Brands, music and the metaverse

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On Wednesday, March 2, Epic Games announced the purchase of Bandcamp, causing surprises and confusion in the game and music industry. In statements released by both companies, Epic and Bandcamp stated that they “…share a mission to build the most artist-friendly platform that allows creators to keep most of their hard-earned cash. Bandcamp will play a key role in the vision.” from Epic to build a creator ecosystem for content, technology, games, art, music and more.”

Ethan Diamond, CEO and co-founder of Bandcamp, explained that his company will continue to operate as an independent community, but will use the resources Epic can provide to bring more benefits to artists, labels and fans using the platform.

The clear connection between the Epic and Bandcamp crossover is in Fortnite’s virtual concert series. As the live music industry reacted to the pandemic, virtual concerts have become increasingly popular. Artists like Travis Scott, J Balvin and Ariana Grande have all performed digitally in Fortnite, while Lil Nas X and Twenty One Pilots have done the same in Roblox. In 2021, Fortnite launched the Soundwave concert series, which focused on showcasing major non-US pop artists worldwide. It provides a platform for these artists to reach new audiences while allowing Epic to target hyper-specific markets and demographics.

The acquisition was surprising, but will certainly be seen as the first of many music partnerships as the industry takes aggressive steps towards integration into the gaming space.

So what are the opportunities for music companies as they make the move to the metaverse?

Creating a managed environment

Creators are not limited to audio-only releases or music videos. One of the greatest opportunities in immersive digital environments is the ability to design and control every element, from soundscape to interacting with performers.

They can put together the exact emotional experience they want their audience to have. Is it the song of the summer? Place the listener in the passenger seat of a convertible driving through Santa Monica. A deeper, self-reflective piece? Take the audience on an intimate journey with the artist as they work their emotions into the song. Being able to master the environment perfectly only deepens the story. Listen parties and album releases keep raising the bar, so this is an opportunity for artists who can’t deliver mega gigs to make the emotional impact audiences crave.

Gamifying interaction with fans

In addition to the hyper-stylized environments, these activations can contain interactive elements. There can be creative ways to gamify the experience of listening to a new artist’s release. The listener can be placed in the example environments above with the ability to move, explore and interact directly with the environment. There may be five items hidden that, once found, will unlock a hidden trail. Whether through interaction in scenes or with objects, the listener can influence the story or even the music itself. By instilling a sense of discovery and incorporating video game-esque Easter eggs, artists can instantly reward the time their most devoted fans put into it.

Looking ahead: leveraging partnerships with artists

McDonald’s has already forged musical partnerships with their artist-specific meals (Travis Scott, BTS, J Balvin) and Fortnite has already featured Ariana Grande as part of their concert series. Now imagine collecting those five hidden Easter egg items in a game unlocks an Ariana Grande exclusive McDonald’s number.

With a player base of more than 350 million registered players who can now expect similar events, companies like Fortnite have a lot of users and data to negotiate with. But there needs to be a logical and strategic connection between brands and partnerships with artists to avoid feeling too corporate or inauthentic, which in turn hurts reputation. If an insurance company or paper towel brand were to approach Epic for a Fortnite partnership, it would be completely at odds with their existing demographics. Failure to intentionally take creative advantage of the platform’s unique features will result in an overpriced and underperforming sponsorship campaign.

The future of music, gaming and interactive digital environments is changing rapidly. Many are looking for tech and VR companies to lead the way in the metaverse as they find a way to ride their coat. But how does a brand not get lost in the shuffle? Authentic creativity, honest artistic approaches and meaningful collaborations. Promote compelling work and partnerships and be the company responsible for making these experiences known. Perhaps most people won’t mind donning a clunky VR headset then, at least for now.

Mike Burke is the director of operations at Made Music Studio and co-host of the Press Any Key podcast.

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