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Brands, music and the metaverse

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On Wednesday, March 2nd Epic Games announced its purchase of Bandcamp and sent ripples of surprise and confusion throughout the gaming and music industries. In statements released by both companies, Epic and Bandcamp stated that they “…share a mission of building the most artist-friendly platform that enables creators to keep the majority of their hard-earned money. Bandcamp will play an important role in Epic’s vision to build out a creator marketplace ecosystem for content, technology, games, art, music and more.” 

Ethan Diamond, CEO and cofounder of Bandcamp, explained that his company will continue to operate as an independent community but will be utilizing the resources that Epic can offer to bring more benefits to artists, labels, and fans who use the platform.

The clear connection between the Epic and Bandcamp crossover is in Fortnite’s virtual concert series. As the live music industry reacted to the pandemic, virtual concerts have become increasingly popular. Artists like Travis Scott, J Balvin, and Ariana Grande all have performed digitally in Fortnite, while Lil Nas X and Twenty One Pilots have done the same in Roblox. In 2021, Fortnite launched the concert series Soundwave, which focused on showcasing large non-American pop artists on a global scale. It provides these artists with a platform to reach new audiences while allowing Epic to target hyper-specific markets and demographics.

The acquisition was a surprising one, but will surely be seen as the first of many music partnerships as the industry makes aggressive moves toward integration in the gaming space.

So what are the opportunities for music companies as they make the move into the metaverse?

Creating a curated environment

Creators aren’t limited to audio-only releases or music videos. One of the largest opportunities at play in immersive digital environments is the ability to design and control every element, from soundscape to artist interaction.

They can curate the exact emotional experience they intend for their audience to have. Is it the song of the summer? Put the listener in the passenger seat of a convertible driving through Santa Monica. A deeper, self-reflective piece? Take the audience on an intimate journey with the artist as they work through their emotions in the song. Being able to perfectly control the environment only deepens the narrative. Listening parties and album releases are continually raising the bar, so this is an opportunity for artists who can’t put on mega-performances to make the emotional impact audiences crave.

Gamifying fan interaction

In addition to the hyper-stylized environments, these activations can incorporate interactive elements. There can be creative ways to gamify the experience of listening to a new artist’s release. The listener can be dropped into the example environments above with the ability to move, explore and interact directly with the setting. Maybe there are five items hidden around that, once found, unlock a hidden track. Or by interacting in scenes or with objects, the listener could influence the narrative or even affect the music itself. By instilling a sense of discovery and incorporating video game-like Easter eggs, artists can directly reward time put in by their most dedicated fans. 

Looking ahead: Leveraging artist partnerships

McDonald’s has already established musician partnerships with their artist-specific meals (Travis Scott, BTS, J Balvin) and Fortnite already featured a performance from Ariana Grande as part of their concert series. Now, imagine if collecting those five hidden Easter egg items in a game unlocks a McDonald’s exclusive track by Ariana Grande. 

With its player base of over 350 million registered players who can now expect similar events, companies like Fortnite have a lot of users and data to bargain with. But there needs to be a logical and strategic connection between brands and artist partnerships to avoid feeling overly corporate or inauthentic, in turn hurting reputations. If an insurance company or paper towel brand reached out to Epic for a Fortnite partnership, it would feel completely incongruous with their existing demographic. Failing to take intentional creative advantage of the platform’s unique features will result in an overpriced and underperforming sponsorship campaign.

The future of music, gaming, and interactive digital environments is rapidly shifting. Many are looking to tech and VR companies to lead the way into the metaverse while finding a way to ride in on their coattails. But how does a brand not get lost in the shuffle? Authentic creativity, honest artistic approaches, and meaningful collaborations. Foster compelling work and partnerships and be the company responsible for bringing these experiences to the public. Maybe then most people won’t mind putting on a clunky VR headset, at least for the time being.

Mike Burke is the director of operations at Made Music Studio and co-host of the podcast Press Any Key.

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