This summer I am working on a research study with Colorado University’s National Mental Health Innovation Center. The study is about how a virtual reality* meditation program affects an individual’s stress level. Although the study is not yet complete, it’s clear that virtual reality affects stress levels and can have other implications on mood. This got me thinking, how is music affected by virtual reality? And what will the future of music even look like?
One significant use of virtual reality in music is to simulate intense concert environments. This allows a VR user to be fully immersed in a musical experience from the comfort of their living room. In addition, for VR users who desire the shared group experience, concerts have been developed that involve the attendees wearing headphones, and listening to the concert music in a large group but in their ears. This might look strange to a bystander- after all, a mosh pit of concert-goers dancing their heart out in silence certainly looks (and sounds) silly. But it also creates an ability to have a silent concert with the same energy. Plus, sometimes multiple songs are played, allowing variability for the participants. To further advance these technology-integrated concerts, 360-degree sensors and cameras could be placed in the front row of live concerts, allowing people from all around the world to live stream the concert from the comfort of their living room with a virtual reality headset. Of course, these concerts wouldn’t be free because you would still need to pay an artist for their music (in addition to the cost of the VR equipment), but it would certainly allow a lot of flexibility in the size and venue while maintaining a full sensory experience.
Another great use of virtual reality is for music creation and production. Rather than needing to purchase expensive equipment to record, edit, and adjust music, a VR program such as RockBand and Electronauts can be downloaded to simulate the experience and capabilities of a recording studio. These VR recording studios can be as simple as a toy instrument like a guitar or as complex as full studio capabilities to create and edit sound production.
There are also a lot of music-based games that are improved tenfold when virtual reality is incorporated. Of those games, Beat Saber is the most popular, and in my opinion, the most fun. This game is all about hitting 3-dimensional blocks in sync with the beat of a song. Other games like Pistol Whip combine rhythm with a first-person shooter game. Check out my blog on mobile music games for my thoughts on other music games. (powerofmusicih.org/post/my-experience-with-music-based-mobile-games)
So is virtual reality the future of music production, development, experiences, and games? Only time will truly tell. But at the very least, we know that virtual reality is a great musical outlet any person can jump into at any location, which means all the health and wellness benefits of music without having to leave your home, deal with tickets or transportation, or risk catching COVID. From concerts to music production, to music games, virtual reality allows users to experience music in a safe, unique, and futuristic way.
*Virtual reality, as defined by Lexico, is “The computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors.”