a seat at the table.
DAOs are the antithesis of centralized organizations like record labels or promotion companies since all decision-making is made by the collective. Anyone can join a DAO simply by acquiring the tokens needed to have a say.
Just like other rising stars of the blockchain world such as nonfungible tokens (NFTs), DAOs have already started to make their mark in the music world. In October, the deep-pocketed PleasrDAO pooled its resources to buy the one and only copy of an album by hip-hop pioneer Wu-Tang Clan. Once Upon a Time in Shaolin was deemed so valuable that the 74 DAO members collectively raised $4 million to nab it before minting the ownership deed as an NFT. But, their application goes much further.
Related: Online content streaming is dead — Long live the music NFTs
In the context of the live music business, DAOs are almost as exciting as the concept of the Metaverse itself and even more tantalizing when you put the two together. A music-focused DAO could, for instance, bulk-buy concert tickets, fund and curate events such as gigs and festivals including those in the digital realm, as well as purchase investable commodities such as first-edition LPs, artwork and instruments, while even functioning as fan-owned record labels and promotion outfits.
Those eccentric communities I mentioned earlier — the ones who congregate around niche music genres and the artists who innovate them — will gain the most from this new kind of fan community.
Related: Concerts in the Metaverse could lead to a new wave of adoption
And, is that not what we could be encouraging and creating? A world where the odd, the strange, the beautiful and the live shows that you haven’t seen before can come into being? That’s a lot of what the internet did to music when it first became a staple of our entertainment culture at the turn of the millennium. Web 2.0 accelerated that diversification and democratization. What Web3 and the Metaverse can do is finish the job and create a live music culture where the possibilities have never been more exciting and more open. Most importantly, it could be a future where no one person will be in control. We all could be.
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