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.