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.

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

Sound is the Word

A #MusicMonday shout out (loud) to Sweden indie pop darlings, Shout Out Louds, and their track that inspired the title of this blog. 

I thought this was going to be a quick post, before realizing that this track only appears on the Scandinavian release of their album, Howl Howl Gaff Gaff (2005), and thus was impossible to track down on Spotify and YouTube. Luckily the good folks over at I Crave That Sound had the Soundcloud link available. Ahhh...and all is right with the world.

P.S. Sandy Hayashi, if you're reading this, remember when we interviewed them for Visionz in 2007?

Tweeted from the bottom now I'm here

 4 years ago today, I sent a tweet that would become the defining point of my career.

But before I get to that story, I need to give you some context. It was early 2011, and I was an unemployed 24 year old living in my mom's house in Santa Clara, California. This was the house I had lived in throughout most of my high school years, and the room hadn't changed one bit since then -- the walls were still painted a splotchy shade of turquoise, decorated with set lists peeled off of the stages of San Francisco's concert venues and signed by obscure indie bands.

I had just moved back after spending a year and a half in London, where I did an MA degree in International Broadcast Journalism at Westminster University. After the initial excitement of catching up with family, friends, and getting thoroughly reacquainted with proper Mexican food, the dreaded quarter-life crisis came in like a wrecking ball. My student loan money was nearly all spent, and I had no job prospects.

At this point, a typical day was something like:

10am: Eat a bowl of cereal while transfixed by games of Plinko on "The Price Is Right."


Afternoon: Halfheartedly scour job sites, anticipating rejection before even writing a cover letter because the job market was so grim.

Evening: Crap, dinner time already? Guess it's time to get out of pajamas and take a shower...

Late night: Distract myself from thoughts of, "what's wrong with you? Why haven't you found a job yet? You had a stable job before, why did you have to give it up for London? Look at you now, you unemployed slacker!" by reading books, watching TV shows/movies, and browsing the internet until passing out.

So yeah...it wasn't one of the happiest periods in my life. Luckily, the power of Craigslist and my mom's instinct joined forces to get me out of this funk. She was also unemployed at the time and, while on her own search for work, came across a Craigslist posting that she thought I should take a look at. It was at a small startup in Mountain View, and they were looking for a summer music writing intern. Because I had been doing music journalism since I was 18, she thought it would be right up my alley.

Initially, I dismissed the posting because I thought that with a Master's degree, I deserved a job way beyond internship level. Besides, it wasn't supposed to start until summer and it was only early February. What would I do until then, even if I applied and managed to get the internship? But after taking the time to thoroughly read through the posting, everything that was written in it resonated with me. I remember feeling physically tingly with excitement while reading the tasks this internship would require. At this point, I decided it was worth it to dig a little deeper and to find out everything I could about this company, 955 Dreams. Mostly to make sure it wasn't really a phone sex hotline ("for a good time, dial 955-DREAMS").

In actuality, they had just built this cool iPad app called The History of Jazz, which was an interactive timeline of jazz history.

In my research, I found the company's Twitter handle and saw that they only had a couple hundred followers. At this point in my job hunt, I was so jaded that I just had a "meh...I kinda don't give a shit about anything right now" attitude. So instead of just sending a cover letter and resume like any sane person would do, I impulsively decided to tweet at them, "You can take down your internship posting now. www.linkedin.com/in/amandavanwest." To my surprise, just a couple of minutes later I received the following DM:

First tweet
First tweet

The next thing I knew, I was invited to their History of Jazz launch party, where I had to meet all of the founders and their closest friends, family members, and professional acquaintances before going through the formal interview process. Luckily my decision to stick to a two drink maximum (while encouraging other party-goers to imbibe more...) meant that I made it through the party without embarrassing myself, and I was invited in the following Monday for the interview. I was given an assignment to pick an up-and-coming band and write a short review on their music, so I wrote this review of The Vaccines self-titled EP. 

Shortly after, I was given an official offer and I became the company's first hire.

Welcome to the family
Welcome to the family

Four years later, I'm now the most senior woman in the company, singlehandedly running our music discovery app Band of the Day. I'd like to think that my geeky inner 17 year-old Strokes/indie band fangirl would be proud if she could see me now.

It's been an incredible learning experience, peppered with a heavy hand of surreal moments like judging a Battle of the Bands competition in the Bahamas, speaking on a music tech panel in Spain, and putting on a showcase during SXSW that resulted in tens of thousands of people wanting to get in.

Needless to say, I'm excited to see what this next year at Applauze (a necessary name change!) will have in store. Like any other tech startup, we've gone through our fair share of ups and downs, but I think our strength lies in how we've used the downs as learning experiences, and so that's how we've managed to prevail.

I'm not sure if anyone besides my mom and the spambots reads this blog, but if you've somehow stumbled over here, feel free to leave a comment. Or, y'know, just tweet me.

The Obligatory "Amanda's Top 14 Tracks of 2014" Playlist

It's nearly the end of December, which means my inbox is starting to explode with lots of "so what were your favorite albums of the year?" messages from friends and colleagues. So far I've ignored all of these messages (sorry, pals!) because my mind completely goes blank when I'm asked that question. Why? Because my music ADD is at an all-time high, and I actually rarely listen to full albums.

This is mostly due to the fact that I've been the sole curator of Band of the Day app for the past couple of years, which requires listening to an obscene amount of music in order to effectively choose the best bands to feature. To put it into perspective, that's over 1000 bands I've had to choose, which is drilled down from at least 5-10 times that amount of music listening! But hey, if "I have to listen to TOO much new music" is the worst part of the job, it's not a bad one to be in ;)

Right, back to the matter at hand - my personal list of stand-out tracks released in 2014. I'm too indecisive to rank them, so I've taken the lazy way out by posting them in alphabetical order. Hope you discover some gems from this list, and I'd love to hear feedback on what your favorites were (the YouTube playlist up there has every track).

1. Benjamin Booker, "Violent Shiver" - This is a song that had me going, "Whoa. Who IS this guy?" the first time I heard it. Bluesy, gritty, with just a hint of punk.

2. Dillon Francis feat. DJ Snake, "Get Low" - Oh hey, you didn't realize I also like mainstream music? It's dirty, ridiculous, and any song that causes such a mass dance floor frenzy every single time is a-OK in my book.

3. Fink, "Looking Too Closely" - Gorgeous vocals, heartbreaking melody, utterly captivating.

4. Hamilton Leithauser, "Alexandra" - Dude from The Walkmen. He's still got it!

5. Johnny Stimson, "So.Good." - For a panty-dropping good time, call Johnny Stimson.

6. Kishi Bashi, "Philosphize It! Chemicalize With It!" - I wish I wasn't scared of trying 'shrooms. Because otherwise I'd eat a whole bunch, listen to this song, and run around a psychedelic forest wonderland.

7. Michael Jackson, "Love Never Felt So Good" - there's a 1 in 7 chance that if your song title has the words 'so' and 'good' in it, it'll make my playlist (see: number 5).

8. Milky Chance, "Stolen Dance" - I can't read their band name without thinking of the scene in This Is England when Milky gets beaten up ("Wake up, Milky! Milky, wake up!" cries the little kid). But I digress. Again. Anyway, it's a song that's gotten a ton of airplay this year, but one that I'm always happy to hear and never skip over.

9. ODESZA, "Say My Name (feat. Zyra)" - ODESZA is the perfect intersection between glitchy electronic pop and indie pop, and Zyra's vocals are hypnotic as she sings, "I wanna dance, I wanna dance, I wanna dance with you/So take a chance, take a chance"

10. Porter Robinson, "Sad Machine" - I still get chills from the opening melody of this song. Stunning!

11. Rich Aucoin, "Are You Experiencing?" - Hands down, one of my favorite live acts EVER (please watch the video to see what I mean!). And this song is pretty much the epitome of sonic serotonin: uplifting, makes you feel alive. <3 <3 <3

12. Terror Pigeon, "Girl!" - Another one of those 'makes you feel so alive' tracks. Starts out a little slow, but then builds up into an explosion of awesomeness. I can only imagine how much fun they must be in concert, and I'm hoping to catch them in 2015!

13. White Arrows, "We Can't Ever Die" - One time a dude hit on me by asking, "do you #YOLO?" I wanted to say, "No sir, because that's not grammatically correct!" But I didn't. And now I'm guessing by the title of this song that White Arrows also don't YOLO. #TeamImmortality #FTW

14. Yellerkin, "Solar Laws" - Love at first listen. Seriously, how could you not fall in love with those melodies and vocals?