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Music for VR: Why VR is the Ultimate Playground for Music Producers
4 min read

Put on your VR goggles and step into an immersive world where high-end, hyper-realistic graphics are accompanied by mood-setting music. In the past few years, the metaverse and virtual reality have been two buzzwords that have taken the internet by storm. From virtual concerts to a series of increasingly affordable VR goggles, virtual reality, and more specifically, music for VR, have been on every music professional’s lips. But why is VR music such a hot topic, and above all, is it a lucrative career path for music producers looking for something different?

What is virtual reality?

Virtual Reality, also known as VR, refers to a simulated experience that is either similar or completely different from the real world. To access this reality, you typically need a VR headset or other immersive devices that allow you to interact with the simulated environment.

Virtual reality is heightened by a wide range of sensory experiences. Of course, the most prominent is sight. However, sound plays an important role in truly immersing the user into the simulated world.

When was virtual reality invented?

The term “virtual” has been around the 1400s, with French playwright Antonin Artaud dubbing “virtual reality” in 1938 . It wasn’t until 1968, however, that Ivan Sutherland and his students created the first VR head-mounted display (HMD) in 1968. The device was a breakthrough moment, as it was the first of its kind and turned virtual reality from a concept to reality.

Virtual reality technology became more widespread and commercially available in the 1990s, with companies such as Sega and Nintendo releasing the Sega VR headset and the Virtual Boy console. In the 1990s, there was a boom in virtual reality research and technological development. In fact, it was during this decade that the first cubic immersive room, the first real-time interactive immersive movie, and commercial immersive VR devices were released.

The relationship between music and VR

Like movie soundtracks, VR music plays a significant role in heightening the user experience within the simulated environment. It’s an effective way to establish an emotional connection between the individual and the virtual world, and a great way to establish a story. For many VR experiences, music guides the narrative and creates a more compelling and immersive journey.

Through spatial audio, music becomes part of the story, sets the mood and becomes an integral part of the experience. In contrast to a movie soundtrack which simply accompanies the story, VR music drives the story forward.

Virtual concerts are a good example of the strong relationship between music and VR. Virtual concerts, a.k.a metaverse performances, exploded in popularity over the COVID-19 pandemic period. In particular, Fortnite’s Travis Scott metaverse performance paved the way for successful virtual concerts that were not only financially successful, but also created an immersive experience that enabled music fans from all around the world to connect with their favorite artist.

The importance of high-quality sound in VR

Sound quality determines the success of VR music in terms of its ability to connect and immerse the audience. In VR, the sound needs to represent the movement of objects within the virtual space, as well as create a realistic sense of  spatialization and depth. Undoubtedly, this requires each sound to be recorded using high-quality audio equipment and edited using specialized audio software designed especially for sounds in a 3D space.

At the moment, single or stereo source natural sound and artificial stereo sound are the two sound categories most commonly available in VR experiences. Single-source natural sound is comparatively inexpensive, as it simply requires a camera that shoots 360-degree videos and a microphone. However, it doesn’t capture the nuance of surround sound.

Stereo-based sound is based on two or four sound points from static locations, rather than a 360-degree experience. In order to create a more immersive experience, sound designers and music producers often need to add audio to stereo through artificial sources.

Spatial audio is the next generation of audio that creates a more complete and immersive experience. It’s a form of digital sound that captures sounds from all directions, and so recreates a surround sound effect that elevates the virtual reality experience.

Opportunities and challenges for music producers producing music for VR

The VR industry is projected to reach US$52.05bn by 2027. It therefore offers a unique opportunity for music producers who want to explore a career path adjacent to the music industry. Undoubtedly, it allows music producers to use their full skillset, as it needs narrative and immersive music which responds to the user’s movement.

However, producing music for VR presents a number of challenges. To ensure high sound quality, music producers need to invest in specialized software and hardware that can actually capture and render 3D sound. As it’s an evolving technology, both the software and hardware can be quite expensive. Music producers must also learn certain techniques from scratch, which requires time, money and resources.

In addition to the cost barrier, music producers working in music for VR need to have a deep understanding of sound design and spatial audio. VR depends on the illusion of immersion, so producers need to produce high-quality and movement-specific audio that reflects the virtual world.

Despite these challenges, there’s a goldmine of opportunities for music producers who want to engage in a fast-growing industry. In the US, the average sound designer makes around $71,949 a year, with an entry level salary of $42,000 yearly. By embracing the unique quality of VR music, music producers can push the envelope of traditional music production and land profitable gigs while they’re at it.

Facilitate your production process using Pibox

If you’re a production team working on music for VR, chances are that your process involves a lot of back and forth. Instead of sending huge files and hoping nothing gets lost and there’s no miscommunication, you should use Pibox instead.

With Pibox, you’re not only able to review content, but also have a central space where you can communicate with your team members and clients. Safe to say, this will revolutionize your process and level up your game. Try Pibox today to experience next-level productivity yourself.

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