In a nondescript Culver City warehouse, members of the metal band Avenged Sevenfold wear protective booties over their shoes to avoid scratching the floor-to-ceiling green screen. The setting couldn’t be more different from your usual fire and brimstone aesthetic.
That will change soon, of course, with the green screen replaced by a series of fantastical concert halls, leaving the platinum-selling quintet to perform under lightning bolts, floating monoliths and the enormous winged skull, or Deathbat, that has served as their mascot for years.
But it will take time for technologists at tech startup AmazeVR to weave together all those dark images. On this Thursday afternoon in early September, the Huntington Beach-born band isn’t even playing full songs yet, just practicing the choreography and making sure the members can hit their targets as a crane-mounted stereoscopic camera launches from side to side.
It’s all in service of creating a virtual reality experience that, when it finally launches early next year, will resemble a cross between a music video, a live concert, and a first-person video game. Developed by Miracle Mile-based AmazeVR, which has previously worked with artists including T-Pain and Megan Thee Stallion, the Avenged Sevenfold showcase will allow viewers to don ski goggle-style virtual reality headsets and revisit the performance from the comfort of your sofa.
Pricing has not yet been set, but one song will be available for free. Previous programs launched at $6.99 for one year of access.
AmazeVR aims to bring the energy and spectacle of live events to the virtual reality sector, which has seen substantial investment on the hardware side (major players including Meta and Sony have launched headsets), even as Some observers have noted a relative scarcity of things to see and do. High headset prices have also limited virtual reality’s potential audience, at least for now.
But imminent release The introduction of Apple’s Vision Pro headphones is expected to spark renewed interest in the sector. Apple has attempted to frame the Vision Pro as a consumer entertainment device, in part, with the integration of Disney+ featuring prominently in the early stages of marketing.
Virtual reality concert experiences are arriving at a crucial time for the music industry. In the wake of an industry-wide COVID pause and amid ongoing questions about the viability of the streaming model, it’s more important than ever for artists to diversify their revenue streams and find new ways to reach fans. Other acts are experimenting with live streams and synchronized shows within video games.
Flesh and blood tours are still big business, but even they are evolving. Taylor Swift and Beyoncé launched massive tours this year and then made them popular. movies for cinemas. In the Mojave Desert, U2 is putting on a extravagance of sight and sound at the Las Vegas Sphere venue, a kind of large-scale virtual reality helmet.
Avenged Sevenfold frontman M. Shadows sees virtual reality music experiences as another way to reach fans, including those who might not otherwise attend a live concert, while also allowing the band to experience with stagecraft and art direction that they couldn’t achieve in real life. .
Skeptics might wonder if digital media could ever compete with the flesh-and-blood thrills of a live music experience: the adrenaline of a mosh pit, the euphoria of stadium-wide singing.
But for the singer it is a way to make music more accessible.
“There’s always a barrier between us and the audience,” Shadows told the Times during his rehearsal. (The warehouse is owned by the Times’ sister company, NantStudios.) “You want to make sure that even though there’s going to be a lot of interesting things happening, people can get really close to you… and see you sing and play the drums.”
Wearing a Primus t-shirt and a hat representing a line of monkey themed crypto tokens, Shadows described Avenged Sevenfold as “advanced technology.” the band has ventured in crypto, collaborated with the Call of Duty gaming franchise and recently teased a tie-up with Fortnite.
But Shadows doesn’t imagine virtual reality completely replacing live music. The band tours regularly and played the Kia Forum in Inglewood earlier this year.
“When you go to put on a show,” he said, “there’s something about it that can never be replaced. So it’s about getting fully into what the technology does well and then getting fully into what the live show does well.”
When The Times recently previewed an early version of AmazeVR’s Avenged Sevenfold show, the experience combined elements of a live event, a music video and a game. The audience’s position was fixed to that of the camera, occupying what would have been the best seats in the house in a real-life venue, but they could turn their heads and watch different parts of the performance.
There was no crowd, no pro or con, depending on who you ask.
This software is “democratizing intimate concert experiences that were not previously accessible to everyone,” AmazeVR CEO Steve Lee said in a statement. “Consumers don’t just listen to music; they are there.”
The experience is not directly analogous to a concert or a music video, Lee added, but rather an entirely new type of media. And it’s not just digital: AmazeVR has previously held in-person events where people watched one of the company’s virtual reality concerts together in a theater.
Some experts see a clear advantage.
“While nothing beats face-to-face entertainment done right, the obvious advantage of virtual concerts is that everyone can go, everyone can have the best seat and there is no traffic leaving the parking lot,” Jeremy Bailenson said. , founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Laboratory, in an email.
Pointing to U2’s Vegas Sphere show, he added: “When artists carefully create immersive visuals to augment their music, the results can be spectacular.”
Others are more skeptical.
Virtual reality is “a product that is still looking for an audience,” said Amy Webb, chief executive of the consulting firm Future Today Institute.
“There are all these ways we’re trying to bring virtual reality together [with] community experiences,” Webb said. “But you still have to ask yourself: Is this a significant enough change in my experience that I’m willing to sacrifice everything else for it?”
For example, having a shared experience with others.
But he didn’t completely rule out virtual reality music media. An immersive display of synchronized images and music, she said, something like a trippy ambient music video, could be more engaging than a simulated live event.
AmazeVR told The Times that it raised a $20 million Series B round last year, for total funding of around $50 million since its founding in 2015. Fast Company called the firm one of the 10 most innovative live events companies this year.
Even M. Shadows, the leader of Avenged Sevenfold, is unsure how things will play out.
The future of music is “a hodgepodge of things,” Shadows said, including concerts, livestreams and Fortnite shows. Some of those experiments will be successful and some will not, he said, but “it will take artists who want to take some risks and … try some things.”
“Is AmazeVR the place you want to go, where you’re just having a beer on a Saturday night and… you want to throw yourself into something that you wouldn’t actually go out of your way to drive there and do?” she asked. “I think that’s interesting. I’m just not willing to say it’s been cracked yet. …But I think these things are fun. It’s fun for us; It’s fun to explore.”