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It’s hard to play music over Zoom. Why not head to the metaverse?

Roar Studios hopes to be a virtual platform to help musicians find collaborators and perform via avatar.

It’s hard to play music over Zoom. Why not head to the metaverse?
[Source photos: Kiran CK/Unsplash; https://unsplash.com/photos/9Eheu3sIgrM/Unsplash]
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A new startup aims to help musicians with a problem that’s familiar to anyone who works in a creative field: finding collaborators.

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Roar Studios is building a virtual metaverse focused around music, where people will be able to form bands from across the planet, compete in challenges, and perform in front of virtual audiences.

Users will be able to play or practice solo or connect with other musicians from their existing networks or around the world. Like in other metaverse environments, which are the heirs to older, clunkier virtual worlds like Second Life, musicians will show up as digital avatars, which might seem hokey compared to playing together in a real-world garage or basement. But founder and CEO Eric Reid says he hopes that might reduce some of the self-consciousness that comes with playing with new collaborators for the first time and help some people who’ve otherwise been unable to find bandmates, whether for geographical or other reasons, start to play together.

Playing remotely has been difficult in the past because it’s hard to stay in sync when people jam together on traditional videoconferencing platforms, but Roar Studios has focused on overcoming these technical kinks. Its engineers are currently rapidly prototyping versions of tools that can parse the notes musicians are playing in real time, Reid says.

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“What’s really happening is we are evolving tech that allows people to play together in real time without latency issues,” says Reid, who has worked in music video and film production and describes himself as a “very serious hobbyist musician.”

Reid says the project was inspired in part by Zwift, the social biking app that lets users cycle at home with friends old and new, competing in racing challenges without having to meet up in real life. Like Zwift, which works with many existing indoor cycling setups, Reid says people won’t need to buy special hardware to use the Roar platform. They should be able to play with their existing instruments and basic computer equipment.

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“You can play your instrument into a regular USB microphone that can be the one in your computer or the one that you buy for $30 on Amazon,” he says. “We are determining what notes are being played on the outside and translating them into digital data on the inside in real time.”

That also means that people can experiment with different transformations of their sounds, like playing the guitar and having the notes played in-world by a tuba, says Reid. Musicians may even be able to experiment with configurations of instruments that don’t exist in the real world, he says.

There’s not a firm timeline for when musicians will be able to test out the platform, but Reid says the company’s engineers are rapidly rolling out prototypes of various features and that he hopes to have a version ready for beta test within a year. Right now, the company is emerging from stealth mode with a $7.5 million round of fundraising in the works, and the possibility of raising more.

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Reid anticipates some users may also use the platform to offer paid lessons, as online lessons of various sorts have become increasingly popular in recent years (and a necessity for many during the coronavirus pandemic). Reid also imagines challenges where people compete on who can play famous songs the quickest, the most faithfully, or the most creatively, potentially with celebrity judges—like the songs’ original performers—on hand to judge. Musicians famous or not could also use the platform to perform, whether for small groups of friends or a larger audience.

“I think you’ll find pros that are interested in become involved either to help people grow or to explore things that they feel they can’t explore in their live performance world,” he says.

As he points out, there have already been concerts in other metaverse-style environments like Fortnite and Minecraft. How the platform will ultimately make money is also still up in the air, but Reid points to how some of those other environments allow free access, then make money selling gear and accessories for people’s avatars as one possibility.

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The core audience for the platform, he says, will be those rank-and-file amateur musicians looking for new ways to hone their craft and play along with others.

“The core group of people we want to help are people who don’t have the opportunities that the pros have,” says Reid.

About the author

Steven Melendez is an independent journalist living in New Orleans.

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