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On Wednesday, March 2, Epic Games announced the purchase of Bandcamp and sent waves of shock and confusion through the gaming and music industries. In statements released by the two companies, Epic and Bandcamp said that they “…share a mission to create the most artist-friendly platform that allows them to keep the most of their hard-earned money. Bandcamp will play an important role in Epic’s vision of creating a creator marketplace ecosystem for content, technology, games, art, music and more.
Ethan Diamond, CEO and co-founder of Bandcamp, explained that his company will continue to operate as an independent community, but will use the resources that Epic can offer to bring more benefits to the artists, labels and fans who use the platform.
The clear link between the Epic and Bandcamp crossover is in the Fortnite virtual concert series. As the live music industry has responded to the pandemic, virtual concerts have become increasingly popular. Artists like Travis Scott, J Balvin, and Ariana Grande have all played digitally in Fortnite, while Lil Nas X and Twenty One Pilots have done the same on Roblox. In 2021, Fortnite launched the Soundwave Concert Series, which focused on showcasing top non-US pop artists globally. It gives these artists a platform to reach new audiences while allowing Epic to target hyper-specific markets and demographics.
The acquisition was surprising, but it will surely be seen as the first of many music partnerships as the industry makes aggressive moves toward integrating into the gaming space.
So what are the opportunities for music companies as they enter the metaverse?
Create an orderly environment
Creators are not limited to audio-only releases or music videos. One of the greatest opportunities at stake in immersive digital environments is the ability to design and control every element, from the soundscape to the artist’s interaction.
They can curate the exact emotional experience they want their audience to have. Is this the song of the summer? Put the listener in the passenger seat of a convertible driving through Santa Monica. A deeper, self-reflective piece? Take the audience on an intimate journey with the artist as they work through his emotions in the song. Being able to fully control the environment only deepens the narrative. Listening parties and album releases continually raise the bar, making it an opportunity for artists who can’t put on mega-performances to create the emotional impact audiences crave.
Gamify interaction with fans
In addition to hyper-stylized environments, these activations can incorporate interactive elements. There may be creative ways to gamify the experience of listening to a new artist release. The listener can drop into the example environments above with the ability to walk through, explore, and directly interact with the environment. Maybe there are five hidden objects around that, when you find them, unlock a hidden clue. Or by interacting in scenes or with objects, the listener could influence the narrative or even affect the music itself. By instilling a sense of discovery and incorporating video game-like Easter eggs, artists can directly reward the time spent by their most dedicated fans.
Looking to the Future: Leveraging Artist Associations
McDonald’s has already partnered with musicians with its artist-specific meals (Travis Scott, BTS, J Balvin) and Fortnite has already featured an Ariana Grande performance as part of its concert series. Now imagine if collecting these five hidden Easter eggs in one game unlocks an exclusive Ariana Grande McDonald’s clue.
With their player base of over 350 million registered players who can now look forward to similar events, companies like Fortnite have plenty of users and data to trade. But there needs to be a logical and strategic connection between brands and artist associations to avoid feeling too corporate or inauthentic, which damages reputations. If an insurance company or paper towel brand were to approach Epic for a partnership with Fortnite, it would seem completely incongruous with their existing demographic. Failure to take the intended creative advantage of the platform’s unique features will result in an overly expensive and underperforming referral campaign.
The future of music, games and interactive digital environments is changing rapidly. Many are turning to tech and virtual reality companies to pave the way for the metaverse as they find a way to follow in their footsteps. But how does a brand not get lost in the shuffle? Authentic creativity, honest artistic approaches, and meaningful collaborations. Foster compelling work and partnerships, and be the company responsible for bringing those experiences to the public. Perhaps most people don’t mind strapping on a bulky VR headset, at least for now.
Mike Burke is COO at Made Music Studio and co-host of the Press A Key podcast..
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