As the world continues to open back up, fans have been flocking to in-person events, but digital experiences and virtual reality (VR) remain an important aspect of fan engagement. Music VR company AmazeVR — which just announced a $32 million Series B funding round — recently leveraged both of these trends as it organized the world’s first in-person VR concert tour, Enter Thee Hottieverse, with Megan Thee Stallion.
Although some aspects of the VR tour were similar to a traditional concert tour, it also presented many unique challenges to the team, who didn’t have any precedent to look to as they brought Megan Thee Stallion’s experience to fans around the country.
But the proof of concept was a success: of the 138 total shows in the first leg, 130 were sold out. AmazeVR partnered with AMC to rent out theaters in various cities, but virtually (no pun intended) every other part of the production, from content creation to tour promotion to logistics, was handled by the in-house team.
“We really want to increase the adoption of VR, get people excited about it, and give fans the opportunity to see this without the expectation that the artist’s fans have VR headsets or have an interest in VR,” Jamie Burgess, AmazeVR's VP of Partnerships, tells XLIVE.
“It’s a really unique experience. It’s the hybrid of a virtual concert that we all got used to over the course of the pandemic, which are typically fairly solitary experiences at home on a screen, and a social experience, because we brought in the ability to engage with the avatars of the people next to you. That combination of a digital experience with a real-life experience was really magical.”
He explains that AmazeVR wore many hats throughout the planning and execution of the tour, including that of a booking agent as they leveraged data to book venues in cities based on where Megan’s fans are located. They also sent a crew of team members who traveled to each tour stop and ensured that equipment was delivered and set up properly, and hired additional staff and brand ambassadors in each city to help manage the guest experience.
Each venue was outfitted with Oculus (now Meta) Quest headsets and leveraged AmazeVR’s proprietary software to wirelessly operate the headsets in each theater and project visuals through them. The audio was broadcast through the theaters’ sound systems. One of the biggest challenges the team faced was using the venues in a way that they weren’t specifically designed for, and the fact that not every theater was operating with the same baseline technology.
“We learned a lot and managed to add more layers of efficiency to our processes as we went, making sure that we were in and out as quickly as possible,” says Burgess. “Some theaters may have legacy audio equipment, or legacy projection equipment, or maybe it's just a different brand or different model — we had to make sure that we were able to connect to their systems, and in some cases, rush order some additional sound equipment so that we could make sure our tech would be compatible with their tech.”
By the second leg of the tour, many efficiencies had been worked out, and the team was able to operate with fewer boots on the ground as well as increase the number of headsets in each theater from 100 to 130. AmazeVR also reduced the length of time between each show in each city to minimize travel and other costs.
While working with the artist’s team, AmazeVR was also able to streamline the post-production process. AmazeVR’s virtual reality content is shot at a very high frame rate in stereo, which requires extreme precision and makes things like editing and retouching frame by frame very difficult.
To address this challenge, one of AmazeVR’s AI engineers developed a machine learning tool to automate the process, which is now a tool that can be leveraged for upcoming projects. “For future VR concerts and with the other AI tools that we're building, it's really going to help us revolutionize the way these VR concerts are created,” says Burgess, “because it is a very unique process, and we're learning more and more about it every day.”
Moving forward, the company is working on some K-pop projects as part of its new partnership with Korea’s SM Entertainment and looking into producing more at-home VR experiences that anyone with a headset will be able to access, including Enter Thee Hottieverse, which will soon be available to at-home viewers.
“At the moment, we’re focusing on building out our production tools, speeding up the time it takes for us to create one of these VR concerts, and really providing a platform for artists to create VR concerts for the home market,” says Burgess. Speeding up production entails further developing their camera technology and Unreal Engine rendering process, as well as developing more artificial intelligence tools to optimize camera calibration.
“I think there is a role for these types of in-person events,” he concludes, “but I think the real growth will come from the expansion of the VR market at home, with new headsets coming to market and just the general expansion of interest around the metaverse. That's where we're focused.”