In May last year, MBW discovered that Sony Music was building a team ‘dedicated to reimagining music through immersive media’ – using Unreal Engine, the games engine from Fortnite maker Epic Games, in which Sony Corporation acquired a minority stake last July, making a strategic investment of $250 million.
We found out about that recruitment drive after spotting a number of job ads indicating that the music company was hiring for a team of technical executives based in Los Angeles for positions ranging from gameplay engineers to technical animators and lighting artists.
Apart from a few hints within those ads, details about what the new recruits would be working on and what division within the wider Sony corporate umbrella they would be working with, were under wraps. Not anymore.
Today (January 12), Sony Corporation of America has announced a new subsidiary called Sony Immersive Music Studios, which is focused on “developing immersive music experiences through the power of creativity and technology”.
The division is led by digital entertainment veteran Brad Spahr, who according to Sony is “an award-winning developer of next-generation experiences at the intersection of music, immersive reality, and gaming”.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Spahr was previously Sony Music’s Vice President, Head of Emerging Technology for seven and a half years a role in which he led the company’s “digital strategy related to new verticals such as Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence and Hi-Res Audio”.
The first project from the new Los Angeles-based Sony Immersive Music Studios division was unveiled exclusively at the virtual edition of CES 2021 technology conference this week: a “groundbreaking” virtual performance from Epic Records-signed singer songwriter Madison Beer in partnership with Verizon, to showcase songs from her debut album, Life Support.
Performing as “an ultra-realistic virtual avatar”, Sony claims that Beer’s performance was “powered by cutting-edge innovations in real-time 3D creation technology”.
The immersive experience took place in “a meticulous recreation of the Sony Hall concert venue in New York City”, which according to Spahr, speaking during a panel discussion at CES today (January 12), was created using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine.
Beer’s performance will be available on PlayStation VR and Oculus VR, and as an immersive 2D experience, which will be broadly available on streaming music video channels. It is set to debut later this winter.
“When we first spoke with the team at Sony Hall and we first spoke with Verizon, [we asked], ‘What if we were to recreate a venue in Unreal Engine? What would that be like? How can we make it as realistic as possible?”
Said Spahr: “When we first spoke with the team at Sony Hall and we first spoke with Verizon, [we asked], ‘What if we were to recreate a venue in Unreal Engine? What would that be like? How can we make it as realistic as possible?
“We actually worked with the venue and got the CAD files; the actual floor plan and dimensions of the venue and were able to go in and reconstruct it in [Unreal Engine] and then, using reference imagery really go into intricate detail to create the most precise recreation of the venue that we could”.
Spahr added: “We were able to take the latest technology, push it to the Max [and] deliver an element of realism not only [with] Madison, the venue she performed, in the great Sony Hall and the effects, but then layer some fantastical elements and layers of things on top that you wouldn’t normally get to see in a normal concert venue.
“So there’s a fire sequence that wouldn’t have been possible, there’s a rain sequence that would not have been possible in a physical venue. To be able to use technology to take that experience a little bit further but without losing the intimacy and the in the realism of performance was one of the magical things that happened here.”
“We have vast capabilities to showcase our artist creativity across platforms around the world and the combination of these strengths is a key differentiator in the value proposition we contribute to the music community.”
Dennis Kooker, Sony Music
Also speaking at CES, Dennis Kooker, President, Global Digital Business and U.S. Sales, Sony Music Entertainment, said: “At Sony Music Entertainment we are always seeking new ways to help our artists expand their creative opportunities and reach fans.
“Those possibilities are even greater as a member of the Sony family where we develop unique collaborations between artists and new technology.
“We also have vast capabilities to showcase our artist creativity across platforms around the world and the combination of these strengths is a key differentiator in the value proposition we contribute to the music community.”
“Madison Beer is raising the bar of what’s possible in a virtual concert performance and we couldn’t be more excited.”
Sylvia Rhone, Epic Records
Said Sylvia Rhone, Chairwoman and CEO, Epic Records: “Madison Beer is raising the bar of what’s possible in a virtual concert performance and we couldn’t be more excited.
“With this cutting-edge collaboration of music and technology, Madison has brought her innovative vision to life in a unique way while taking it to new heights.
“This is another example of Epic’s commitment to empower our artists with groundbreaking opportunities to expand their creative options and engage fans through immersive experiences.”
2020 was a decisive year for the virtual concert business, with the music industry’s hand forced into investing in and exploring the possibilities of online events, because of, you know what.
Early on in the pandemic, Travis Scott’s ‘Astronomical’ Fortnite event attracted 27.7 million viewers across five pre-recorded ‘sets’, arguably catalysing a paradigm shift in the expectations of what could actually be achieved with virtual performances.
Last year also proved to be pivotal for Sony Music (the owner of Scott’s label, Epic Records), because, determined to stand out as a prominent player in the convergence of the gaming, music and immersive media worlds, 2020 arguably became the year that its “One Sony” strategy evolved from concept to reality.Music Business Worldwide