It’s been a strange 18 months for music fans and artists, whose gig-going days came to a sudden halt. An unlikely partnership arose in the struggle for a ‘new norm’ in Fortnite and Travis Scott; more than 12 million players tuned in to watch the rapper perform a live in-game concert. Meanwhile, Minecraft music festivals kicked off and Twitch live shows skyrocketed as musicians flocked to the platforms to engage with fans. It might be surprising that video games enable millions of music fans to engage with their favourite artists. But this revolutionary movement could change everything – and we’re only in its infancy.
Music is a means of expression for both creators and listeners. Gigs, merch and physical purchases of an artist’s music are clear avenues for fans to become part of a community or fandom. As gigs are (temporarily) sparse and streaming dominates the vinyl and CD market, ways to express devotion to an artist are diminishing. Step into Rockstar Games’ world of Grand Theft Auto V, however, and you’ll find new ways to express your love for music.
When driving around GTA’s Los Santos, you’re free to pick stations hosted and curated by the likes of Flying Lotus, Soulwax, Frank Ocean, Bootsy Collins and even Cara Delevigne. The virtual city’s nightclubs play host to DJ sets from The Blessed Madonna, Palms Trax, Moodymann, and more. Not only do players get to listen to genres they enjoy, but they can discover new music through these avenues and watch their favourite DJs perform. The game developer has even launched a record label with CircoLoco.
More games are embracing this concept. Call of Duty: Warzone, for example, allows players to unlock ‘War Tracks’ to play as they drive around the map. These are often classics from the 70s, 80 and 90s, but it’s easy to see the potential of this system for contemporary artists. It begs the question: how long until game developers allow players to purchase in-game music they connect with from artists they love?
In 2020, when live events were at an all-time low, in-game purchases were soaring – $97 billion had been spent last year, according to a report by MIDiA. These purchases were mostly cosmetic items to customise a player’s characters or gameplay to express themselves in-game. Gamers tend to spend over $6 a month on games, play for almost 11 hours a week and stream music for over seven and a half hours – the average consumer listens to music for three and a half hours. In addition, 20 percent of gamers buy music merchandise, compared to 8 percent of all consumers, and 14 percent watch live stream concerts, compared to 9 percent of all consumers.
The trend here is that gamers are more likely to purchase and interact with online content. And game developers are starting to realise this. Let’s go back to Fortnite for a second – not only have Marshmello, Travis Scott and Major Lazer all performed in the game, but Fortnite players can also play as those artists by purchasing their skin. The ability to buy in-game merchandise and concerts only strengthens the bond between fan and artist, and is just a glimpse at the possibilities of in-game music merch.
These Fortnite concerts – Minecraft and Roblox, too – are immersive, interactive events that see artists connect with fans in-game, in a unique setting. In the same way, one may never forget a concert they went to in real life; these experiences can easily leave an impression on the fan. It’s likely that logging on to Fortnite one day to interact with a 50-foot Travis Scott will be something you’ll remember for quite some time. Additionally, there are VR games such as VRChat, where the creative potential is even more impressive. Electronic music pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre took to the platform to present his Welcome to the Other Side show in a virtual Notre-Dame.
Now, of course, these extravagant audiovisual concerts and avatars in Fortnite and VRChat will be no cheap affair. In the ordinary world, a smaller artist would bring an AV sequence to project onto a backdrop as they perform, customizing the venue to suit their aesthetic. Minecraft builds on this concept, allowing artists to create their own stages at festivals. For example, American Football performed at Nether Meant last year, which featured a mosh pit and t-shirts for players that read “i literally went to the american football house in minecraft” – another shining example of in-game merch possibilities. If other bands, songwriters and DJs catch on to the potential of Minecraft, we could continue to see block-based festivals tailor-made to an artist’s image.
Twitch is also an effective channel for directly engaging with listeners. Although it’s predominantly used as a live streaming platform for gamers, there are some musicians who have excelled in cultivating a fanbase. According to the Music and Gaming report by MIDiA, singer-songwriter mxmtoon began streaming to Twitch in April 2020. Since then, she’s been connecting with her fans by playing video games and chatting. It doesn’t always have to be about the music, after all. Meanwhile, Johnny Burford and Heidi Raye have hosted the Johnny and Heidi show three days a week, performing cover music by requests from fans and sharing their original tracks.
Not everyone is a gamer, that’s for sure. But for those of us that often hop online, a plethora of new ways to engage with our favourite artists will soon be readily available. It may even bring non-gamers into the virtual world to experience new kinds of concerts. Still, there’s no doubt we’re all glad to be heading back to shows in the real world – no game is capable of dropping you in a real mosh pit… yet.
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