Our partner Joseph (Joe) Huang shares his contemplations about entertainment and the metaverse from the front row of a Justin Bieber virtual concert.

From Joe’s Desk: MetaSaaS and Music’s Future in the Metaverse

From Joe’s Desk: MetaSaaS and Music’s Future in the Metaverse

Three things happened in the past several weeks that have gotten the wheels turning in this brain of mine, and I’d like to get my thoughts organized, so here I am writing again.

First, Facebook announced its rebrand to Meta, emphasizing its dedication to the “metaverse,” a buzzword that hasn’t been solidly defined in the real world yet — not that that’s stopping folks from slapping it on every pitch deckand headline in same vague manner as “big data” and “AI.”

And yes, I’ve read Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, but his metaverse is scarcely more realistic today than it was back in 1992 when he coined the term. The metaverse of Snow Crash fits more into the realm of fantasy than science fiction, IMHO.

The second thing that happened was that a friend recommended a lesser-known but way more pragmatic novel about the metaverse, and I was blown away by the accuracy of the author’s descriptions of the tech hurdles that will have to be overcome to build a legitly immersive virtual world. More on this later.

Finally, right when I’d finished devouring that book, I found myself somewhere I’d never have expected to be: in the front row of a Justin Bieber concert.

Justin Beibers Virtual Concert

Justin Beibers Virtual Concert

Ok, so the front row was my desk chair and the concert was virtual, but coming on the heels of the recent metaverse hype and my shift from skeptical to intrigued, this was one of the most exciting concerts I’ve ever “attended.”The live show, #BieberWAVE, featured a virtual Bieber avatar powered by motion capture technology and rendered in real-time while the human Bieber performed in a studio that viewers could see once in a while when the producers popped up a live feed in the corner of the screen. The audience could also click to interact with certain elements of the show and we’d occasionally see a mural of live video from handpicked fans who got invited to an exclusive Zoom room.

Justin Bieber the avatar performs, controlled by Justin Bieber the human in a mo-cap suit during #BieberWAVE

Justin Bieber the avatar performs, controlled by Justin Bieber the human in a mo-cap suit during #BieberWAVE

I’m sure #BieberWAVE was pretty magical for the Bieb’s devoted Gen Z & Millennial fanbase, especially those in far-flung corners of the world who’d have never had the chance to see their idol in real life even if the pandemic hadn’t come along and disrupted live concerts. No shade on Beliebers here, because you know I was bobbing my graying GenX head to “Peaches” along with the rest of them 🍑.

And that brings me back to my recent reading, and the brilliant Nebula Award winning novel A Song for a New Day by sci-fi author and musician Sarah Pinsker.

Although #BieberWAVE was primarily a browser-based experience rather than the fully immersive metaverse-style concerts put on by Pinsker’s fictional company StageHoloLivethere’s no denying that the tech in A Song for a New Day is much closer to becoming a reality than anything in Snow Crash.

A Song for a New Day, by Sarah Pinsker

A Song for a New Day, by Sarah Pinsker

I have so many thoughts on this that I’ll elaborate on in another post, but for now I’ll just say this: After immersing myself in Pinsker’s fictional world and visualizing the SHL experience, #BieberWAVE was a little underwhelming.Not that pulling off a live event like this isn’t a huge achievement. You can be sure it didn’t come together overnight, so huge props to all the creative and administrative and technical people behind the scenes who probably haven’t slept in months.

That said, putting on a virtual concert of this caliber banks on every single human, every single line of code, and every single piece of equipment working together perfectly. There were times during the concert where you’d catch unplanned glimpses behind the curtain, like when Bieber’s mic picked up murmurs of folks in the studio in the silence between songs. And Bieber seemed awfully exhausted during his 35-minute set despite years of doing much longer live stage performances. But the experience still exceeded expectations even with technologies that aren’t yet mature and an artist who’s accustomed to the energy of arenas packed with screaming fans.

Between Pinsker’s words and Bieber’s moves, I can’t stop thinking about how far entertainment technology has come and also how far we still have to go to make virtual concerts satisfying for fans and artists alike.

What’s more, it’s plain to me that there’s a huge opportunity out there for what I think of as MetaSaaS, the tools that will make it possible for creators to translate their existing talents to metaverse-ready live experiences at scale.

At the moment, even a well-resourced and tech-savvy artist like Bieber can’t produce a virtual mini-show that matches the energy and production values of one of his live shows in the meatspace. The industry just isn’t ready to produce SHL-quality immersive experiences, much less tackle the real concerns Pinsker raises in A Song for a New Day about how the medium may entice only the artists willing to let the tech requirements dictate the limits of their creativity and dampen the joy of connecting with a real audience.

I’ll leave it here for now, but if you’ve gotten this far, here’s your homework assignment:

1. Start reading “A Song for a New Day” immediately.

Do this first so you’ll get what I’m talking about before I move on. (The audiobook is also well narrated, so if that’s your thing, you’re in luck.)

2. Watch the #BieberWAVE replay.

Unfortunately, if you didn’t catch it live, you missed the real-time feed of Bieber behind the scenes in his motion capture suit, and you won’t be able to interact, but it’ll give you the gist.

3. Follow me on Twitter @huangway.

That way you won’t miss Part 2. I promise to get better at tweeting by the time Jack Dorsey becomes CEO again.

*This article is reposted with permission. See the original article here.

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