meta-scriptAcademy Members Advance The Fight For Artists' Rights in State Capitals Across the Country |
Recording Academy advocates from the CA Arts Advocacy Day
(L-R) Neshele Renee, Scott McDowell, Matt Benson, Angela Benson, Qiana Conley Akin, Amilcar Welton, Christen McFarland, Michael Prommer, Jennifer Reason, Lewis Robertson, Rachel Robertson, Megan Winsor, Vanessa Eliasson.

Photo: Vanessa Eliasson


Academy Members Advance The Fight For Artists' Rights in State Capitals Across the Country

Recording Academy members from the Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco Chapters convened with state legislators to address pressing concerns, including the misuse of individuals' likenesses in the age of generative artificial intelligence.

Advocacy/Apr 25, 2024 - 01:55 pm

Last week, spanning from Springfield to Sacramento, the Recording Academy continued to empower artists and creators through impactful state Advocacy Days. These Advocacy Days highlighted the Academy's unwavering commitment to championing legislative measures that protect and favor artists in the ever-evolving digital landscape.

In Springfield, Illinois, Recording Academy members from the Chicago Chapter convened with members of the Illinois General Assembly to address pressing concerns surrounding the misuse of individuals likeness in the age of generative artificial intelligence.

Central to the discussion was the proposed legislation, HB 4875/SB 3325, which aims to modernize Illinois's Right of Publicity law to specifically address the challenges artists face from AI-generated creations. Since the legislation's introduction the Recording Academy has been a staunch advocate for HB 4875/SB 3325 and how it establishes key safeguards and enforcement mechanisms to ensure an individual's identity is not misappropriated.

Just 24 hours after Advocacy Day in Illinois, the legislation swiftly passed the House by a vote of 79-24 and is now headed to the Senate. Should it be enacted into law, Illinois would become the second state in the nation to proactively protect creators from having their likeness misused by generative AI, setting a vital precedent for other states and the federal government to follow suit. The Recording Academy's advocacy efforts in Springfield reflect a broader commitment to fostering an environment where artists can thrive without fear of exploitation or infringement.

Meanwhile, across the country in Sacramento, California, Recording Academy members from the San Francisco and Los Angeles Chapters joined California for the Arts for its annual Arts Advocacy Day, amplifying their voices in support of legislation that empowers creators and protects their interests. In addition to advocating for robust support for the arts and arts-related funding, among the bills discussed were AB2602 and AB1836, which tackle critical issues ranging from informed consent regarding the use of digital likeness to posthumous protections for deceased individuals.

AB2602 represents a significant step forward in empowering creators by granting them greater control over their digital identity. By requiring informed consent in contracts or negotiations involving digital likeness, the bill promotes transparency and fairness, ensuring that creators retain agency over how their likeness is represented and utilized.

Similarly, AB1836 addresses a glaring gap in California's current Right of Publicity law by extending protections to include deceased creators. In an era dominated by AI-generated replicas, safeguarding individuals' likeness from unauthorized use, even after death, is paramount to preserving their legacy and protecting their families' interests.

As Recording Academy members continue to advocate tirelessly on behalf of artists nationwide, these advocacy days serve as a reminder of the Academy's pivotal role in shaping legislation that fosters a more equitable and supportive environment for creators. By working with creators and amplifying their collective voice, the Academy is effecting meaningful change and paving the way for a brighter future for the music community.

The New York State Senate Passes Bill to Protect Creative Expression: Here's What You Need To Know

Cheryl Pawelski and Jeff Tweedy
Cheryl Pawelski and Jeff Tweedy

Photo: Daniel Boczarski


Jeff Tweedy & Cheryl Pawelski Sit Down For "Up Close & Personal" Chat: 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,' Writing One Song & More

Cheryl Pawelski is the producer and curator of 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition)', which won a GRAMMY in 2023 for Best Historical Album. On Feb. 27, she sat down with Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy about all manner of creativities.

GRAMMYs/Mar 11, 2024 - 02:48 pm

"We don't get the applause. That's later."

That was an offhand comment from Sarah Jensen, the Senior Executive Director for the Recording Academy's Midwest Chapter — ahead of a conversation between Cheryl Pawelski and Jeff Tweedy. But given the nature of the ensuing chat, it's oddly apropos.

On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Wilco's seminal Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, four-time GRAMMY winners Tweedy and Pawelski chatted before a hometown audience at the Rhapsody Theater in Chicago. Pawelski produced and curated Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition), which won Best Historical Album at the 2024 GRAMMYs; Pawelski accepted the golden gramophone on their behalf.

Today, 2002's ambitious, deconstructionist Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is just about universally revered as a watershed for alternative music. But in a David-and-Goliath story told and retold since its release — especially in the documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, Yankee was rejected by its label, Reprise.

Wilco left their label, published Yankee on their own website, and it became a tremendous hit. Nonesuch — which, like Reprise, operates through Warner Records — picked them up, meaning the same record company, in effect, paid Wilco twice.

Ever since, the applause for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot — the one with the immortal "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," "Jesus, Etc." and "Ashes of American Flags" on it — has been unceasing. And, naturally, a hefty chunk of Pawelski and Tweedy's conversation — for the Recording Academy's "Up Close & Personal" interview series, and MCed by Chicagoan family music artist Justin Roberts — revolved around it.

According to Tweedy, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was a pivot point, where they decided to move away from any sort of pastiche.

"There are a lot of things on the boxed set," he said — referring to the plethora of alternate versions of well-known tracks — "where I would listen to them now and go, 'That was good enough.' But it wasn't satisfying… Rock and roll was built on that thing, above all else… be yourself, without any apology, and on purpose."

The "Up Close & Personal" session didn't start with Yankee, though; it started with How to Write One Song, Tweedy's 2020 treatise on the process of… well, writing one song. Which gets as psychologically and spiritually incisive as Tweedy fans would expect.

"I think music in general is a safe place to fail," the prolific songwriter stated. "When you take your ego out of it and you look at it as a daily practice of spending time with yourself in your imagination… once you do it for a long time, it really makes the notion of failure almost quaint or something."

When it comes to songwriting, the 11-time nominee said "nothing's really ever lost. You learn something about yourself writing terrible songs. I know myself better because of the songs that you've never heard."

Tweedy offered other helpful concepts and strategies, like accumulating enough voice memo ideas — for so long — that you can treat them like the work of a stranger. "I'll go through and listen through a bunch of stuff like that," Tweedy quipped, "and go, 'Who wrote this?'"

Pawelski went on to elucidate her rich legacy in the music business — including her fight to get the Band's deep cuts, like Stage Fright, included in Capitol's music budget. (She's worked on archival projects by everyone from the Beach Boys to Big Star to Willie Nelson across her decades-long career.)

Read More: Jeff Tweedy's Blurred Emotions: Wilco's Leader On Cruel Country & Songwriting As Discovery

Tweedy also discussed the magic of collaboration. "I've gotten really good at being alone with people. So I think that facilitates collaboration to some degree," he said. "What I mean is being as forgiving of myself with other people in the room as I am with myself alone."

What was one of his favorites, Roberts inquired?

"The one that probably will always be the most proud of is getting to work with Mavis Staples and contributing something to her catalog, to her body of work that seems to have resonated not just with her audience or a new audience, but with her that she likes to sing, that means something to her. I think that would've satisfied me without it winning a GRAMMY [in 2011]."

When the conversation drifted to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Pawelsky discussed the foreboding process of digging through the sessions' flotsam and jetsam.

"The world kind of changed during the making of this. The band certainly changed, and also, technology changed," she explained. "So we had everything — we had DATs, we had ADATs, we had tape, we had cassettes, we had CD-Rs."

About her process: "I go backwards and try to reconstruct how things happen, and it's always incomplete and I don't know what I'm missing, so it's extra fun. But this particular record was done and undone in a lot of ways… some of the latter recordings sound like they're earlier recordings."

As Pawelski admits, the prospect of stewarding Yankee was "kind of terrifying" because of how meaningful the record is. "It really was a Rubik's cube. I would get the orange side done and I'd turn it over."

As the talk wound down, the subject of Wilco's latest album, Cousin, came up — as well as Wilco's rare use of an outside producer, in Cate Le Bon.

"I thought that it would be really a catalyst for getting something different out of the songs that I write," Tweedy explained. "I like the idea of working with a woman, which I felt like has not happened that much in rock and roll, from my perspective

"So that felt like an inspired bit of lateral thinking," he continued. "that felt so right to me to get to — and that she wanted to do it, and that we were friends, and it did."

To go "Up Close & Personal" with Tweedy is unlike most interviews; his brain simply works different than most, and you walk away pleasantly scrambled and transformed.

Which is what the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot sessions were like — and thank goodness for Pawelski, who shows it's not merely a masterpiece: in all its alien transmissions, vulnerable one-liners and shattered poetry, Yankee continues to engender GRAMMY glory.

Songbook: A Guide To Wilco's Discography, From Alt-Country To Boundary-Shattering Experiments

Robert Glasper
Robert Glasper performs at Los Angeles Chapter Nominee Celebration 2024.

Photo: Jerod Harris / Getty Images for The Recording Academy


The Recording Academy’s Los Angeles Chapter Honored Its Musical Family At 2024 GRAMMY Nominee Celebration

The unofficial kick-off to GRAMMY Week brought people from every corner of the music industry together for a sparkling celebration of Los Angeles' talents.

GRAMMYs/Jan 31, 2024 - 05:26 pm

Hundreds of music professionals gathered Jan. 27 for the Los Angeles Chapter of the Recording Academy’s annual nominee celebration, held at NeueHouse Hollywood. Hailed by Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. as the "unofficial kickoff to GRAMMY Week," the event featured performances by three of this year’s nominees from the chapter: Gaby Moreno, Robert Glasper, and Jordin Sparks

Chapter Board Vice President Lynne Earls said that the unofficial theme for both the board and the chapter this year is "belonging," and those vibes certainly trickled down to the nominee celebration. People from every part of the recording industry came together to enjoy brunch, have some drinks, and mix and mingle. 

Groups of attendees called out friendly greetings to each other, catching up over mimosas and waffles, and attendees exchanged hugs while clad in everything from cocktail dresses to platform combat boots. Not unlike at the actual GRAMMY Awards, fashion was truly on parade at the nominee celebration. Attendees rocked fully bedazzled suits, bespoke leather jackets, and plush safari print hoodies; at least one crystal-covered clutch resembling an old school cassette was spotted.

While many attendees at the event undoubtedly hope to take home a golden gramophone on Feb. 4, Mason took pains to remind the room that being nominated for the award is just as life-changing. "Being a GRAMMY nominee… that goes with you for your entire life and your entire career. On your bio, it's always going to say ‘GRAMMY nominee,’ and hopefully it's going to say ‘GRAMMY winner.’"

In his remarks, Recording Academy President Panos Panay agreed with Mason but made a special effort to remind attendees that being a member of the GRAMMY family is more than just attending an awards show once a year. 

"We're known for the GRAMMYs, which are the big graduation ceremony … but what's important to know is that the Academy works 365 days a year," he said. "We're here to advocate for the creative class." He encouraged non-member attendees to join the Academy, saying "We really would love to have you become a member of this incredible group of professionals." 

Qiana Conley Akinro, the Senior Executive Director of the Recording Academy Los Angeles Chapter, also encouraged attendees to stop into the D.R.E.A.M. Lounge on the second floor of NeueHouse, which had been set up in partnership with Pacific Bridge Arts, Paper Magazine, and Netflix and featured a gifting suite full of Hallmark Mahogany items and a bloom bar by Postal Petals. Several panels were held in the space, which was given the D.R.E.A.M. acronym from the phrase "Diversity Reimagined Engaging All Musicians." Earls talked about her work with Women In The Mix and Academy Proud, while Academy Governor Kev Nish hosted a panel talking about the Gold Music Alliance, which aims to boost the impact of Pan-Asian people within both the GRAMMY organization and the recording industry.

After the panels, various nominees stopped by the D.R.E.A.M. video studio to give testimonials about how they found out they’d been honored. Best Jazz Arrangement, Instrument and Vocals nominee Maria Mendes relayed the importance of being the first Portuguese person nominated for a GRAMMY in the category, as well as her pride in repping her country’s music. Mendes even shouted out the jewelry and fashion designers behind her upcoming GRAMMY ceremony look, both of which are from Mendes’ home country. 

Colombian singer and Best Latin Pop Album nominee AleMor said she’s proud to represent her home country and independent artists. "I'm honored that I get to be here, and I am grateful that I'm alive at the same time as all of the people that are alive now," she told onlookers. "I think music is like invisible medicine, you know, like you listen to a song and it might make you feel good and you have no idea why. We are little magicians in the world, We get to change people's moods, and we get to change the way people see life."

2024 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Full Nominees List

The Los Angeles Chapter Nominee Celebration was made possible by generous support from Premier Sponsor Netflix, Co-Presenting Sponsors Pacific Bridges Arts, Paper Magazine, Official Sponsors SESAC Latin and NeueHouse Hollywood, and Gifting Sponsors Hallmark Mahogany, HYPNO, Fox Dog Productions, the Canadian Consulate, and VYDIA.

Mastering engineer Michael Romanowski,  Spoken Word nominee Shawn William, San Francisco Chapter President Nona Brown, Spoken Word nominee Prentice Powell,  and producer Anthony Caruso
(L-R) Mastering engineer Michael Romanowski, Spoken Word nominee Shawn William, San Francisco Chapter President Nona Brown, Spoken Word nominee Prentice Powell, and producer Anthony Caruso

Photo: Thos Robinson/Getty Images for The Recording Academy


Inside The 2024 San Francisco Chapter Nominee Celebration: A Salute To Creativity & Closeness In The Bay Area

Here’s a special look inside the Recording Academy’s San Francisco Chapter’s nominee celebration, which featured everything from glossy rock formal attire to a surprise performance.

GRAMMYs/Jan 24, 2024 - 05:14 pm

GRAMMY season is in full swing — and the Recording Academy’s San Francisco Chapter knows how to throw a party. Just two weeks before the 2024 GRAMMYs, the San Francisco Chapter’s Nominee Celebration honored its nominees during a bright evening of musical cheer and togetherness.

Held at Berkeley’s Claremont Hotel on Jan. 22 and sponsored by Qobuz, the three-hour event  welcomed all members of the music community — from Chapter board members to emerging professionals in GRAMMY U, all of whom were decked out in their rock formal attire. After grabbing a light bite and snapping photos on the red carpet with family and friends, creators hit the dance floor to DJ D-Sharp (the Official DJ of the Golden State Warriors), who kept the evening’s mood upbeat with much love given to the music of Bay Area legends.

While all the celebration’s attendees glittered in their rockstar outfits, the Chapter’s grinning nominees shone extra bright. The San Francisco Chapter boasts 15 nominees at the 66th GRAMMY Awards, with nods in a vast variety of genres. From rock and reggae to spoken word poetry and contemporary instrumental, the multitude of nominations reflects only a sliver of the San Francisco Bay Area's musical diversity.

"It was clear tonight how meaningful it is to our members to cheer on their fellow chapter-based nominees on Music’s Biggest Night!" Christen McFarland, the chapter’s Executive Director, tells "The San Francisco Chapter members really turned out and brought the celebration energy — many complimented the immense cross-section of the Bay Area music community in attendance. For that we are very proud."

Although this high-energy night marked the chapter’s 12th annual Nominee Celebration, the evening highlighted many exciting firsts. Board trustee Michael Romanowski was spotlighted as the first-ever nominee to receive four of five nominations in the Best Immersive Audio Album Category. First-time nominees Shawn William and Prentice Powell became the Bay Area’s first-ever Best Spoken Word Album nominees — and in just the second year of the newly-added category. Gods of War Ragnarök (Original Soundtrack), which Romanowski mastered and Anthony Caruso produced, also became the first video game soundtrack to be nominated for Best Immersive Audio Album.

Along with celebration, the SF Chapter’s joyous event supported advocacy, another one of the Recording Academy’s vital pillars alongside education and service. Indigenous Pomo artists Rich and Paul Steward of Twice As Good enlivened the ballroom with a surprise performance; the father-son duo blending traditional and contemporary blues and Indigenous music to get everyone on their feet. Later, during remarks from McFarland and Chapter President Nona Brown, Paul helped lead the Berkeley land acknowledgement of the Ohlone tribe in native language — a true highlight of the evening.

"The music community is a place where we can love and support each other, where we can join together and amplify the beauty we see in our communities," said Chapter Board Member and hip hop artist Mandolyn "Mystic" Ludlum, a GRAMMY nominee in 2002. In a world that has historically displaced the arts, Ludlum continued, music remains a special place where people can "be creatives and still thrive."

Leading with care, the Recording Academy serves the thriving music community by honoring the past as well as by inspiring new generations. Whether you’re feeling that collaborative spark in the studio or feeling free with friends at a life-changing concert, at the end of the day, music is about connection and support. The San Francisco Chapter Nominee Celebration honored this mission of the music community — to support not just creativity and innovation, but each other.

With warm congratulations and hugs all around, there’s no doubt the San Francisco Chapter Nominee Celebration was a momentous occasion for Bay Area, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado music professionals — so it’s hard to imagine that the party is just getting started. But Chapter President Nona Brown summed it up best: "We are so very proud of all our nominees, and we’re going to start the party here. Next week, we’re going to take it to L.A.!"

2024 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Full Nominees List

Photo of the immersive Bowie 75 music exhibition

Photo: Ignacio Linares


The Pandemic Robbed Music Of Its Rapport. These Immersive Experiences Are Restoring It In Mind-Blowing Ways.

Sorry, music community: virtual concerts have proven to be no substitute for the real thing. In lieu of festivals and gigs, though — pandemic or no pandemic — these creatives are dreaming up fascinating new avenues to experience music together.

GRAMMYs/Jan 7, 2022 - 04:13 am

David Bowie may have always been moving forward, but he wasn't averse to marking time with an extravagant party. Back in 1997, he celebrated his 50th birthday party at (where else?) Madison Square Garden, joined by everyone from Foo Fighters to Billy Corgan to Lou Reed.

Sadly, he never got to celebrate his 75th, as he passed away at 69 in 2016. But how would he have rang in the occasion? His stakeholders recently contemplated that very question.

"If David were here, he would do something to mark the 75th — therefore, we should anyway," executive and entrepreneur Lawrence Peryer tells "Some new way to engage with David, but also to reach the new generation of fans." 

Given the breath of his discography — and how his fanbase precipitously expands like the boundaries of the cosmos — newly minted acolytes may not know where to begin.

The "Bowie 75" pop-up in Manhattan. Photo: Ignacio Linares

That's why Peryer spearheaded two pop-ups on Heddon St. in London and Wooster St. in the late legend's neighborhood of Soho, Manhattan. Branded as "Bowie 75," the spaces (which opened in Oct. 2021 and will run through late Jan. 2022) are a blend of a retail store, fine art gallery, and Sony 360 Reality Audio space, with Bowie's various personas — Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke — peering at visitors from all directions.

For Bowie disciples and neophytes alike, these spaces offer a tangible, tactile alternative to what Peryer calls "pointing and clicking at home and having a T-shirt dropped off at your door." And he's not the only musical titan to receive such a treatment. Whether it be a splashy pop-up or something even more enveloping, Bob Marleythe Rolling Stonesthe Velvet Underground and Leonard Cohen have similarly planted a flag in meatspace.

But what do these spaces signify in the long run? Can only artists of Bowie's caliber pull this off profitably? Do immersive spaces play a secondary role in the musical ecosystem? And is this the future of how bands interact with fans outside of concerts and festivals?

Here’s how those questions might be answered within the various domains of immersive experiences.

The "Bowie 75" pop-up in Manhattan. Photo: Ignacio Linares

Splashy Pop-Ups

First, to address the question of profitability: the "Bowie 75" spaces are openly retail shops at their core, selling T-shirts, boxed sets and other memorabilia.

"David was a very technicolor artist. He was a pop artist, he wasn't just a fine artist," Peryer says. "So it's okay to have a commercial element or to have excitement and hype."

That said, "We've been very clear with everyone that they are stores, but we didn't want them to simply be stores," he adds. "We wanted to do something that honored the spirit of David creatively, technologically, and also to appeal to a younger audience who wanted them to have experiential elements."

Like the Bowie pop-ups, the Rolling Stones' tongue-and-lips-filled "RS No. 9 Carnaby Street" in Soho, London — a permanent retail store rather than a pop-up — isn't a tacky way to bank on an artist's face, but a sleek, trendy boutique. And like "Bowie 75," its architects are less concerned with the immediate bottom line than its ripple effects in the subject's legacy.

The "Bowie 75" pop-up in Manhattan. Photo: Ignacio Linares

"In a traditional retail store you're planning these things on a very long lead timeline, so we're doing the same thing here," Mat Vlasic, the CEO of Bravado — Universal Music Group's merchandise and brand management company — told Rolling Stone in 2020, adding that the flexibility of said timeline allows for enhanced creative freedom.

There are also Queen and Jack White stores in London, and other household names, from Ed Sheeran to Kanye West, from the Strokes to Kendrick Lamar, have promoted their wares with pop-ups. But for whatever reason, erecting a permanent, artist-specific, brick-and-mortar store hasn't translated stateside.

"In America, they tend to be more event-based pop-ups. It might be a long weekend or something around an album release," Peryer says. "So, I just don't see the long-term investment in retail happening here as much."

A rendering of the "One Love" exhibit in London.

Immersive Exhibits & Performances

Aside from pop-up shops, there's another celebration of a musical icon on the way for fans across the pond. In Feb. 2022, the Bob Marley "One Love" experience will launch at the Satchi Gallery in London. Rather than simply guide visitors through a list of his accomplishments, the exhibit offers unconventional immersions into his hobbies, passions and personality.

"As you exit the music room, you enter the One Love Forest," says Terrapin Station CEO Jonathan Shank, clicking through a 3D mockup. "It's inspired by a Jamaican rainforest and the rural Jamaican landscape, and honestly celebrates a lot of Bob's lifestyle and his roots." Elsewhere, the "A Beautiful Life" room contains foosball tables, soccer goalposts and a pinball machine, celebrating Marley's extramusical pastimes.

This nonlinear approach reflects that of tangible tributes in the States. "A Crack in Everything," a 2019 exhibit dedicated to Leonard Cohen at the Jewish Museum in New York, featured swinging microphones and a ghostly, piped-in choir of online participants, as well as “Depression Chamber,” an installation where the viewer lays in a bed in a darkened room while eerie images manifest on the ceiling.

A rendering of the "One Love" exhibit in London.

Pre-pandemic Bowie and Velvet Underground exhibits — the former at Brooklyn Museum, the latter in downtown Manhattan — similarly left the visitor awash in iconography, era-specific signifiers, and most importantly, classic songs. Immersive music events don't have to be tied to legendary artists, though. 

One Night Records, a London venue that bills itself as "a nightly festival of live music in an underground maze" and "part gig, part festival, part musical adventure," was able to successfully throw "immersive promenade shows" during the thick of COVID-19 by entertaining groups of 40 in 40-minute slots, rather than 300 people at once.

"I think the thing with immersive spaces is this idea of audience agency, that they get to curate their own evening," the venue’s producer, Phoebe Stringer, says. "They can go and see what they want. They can go and be where they want. And it gives them just so much more autonomy as an audience member."

Musicians perform a staged funeral for the "death" of live music during a One Night Records event. Photo: Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images

When it comes to One Night Records, the choices are manifold — participants can enjoy a traditional brass band in The River Railroad, vibe out at the Jazz Bar, or travel through time and space to Jump City, a wartime juke-joint with Rosie the Riveter looming overhead.

Granted, a sense of self-curation applies to the majority of VR events throughout London. But Edel McGrath, the Venue Director for One Night Records, believes there's one relatively untapped market.

"It feels like, no one's really touched on the music side of it, and no one's touched it the way we have," she asserts. "I feel like we can only kind of get bigger and better in that aspect."

Overall, "I think what makes this whole new form of entertainment fun," Shank says, "is that you're not coming here to see ticket stubs and platinum records. You're going to see those things, but you're coming here for the experience of what it feels like … You want the audience to feel like they're in it at all times until they leave."

And in the realm of virtual reality, a gaggle of visionaries are trying to take that feeling into another dimension.

Simeon Hammond Dallas performs on the Dustbowl stage at One Night Records. Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images 

Crossing Into VR

Aside from the plethora of holographic concerts by deceased musicians — Frank ZappaRoy OrbisonTupac Shakur — virtual reality companies are actively staking claims in the music space.

Ernest Lee, the co-CEO of AmazeVR, a company at the nexus of VR and music, admits that the technology can be a tough sell — but if it's executed carefully, it can "bring artists closer to fans than ever before."

"One of the worst things for VR is bad VR, and that gives people an impression of what they think VR is," he suggests. "But a common refrain that we hear when people see our VR concerts is that they never expect anything like this."

AmazeVR both collaborates with theaters — transforming them into virtual reality spaces where the audience is outfitted with headsets, viewing their neighbors as avatars — and converts their experience to 2D for mobile use.

What do they have on the docket right now? An immersive concert in partnership with Roc Nation, featuring three-time GRAMMY winner Megan Thee Stallion.

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"The early footage has been coming out — it's going to be pretty incredible," Lee glows. "It's Meg herself, able to extend a personal invitation to fans that come into her music and join her on this journey." In this case, fans get a virtual, one-on-one concert by Meg, and AmazeVR says they have other A-list artists on the way.

Production costs are heavy for AmazeVR right now, Lee admits. But as with the pop-up creators, they're seeing the forest for the trees: Every production is another brick in the foundation of their virtual database that can add up to dividends down the line.

"Everything we make, we add it to our own library. And also we start automating things as much as possible as well," Lee says. "The lead time is quite long, but as we can drive that lead time way down and the costs way down, then we can make this available for all artists."

While AmazeVR does offer at-home purchases, "Right now, it's only financially viable for A-listers," he admits. "But once the VR industry and the metaverse continue to grow and develop and reach mass adoption, there could be a mean audience there."

A performance by Miro Shot. Photo courtesy of Roman Rappak.

Smaller Bands Getting Involved

While posh retail outposts, museum exhibits and VR extravaganzas are generally walled off to smaller bands at this time, that doesn't mean the creativity stops beyond superstars.

Back in 2015, Jamie xx of the XX and his label Young Turks turned a small Shoreditch boutique into a rainbow-hued record store. When rock band the Used had to cancel an in-person pop-up due to COVID-19, they made a 3D, interactive one. And between shows in NYC, the Baltimore hardcore band Turnstile celebrated the release of their 2021 breakout album GLOW ON with a pop-up in the Lower East Side, selling skate decks and limited-edition vinyl.

But where these pop-ups were mainly offshoots of bands' album cycles, Roman Rappak took the immersive route much, much further. His band, Miro Shot, is something of a hybrid between a band and a tech startup.

"I put out a couple of records with a previous band, and we toured, and did all the things you're supposed to do as a band," Rappak says. "But it got to a point where I realized we were in the model of what bands were in the '50s and '60s, and at the same time, all this exciting stuff is happening in tech."

Looking to start a band that was "a love letter to technology," Rappak and his bandmates toured around Europe, playing cinemas and warehouses where the audience wore VR headsets.

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"At a certain point, we can synchronize the headsets with the music so our audience would suddenly be in the middle of a chorus, flying over a lake or through some sort of spatial landscape," he adds. "It went from being this kind of weird art-punk project to venture capitalists in Silicon Valley saying, 'We'd like to invest in this startup.'"

There was only one problem: Miro Shot was a band, not a startup. Still, they were open to the idea of bleeding their concept from one domain into another — and wound up inviting game designers, filmmakers and coders into their band.

"Somehow, we've had better luck doing that than we would've done with my previous band," he says, "where we were trying to get on these Spotify playlists where 40,000 tracks are uploaded [per day]." And while nobody in Miro Shot "bought a Tesla" upon signing a deal with the record label Believe, it's inarguable that their immersive angle was the ticket to more success.

Because the fact of the matter is, in 2022, album sales are down while the metaverse is exploding. "There are 2.8 billion gamers in the world who are suddenly starting to go to concerts," Rappak reports. "There's about to be this massive convergence between all these things."

A performance by Miro Shot. Photo courtesy of Roman Rappak.

A New Form Of Rapport

Despite a deluge of virtual concerts and festivals since early 2020, all of the above creators agree that the point of musical experiences is the rapport — feeling waves of reactive emotion comb through dozens, hundreds or thousands of consciousnesses at once.

And that's exactly what these immersive spaces are tapping into, whether it be a pop-up or something much weirder and wilder.

"All these [artists] are the fabric of what we think of as music — whether it's the Smiths or the Cure or Wu-Tang or the Stones, or whoever it is — were because of these visceral moments where people were packed together and there wasn't that much space," Rappak says.

He compares the intimate experiences (replicable by VR) to stadium experiences, where the audience is far denser, yet the act has to make up for the distance with pyrotechnics and lights.

"I want to go into a world where I'm face-to-face with six other fans of this band, and I want to go to an afterparty where it's just the 10 of us," he adds. "It's about, 'I'm there and I count' — that I'm relevant within this space."

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Indeed, after almost two years of relative isolation, the core reason we all enjoy music — to find new ways to engage with and relate to each other as human beings — is loud and clear.

"Fans like to do things. They go to events, they wait backstage, they wait near the stage door, they get together and argue and debate," Peryer says. "Of course, you can do all those things online. But I think the nature of fandom is to go out and experience the art and interact with it."

And whether together physically or in the metaverse, at a boutique or a stadium, the frontiers of how we can immerse ourselves in music together seem mostly untapped. That is, as long as promoters, venue owners, and tech developers keep their imaginations about them.

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