Exploring the VR Music Landscape

**Note: this is a piece I originally published for acidVR's blog, available here**

It’s only been a little over a year since Facebook and YouTube started supporting 360-degree videos, but that’s enough to have caused one of the most dramatic and exciting shifts of music video creation and consumption in recent history. And with VR devices like Google Cardboard,Samsung Gear VR and Oculus Rift entering more and more households, music videos in this new format are becoming rich immersive experiences that can completely transform a music fan’s emotional connection to an artist or song.

Rather than music videos serving as passive experiences for viewers, this new technology puts the fan in the center of the action. Still, it’s a relatively unexplored landscape in the grand scheme of music videos available online.

If you do a simple YouTube search for “music video”, with the 360-degree filter selected, there are only around 31,000 results (as opposed to 292 million results without that filter). The most-viewed VR music video is Avicii’s “Waiting For Love”, with nearly 17.5 million views — a seemingly impressive number until you compare it to the most-viewed music video of all-time, PSY’s “Gangnam Style”, which boasts over 2.6 billion views.

                                                 “Oppa Gangnam Style!”

                                                 “Oppa Gangnam Style!”

While VR music videos haven’t quite hit the tipping point of mainstream status just yet, here are 5 examples of early-adopter musicians and music video directors who are setting the bar high for creative and engaging experiences.

1. The Donnies The Amys “Runaround” (2016)

Created by Spectacular Theory, what’s unique about this music video for Echo Park indie pop group The Donnies The Amys is that it takes us through an apartment party in just one single shot (as opposed to having multiple cuts). As you explore, you can see different band members playing behind various doors, ultimately ending in the main room where partygoers are dancing and tossing inflatable balls.

2. Björk “Stonemilker” (2015)

It’s not surprising that the trailblazing Icelandic artist is one of the first few to embrace this medium. The video, her first foray into VR, is actually relatively simple. It features Björk on a stunning and completely empty beach in Iceland (Grótta, where she wrote the song with a 30 piece orchestra), singing and gesturing straight to the camera. The viewer has the option to follow her as she runs and twirls around the beach, her canary yellow dress billowing in the breeze, or to look around and take in the breath-taking landscape.

3. D’Cinnamons “Sweet Memories” (2015)

Hailing from Indonesia, D’Cinnamons are an acoustic indie pop group whose 360-degree video for “Sweet Memories” shows that VR can be engaging even without bombastic production values. This video is set inside of a cafe, and allows the viewer to switch between watching the band perform and people-watching. For those who look in unexpected places, there are a few Easter eggs that make the video even more whimsical (example: if you look down at the floor in one particular part of the song, a message appears saying “Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.”)

4. Foals “Mountain At My Gates” (2015)

This is one of the most-viewed 360-degree music videos on YouTube (over 9.3m views), a result of a) killer track + b) high production values. It was shot entirely on a spherical GoPro Hero camera at London’s Alexandra Road Estate, set against a fictional backdrop of an imposing mountain range. As the song climaxes, lighting flashes in the cloudy sky while swarms of black crows fly erratically, ultimately leading to the mountains crumbling away.

5. Hello play! presents “The Future of Music” (2016)

While not technically a music video in the traditional sense (though it does feature the song “Searching” by Belgian producer Polar Youth), it’s still worth highlighting this music video project as an innovative example of VR. The viewer is immersed in a candy-colored surrealist universe where its laws of physics make about as much sense as its cast of bizarre characters. Depending on where you look, you could be watching a person in a black and white checkered bodysuit sit on a ball until confetti explodes out of it, a man wrapping himself in rolls of toilet paper hanging on the wall, or a woman flying through a vortex of paint.

The Future of VR + Music Videos

“Music and art and culture is escapism, and escapism sometimes is healthy for people to get away from reality.” — Chuck D

Music by its very nature, even without a VR video, has the power to completely whisk us away and evoke every imaginable emotion. As VR technology becomes more advanced, and more accessible to both creators and consumers, music videos will perhaps become one of the most powerful forms of escapism.

Though we’re already seeing some innovative examples of VR and music, it’s exciting to think of what awaits us further down the line of this convergence of music and technology.

Arts At USF: Don’t Discount That Passion Career Just Yet

A couple of months ago I received an email from a student at the University of San Francisco named Daniel Morgan. He had heard about my background in music/media/tech, and wanted to write up an alumni article about how I've created my career path. 

I had a wonderful experience within the Media Studies department at USF, so I was happy to share my story. The full article can be accessed here. Thanks for reaching out, Daniel!

When life takes away your tacos...

My friends Jon and Risha and I were 100% determined to get post-dance party tacos last night. So much that we left our group, hopped in an Uber, and went across town around 2am.

Alas, the heavenly gates of Taqueria Cancun were closed for NYE. 🙅🏻🌮 Instead of just leaving in defeat and feeling foolish for the wasted cab ride, our noses followed a most delicious and familiar smell wafting from a stand across the street: bacon-wrapped hot dogs!

So stoked for our purchase

So stoked for our purchase

As the grilled onion and bacon grease hit my lips, I realized there was a poignant metaphor here (that, or I was still feeling the last vodka drink...): sometimes we REALLY want things in life, and we put so much effort into turning those wants into reality, but then forces outside of our control shut it down. And it feels devastating when that happens.

But just remember: when life takes away your tacos, there will ALWAYS be a delicious bacon-wrapped hot dog just on the opposite street corner. 😋🌭

Cheers to a brighter 2016! ✨

Don't Scam Me, Bro

**Update as of 10/4/16: Thanks to all of the people who've left comments on this post! Apparently this company has now rebranded itself as http://collegementoring.co and there's a man by the name of "Michael Williams" reaching out to people as Director of Public Relations. As far as I can tell through my research, this company is all tied in with the same parent company "Utopian Life Partners" (who own Admitopia and an online dating profile website).**

A few days ago, I was approached by a company called Admitopia. I was told by the representative, Jeff, that he had found my resume online, and he wanted me to join as a part-time phone consultant to students/parents of students who are thinking of applying to my alma mater, the University of San Francisco. Initially it sounded like a great side gig - $15/hr + helping out young students? It seemed almost too good to be true, but I decided to move forward with an initial phone interview with Jeff, the Director of Public Relations. 

During the call, he informed me that all I would have to do to sign up is provide a photograph of myself and a few sentences about me and my experience at USF. Then, once they set up my profile on their website, I'd be matched with parents and students and could start taking phone calls within a few days. After the call, I couldn't help thinking, "what's the catch?"  So I decided to do some digging. This is what I found, and what led to the subsequent email response to Jeff:

So far, I've yet to receive a response from Jeff. Has anyone else been approached by Admitopia, or know more information than what I've found? Curious to know more about this strange venture. 

A Reflection On Self-Improvement

Last night, I imported all of my Wordpress blog content over to the blog section on this site. As I was browsing through the archives, I came across an unpublished draft from December 2006, and it just struck me to see how much I've changed from age 20 to age 29. To give some context, that post was written a month before leaving to study abroad in London (which was also my first overseas trip). I was just wrapping up the first semester of my junior year of college at USF, where I was rooming with my friend Steena, who I had known since high school. 

This was a really difficult time in my life. I never really found my place at USF, and I was also dealing with a lot of health problems related to an untreated thyroid disorder. That's part of what sparked my decision to study abroad. Three years of college had passed by without me really making an impact on anything or anyone, and I had this romantic notion that getting far away was the only way to shake up my life and help me figure out my path. Here's an excerpt of the post:

Not only do I want to change myself physically, I also want to change my attitude about certain things. Steena has made a TON of new friends this year, and I guess in a way I’m a little bit jealous. Or maybe not jealous, but just sad/mad at myself that I didn’t put myself out there like she has. I really admire the way that she’s just gone out there and has been very outgoing with people. Last year and the year before, we were in the same boat. I just wish that I had the balls to be like her. I have made some new friends this year, but not that many. And not the kind I can just call up and say, “hey, wanna do something?”

I’m sure people would probably want to do something if I asked them, but I can never bring myself to do it. I have the mindset that people are already in their own cliques and that there’s no room for one more. It’s probably not really like that, but it feels that way. Once people introduce me to their friends, however, (like with Steena’s) I’m perfectly normal/outgoing with them. It’s just that somewhere along the line, I have lost the ability to make good friends without the middleman.

I suppose that, in a way, I’ve always been a little bit shy about meeting new people. But it was never to the point that I felt the inability to simply introduce myself. It’s like my social skills are dwindling. We’ve tried to meet people at Popscene, for instance, but I’m not usually the one who instigates the conversation. If I am, it’s only because I’m pushed to. I hate that. I want to be the one who is at ease with everyone, who is everyone’s friend.

I’m hoping that I’ll be ‘revitalized’ in London. I’m looking at is as a way to start anew. Since I will be going there completely alone, I’ll sort of be forced to be social with people. I really want to meet a lot of locals as well. I want to explore London as much as possible, unlike what I’ve done at USF. It’s my third year here, and I don’t have much to show for it. I don’t feel like a local. I don’t feel like I know the city at all...it’s just a casual acquaintance. I haven’t really given it a chance, and I don’t want to do that with London. I want to find some sort of independence there, but at the same time, I want to develop new friendships. Not to replace my current ones, but as a supplement.
Steena & I during college

Steena & I during college

In the nine years since writing that post, I'm proud to report that I've nearly become the person that 20 year old Amanda hoped she would be. I'm so much more confident, social, and outgoing, with an amazing network of human beings all over the world. 

Coachella 2015 crew

Coachella 2015 crew

It was by no means a quick/easy process to become present-day Amanda, and I still feel like there are a ton of things I can improve about myself, but the point of this post is to put it out there (to whoever's reading this, friend or stranger) that you have the power to make big changes in your life if there are aspects that you're unhappy with. And it's OK if that process is a gradual one. Find the people who inspire you, and try to emulate what makes them successful. To that point: Steena Villamil, thanks for being such an inspiring friend and roommate over the years. :)

Steena & I in Mumbai, 2014

Steena & I in Mumbai, 2014

 

 

Outside Lands Festival 2015: Band of the Day picks

osl15

Less than one week to go until we’re grooving in the groves at San Francisco’s Outside Lands Fest! To help you navigate the lineup, I’ve put together a list of all of the bands that were ever featured in Band of the Day app, and playlists for each day.

FRIDAY 8/7 (click here to listen to the Spotify playlist)

Amon Tobin - A legendary electronic music pioneer explores otherworldly sounds and melodies

Iration - Spreading feel-good waves of reggae infused with sunny rays of pop and rock

Alvvays - Starlit indie pop that glitters like sea glass, from a Canadian group inspired by jangly Britpop

The Family Crest - Communal creators of audacious Baroque/orchestral pop

The Revivalists - Zealous roots rock spirited by the funky essence of New Orleans

ranger dave full

SATURDAY 8/8 (click here to listen to the Spotify playlist)

Tame Impala - Arena-ready rock steeped in 1960s psychedelia and tied together with a tight pop sensibility

Milky Chance - Elegant electronic production with acoustic guitars and lilting, lush vocals

Angus & Julia Stone - Gruffly majestic country-folk

Classixx - Coastal summer anthems with impossibly sunny dance grooves

UMO - Gloriously psychedelic lo-fi funk over warped hip hop beats

Misterwives -Join a trio of New Yorkers on a vivacious excursion through turnpikes of soul, dance, and pop

Langhorne Slim - Rollicking folk-rock gems from a true American troubadour

Twin Peaks - Nods to godfathers of guitar-guided pop, but fueled by gallons of garage rock

Fantastic Negrito - Channeling his Blues forefathers to tell the story of a life rebuilt after destruction

Can't wait to bask in his crotch

SUNDAY 8/9 (click here to listen to the Spotify playlist)

Slightly Stoopid - Catch a whiff of feel-good vibes from one of the defining bands of California's reggae/rock scene

Hot Chip - The U.K.'s brainiest dance group injects some joyful house into their quirky electro-pop sound

The Devil Makes Three - Raw and raucous trio inspired by both old n’ new timey barn-burners

ODESZA - An electronic wonderland of glitched-out vocals and visceral pop hooks

James Bay - Stark, elegant acoustic strumming powerfully delivered by a 22 year-old singer-songwriter

Allah-Las - Californian surf rock for bumming around in a 60s-style beach bungalow

Shakey Graves - Powerful and mesmerizing lo-fi folk/blues from a true Texas gentleman

Givers - Louisiana's jubilant musical altruists combine indie pop with Afro-beats

Kidnap Kid - Expressive, emotionally-charged house music from one of the UK's rising producers

Sometimes I ambush interview bands (in this case, The Vaccines)

Back in the summer of 2011, right before the release of Band of the Day app, I decided that I wanted The Vaccines to be the very first band featured on the day the app launched. They had caught my attention when I was finishing up my MA degree in London the year before, and I had written a review of their EP as part of the application process for my job. I saw that they were coming to San Francisco, so I reached out to their record label to try and set up an interview with the band. At the time, given that the app was unreleased, my request was (understandably) ignored. Nevertheless, I decided to prepare some questions anyway, banking on the chance to introduce myself to them directly at the show and get that interview.

I dragged my friend Jon, and after their sweat-inducing set we went outside to have a drink and catch some air. We spotted bassist Arni Arnason hanging out in the same area, so Jon prodded me to just go over and talk to them. As extroverted as I appear to be, I actually hate approaching people. I'm completely comfortable chatting to people when they approach me, but I find that making initial contact with a stranger brings up a lot of anxiety. But I also knew that I really wanted to get that interview.

So I took a deep breath, quickly downed the rest of the liquid courage that was in my hand, walked straight over to him and said, "Hey! I'm Amanda. Can I ambush interview you?"

He gave a bemused chuckle and said, "Sure, as long as you don't ask boring questions." I promised that he wouldn't be bored because, if I'm truly confident about one thing, it's that I'm not a boring person. And this is the conversation that followed:

Listening back to it four years later, I can't help but self-criticize on a few bits ("You respond with the word 'nice' too much!"; "Your voice sounds really weird there!"), but overall it warms my heart that I have audio documentation of where I started from in that first year of working on Band of the Day app. I came into the role with very little professional experience and, today, on the very last day of the app's existence, I now have 4.5 years of a crash course into working in both the music and tech startup industries.

Oh, and I'm happy to report that I finally got clearance to feature The Vaccines in the app. 

Playlist: Global Fund For Women

Last month, my friend JP Pineda, who runs JRNE Artist Management, reached out to me to collaborate on a female-powered playlist for an event put on by a really cool organization called Global Fund For Women. One of his artists, the Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Carolyn Malachi, was a key part of their #hackgirlsrights campaign. Meant to post this earlier, but better late than never! Enjoy! :)

JRNE: Global Fund for Women Playlist