The Metaverse is one of the hottest topics around. Ever since Mark Zuckerberg reintroduced this idea in 2021, people have expected it to be the future of sound and music. With several brands like Adidas and Nike, artists like Ariana Grande, Travis Scott, and even radio stations like iHeart Radio flocking to The Metaverse, the new digital landscape is quickly growing. And, of course, these new digital spaces need sound. So how will the creative industry be able to incorporate immersive audio in all media?
Digital spaces have been booming and blooming in the past two years and are the next big thing for sound. Katherine Bassett (née Rodgers) of research organisation Water & Music tells us all about The Metaverse from a company’s perspective on the intersection of music and technology, next to producer and studio owner Rick van Dunn, and Richard Burki, the CEO of sound experience company Future Phonic Studios. These three visionaries share the trends they see and give us an insight into what’s coming very shortly. They answer a few big questions on everybody’s minds:
Is the Metaverse here already?
The Metaverse is getting colossal traction but remains a complex subject for many. ‘People talk about the Metaverse, but maybe have never seen it for themselves’, Katherine Rodgers elaborates. Rick Dunn agrees and shares: ‘The Metaverse isn’t here yet; it does not yet exist. What we see right now is a bit of a precursor of what is yet to come. The hype around the NFTs and the immersive audio trends are pieces to a much bigger puzzle, possibly. Especially with audio technology, the industry isn’t aware of how far we’ve come in terms of being able to recreate and reproduce audio experiences. We’re still living in a two-dimensional world for most of how we consume media, and that’s about to change.’
Is the Metaverse a prerequisite for having immersive audio?
‘Immersive audio has been here for fifteen years’, Richard Burki explains.’There’s been quite a lot going on, in terms of consumers being exposed to the newest technologies or people in the music industry. What we’re looking at right now is that we’re seeing that a lot of convergent media, like film, music, and gaming, are starting to blur more and more. The developments in audio are, unfortunately most often an afterthought. Most of the things we see on the visual side of the industry tend to happen ten years later in the audio world, while the opposite is true for the technology we have in that area. Look at immersive and spatial audio: we have had it for ten years, but it only trickles down to consumers now, he continues.
Katherine Rodgers agrees: ‘The Metaverse is an opportunity for the music industry to forge interesting new forms of creativity. It injects a social aspect into music, and spatial audio will be a big part of that. Audio can be a part of a legitimate social experience, especially at concerts. The Metaverse has the potential to make music experiences something more absorbing, instead of it being something in the background.’
Will the music industry warm up to the subject anytime soon?
‘It’s quite typical for the music industry that their stance towards Metaverse platforms has been fairly litigious, according to Rodgers. There was a legal settlement between Roblox and the National Music Publishers Association in America last year. As a result, there’s no way for artists to directly upload their music into Metaverse platforms like Roblox or Fortnite. Hopefully, this will change as the industry warms up to the concept, but in the meantime, there are a few grassroots initiatives for indie musicians. It’s worth it to research the individual platforms and see what their options are. And, of course, you could also create your Metaverse to bring your music to life’, Rodgers concludes.
What will happen over the next five to ten years?
Richard Burki: ‘I think we’re at about two-thirds of what’s possible with headphones and immersive audio: consumer technology is still behind on the sound we have in the studio. That gap is going to start shrinking more and more if you ask me. It already is. For the next few years, we’re going to see the technology of 3D audio playback from any pair of stereo speakers become more common.’
Panel moderated by Janne Spijkervet
Written by Meike Jentjens
Pictures by Roxanne Wilm