I have been to my share of live concerts and attended a number of
in-world Second Life concerts and open mics. The last time I saw
Suzanne Vega live was in ’96 or ’97 on Randalls Island in New York,
where I saw her gamely lead a crowd of sweaty, drunk Irish people
in a sing-along version of "Tom’s Diner." Comparing this to watching a
3D simulation of Ms. Vega wobble around on my computer screen seems at
first glance absurd. But maybe there is more to these virtual
performances than a poor approximation of the real thing.
At Suzanne Vega’s in-world performance, I was elated to be hearing her perform live in front of a virtual audience of 80-some residents. With her skillfully designed avatar and animated guitar, it was actually easy to imagine that you were at a concert, instead in your downtown Manhattan apartment in your briefs stooping over your laptop (sorry, TMI.)
Suzanne Vega is no neophyte to the power of technology to build an audience for her art. Her website hosts an active discussion board , and the fan site vega.net has for years and years been a gathering point for her international fan base. Vega’s hit "Tom’s Diner" became almost a meme for the re-mix community, with an entire album dedicated to different versions of the song. She recently made available as a free download a new re-mix by Danger Mouse.
In related news, today’s New York Times reports that the internet is bringing new life to live concert performances. With the growing ubiquity of broadband and digital video cams in America, and online video hosting services like YouTube, music fans are posting thousands of bootlegged concert videos online for other fans to enjoy. Savvy underground bands have learned how to leverage these bootleg vids into more CD and concert ticket sales, like this Japanese cosplayer band. Now the music industry is pondering how they can cash in on this phenomenon by creating ad-funded and subscription-based sites hosting concert and rehearsal footage. It’s only a matter of time before the industry starts mining virtual worlds in the same way.
But the money misses the point. The advantage of virtual environments like Second Life is that the wall between musician and audience gets lowered, where people anywhere can listen and interact with the artist in real time. Suzanne Vega is a newb in this world, so she only partially understood
the potential. But all those other amateur musicians like Frogg
Marlowe who perform regularly in Second Life know the pay-offs and
In virtual space, music fans can go from hosting their favorite artists’ videos on their MySpace pages and posting on their discussion boards to actually conversing with the musician about the music, sharing with them what their music means to them. And fans can do nearly all of the things they can do in real world concerts — stage dive, throw their underwear onstage, scream and w00t — short of sleeping with the drummer afterwards. More importantly, they can share the experience with each other, creating that kinship that music fosters ("Dude, you were at that Red Hot Chili Peppers concert in 94 too? I still have scars from it.")
Will Second Life foster the next Dido? I dunno. But it will certainly be an interesting place to experience new music, and connect with the people who create it.
[RL Vega photo by Carlo Verfaille]