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Virtual reality could make seeing your favorite band less expensive, if these artists have their way

By Jon Swartz

'It is meant as a new way to get to fans,' one artist says

High prices for concert tickets have made it difficult for many music fans to see their favorite bands. But that could change soon - with the help of virtual reality.

Heavy-metal band Avenged Sevenfold and rapper T-Pain are among a growing number of artists who are using virtual reality to connect with their fans at a more affordable price.

In a studio in Southern California earlier this year, T-Pain - the rapper known for popularizing Auto-Tune with hits such as "Buy U a Drank" and "Bartender" - performed in front of a green screen. The resulting video will become a concert fans can watch via VR headset.

Around the same time, Avenged Sevenfold completed its first virtual-reality concert, titled "Looking Inside." Fans can watch the 26 minutes of immersive music and visuals via Apple Vision Pro and Meta Quest 3 headsets at a cost of $12.99.

"It was a way to explore this new medium," lead singer Matt Sanders said in an interview. "It is meant as a new way to get to fans, much like YouTube and Blu Ray. We are always toggling that line in reaching people, but we still plan to tour."

The band shot the video over a few days in front of a green screen, and the footage was then inserted into a computer-generated world. Postproduction took a couple of weeks. "I was blown away by the finished product," Sanders said, adding, "There were also things I would have done differently, like not looking at the director" during filming.

In an era when tickets for the final performances of U2's residency at the Sphere in Las Vegas sold for an average price of $800 to $1,000, VR technology offers a more affordable option for fans. It's also a tantalizing opportunity, as mixed media looks for consumer uses.

Gohree Kim, vice president of marketing at virtual-reality entertainment startup AmazeVR, which works with Avenged Sevenfold and others, thinks VR shows are inevitable.

"We work with a lot of artists who are moving in that direction," Kim said in an interview. She said that in May, an internationally known artist plans to announce an hour-long VR performance that will available later this year in movie theaters in the U.S., Japan and South Korea.

"This is an affordable option and one for those with physical limitations in attending [shows]," said Lija Hogan, principal of experience research strategy at user-experience platform UserTesting and a lecturer at the University of Michigan. People can "enjoy a show on their own terms," she said.

Consumers - many of them younger - are intrigued about the technology.

Nearly 96% are willing to view concerts and festivals using a VR headset, and a majority are ready to spend between $51 and $250, according to an April 25 survey of 250 consumers by AmazeVR.

Live events could fetch more: About 30% of the respondents said they would pony up between $101 and $250, while 6% said they were ready to spend more than $500.

The mixed-media concert experience

Dazzling visual effects have been a staple of concerts since the 1970s, from The Who's laser light shows to the iconic wall in Pink Floyd's 1980-81 "The Wall Tour." Dry ice and projection screens upped the ante. Abba used holograms, and Metallica pushed things further with an Imax film.

U2, meanwhile, has been down the virtual path before. In 2015, it partnered with the now-defunct app Meerkat to livestream shows, which were distributed on Twitter and Facebook and shown at the venue. The livestreaming experience was filmed by a fan who was onstage with the band and projected onto a gigantic oblong screen at the show, and was available to anyone with the Meerkat app.

Read more: U2, Meerkat team up on streaming for tour

What's next for virtual and augmented reality? U2's shows at the Sphere offer a mind-blowing experience for fans who can afford the equally mind-blowing ticket prices.

The next frontier will be live VR shows, although getting there will require a long gestation process. The technology is likely to start with videos of less than an hour before expanding them in length and going live. A lot depends on bulky headsets shrinking in size and coming down in price, as well as consumers taking advantage of VR/AR apps, according to mixed-media experts.

"It will take three to five years because of the weight of Apple's headset, one pound; its price, $3,500; and the audio experience is not great," Robert Mooring, video lead at AMF Media Group & Armanino, said in an interview. "It probably needs several iterations, from snow goggles to glasses."

Documentarians and video experts interviewed by MarketWatch uniformly agreed that Apple Inc.'s (AAPL) Vision Pro, Meta Platforms Inc.'s (META) Oculus and Alphabet Inc.'s (GOOGL) (GOOG) YouTube livestreaming platform need refinements and killer apps in order to establish a wider audience for VR.

"3-D technology doesn't feel like that terrific an experience," said Alex Vlacos, media director at software company Druva. "Is [VR] terrific now, compared to a 4-K screen? It is painful. I felt like I was having a seizure."

Sanders was more optimistic. "History will tell if we are successful," he said. "But if you look at some of these concerts, they cost as much as a headset."

-Jon Swartz

This content was created by MarketWatch, which is operated by Dow Jones & Co. MarketWatch is published independently from Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal.


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

04-27-24 0906ET

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