When Apple launched its new $3,500 Vision Pro virtual reality headset this past week, the implication was clear: The future, whether people like it or not, is no longer knocking on the door but inside the living room. (If you can afford one, that is.) The immersive, three-dimensional experience that the headsets — and those from other companies, like Meta — offer is a test of where technology can go, and how humanity may interact through technology moving forward.
But while early reviews focused on the Vision Pro’s relative clunkiness, the quality of the graphics and how it all functions, the possibilities of VR technology are fascinating when applied to music — particularly the idea of 3D, immersive concert experiences. While those types of experiences have been around conceptually for a few years, now — with the company AmazeVR being one of the launch apps on Vision Pro (and also available on the Meta headset) — they are in people’s homes.
AmazeVR was founded in 2015 by Korean company Kakao and first made waves in 2021 after partnering with Roc Nation to produce a virtual reality Megan Thee Stallion concert tour, which was shown in AMC theaters in a dozen cities around the country. It also partnered with K-pop company SM Entertainment for a similar 3D concert experience with the group aespa. But for the past two and a half years, AmazeVR has been working on its app to launch with the Vision Pro headset — and later this month it will unveil a new immersive concert experience with the band Avenged Sevenfold that will, according to AmazeVR creative director Lance Drake, be “our most dynamic and trippy, incredible show to date.” The new launch helps Drake earn the title of EuroJournal’s Executive of the Week.
Drake has been a music video director for over a decade, having worked with the likes of Miike Snow, Steve Angello and Muse. He also directed Muse’s IMAX concert film Simulation Theory, which came out in 2020 amid the pandemic and which led to what he called a bit of an existential crisis as a director, leading him to virtual reality.
“The reason why I decided to do VR was, the Muse videos that I did were adapted by Microsoft into VR games, and they took those adaptations on tour as a VIP experience, and I got to see the fans of our videos actually interact with the music videos I had made, the worlds we had built and the storylines, and I was like, ‘Wait a second, there’s something here,’” Drake says. “So when this opportunity with Amaze happened everything aligned: It’s music-driven, it’s artist-driven, and what we do is like a hybrid between a live concert, a music video and a game.”
Here, Drake discusses AmazeVR’s work in virtual reality and spatial video, the music tie-ins that are beginning to make the technology viable for artists, and the possibilities that exist moving forward. “I think just having spent a decade in music videos and feeling like 2D has hit the ceiling of what people expect, and how it’s kind of just this promotional tool, I see what we’re doing now — and spatial and VR content in general — as a new medium for musicians and visual creatives to go beyond the two dimensional,” he says. “Once you’re seeing content in 3D and it’s in your room and it’s a part of your life in a physical manifestation, it becomes way more meaningful and there’s more value to that.”
This week, Apple released its new Vision Pro VR headset, and AmazeVR Concerts launched as one of the headset’s music-centric apps. What can you do with the Amaze app?
We’re a day one launch on the Vision Pro, having been working in spatial for the past two and a half years. We create VR concerts — we’re shooting the biggest musicians in the world on stereo video and putting them in fully-immersible CG environments and giving users and fans the closest performance they will ever get. The artists are photo-real, performing to you in the most insane CG-driven world imaginable. There’s interactive moments. And over the past two and a half years we’ve been building the VR concert, which is typically four songs from an artist and an interlude in the middle, and it plays out a bit like a standard concert, but it’s 3D, the user is fully in the world with the artist, and it’s the closest performance you’ll ever get in your life. When they’re performing, they’re looking at you and they’re speaking to you.
How long have you been working on this?
I’ve been working with AmazeVR for two and a half years. We started with the HottieVerse with Megan Thee Stallion, which was our launch. We partnered with AMC and we took her show on the road to movie theaters, and fans could get a taste of the future and buy tickets. We played 12 different cities, it sold out at most locations, and then from there we grew. We’ve done five shows since, and we’ve been working on the technology, bringing the budget down. The Megan Thee Stallion project was about a year-long life cycle from creation to premiering, and since then we’ve done shows in two-month life cycles.
What was your experience like working on the Megan project, and what did you learn from it?
I think the big learning lesson was that the market was just not at the point it is right now. We’re at a real precipice with the Vision Pro launch. At the time Megan came out, which was two years ago, we had to come to the fans, we had to create a space in which fans could go to a movie theater, and oftentimes — and this was the blessing of that show — for a lot of people, their first time trying VR was with our experience, because they were fans of Megan and they had this unique chance to do something different within VR. But now we’re at a point where Meta headset sales have been growing exponentially since, and now Apple has entered the ring, and since then we’ve been hyper-focused on launching our own app, so we have our own app on Meta and now on Vision Pro. So we’re now kind of ahead of the game because we’ve been shooting spatial content and building these worlds for what people want to see in VR for over two years.
You guys also have a partnership with K-pop company SM Entertainment, right?
The founders of our company are Korean, they’re engineering geniuses, and they’ve been working in VR for nearly a decade. So we have deep ties in the K-pop industry and have a partnership with SM. And the first show we launched with was aespa; similarly, we did a theatrical run in South Korea, which did really well, and our second show [with] Kai just happened through SM. And we’re going to continue to expand and grow in the K-pop market, especially in the theatrical market because fans are very hungry and eager there for this kind of content.
You also have a new project with Avenged Sevenfold coming out later this month. What can you tell me about that?
Avenged Sevenfold is definitely our most dynamic and trippy, incredible show to date. What sets it apart is that we were able to shoot all five members of the band truly live performing. We took their entire touring team, their back line, and they were on the stage with us and we did a full recording of them performing live on a sound stage, which to my knowledge has not been done in spatial, 3D video. We’re really excited because it’s really putting the musicianship at the forefront. Brian [Synster Gates] and Zackey [Vengeance] playing guitar, you’re seeing every note they play, you’re seeing the vocal performance, and it’s what makes spatial video so special — it gives the user permission to look wherever they want. So you can really focus on the drum fills, you can really see that particular guitar solo, and it’s really bringing that performance element and the musicianship back to the forefront with this show.
What are some of the complications that still need to be worked out with music and this technology?
It’s more just getting the word out and getting people on board. The artists that we’ve worked with — from T-Pain, who is heavily involved in Twitch and the digital world; Zara Larsson, who had a huge Roblox show; and Avenged Sevenfold, who are very involved in crypto and NFTs and Web3 — it’s taken these kinds of artists to invest in us and understand and want to be at the frontier of this. But now that we’ve entered a world where Apple is in the game, I think it’s going to be a lot easier for artists to understand what we’re trying to make, and also we’ve had to do a version of every genre of music to then show to artists for them to see how it applies to them. It was hard for us to take a Megan Thee Stallion show to rock acts and say, “We want to do this for you.” It’s really taken us to fulfill every genre and what that VR concert would look like. But now we’ve done pop, K-pop, hip-hop and now rock; I think it’s going to be a lot easier for bigger artists to see how this applies to them.
Where do you see it going from here?
What’s most exciting with the Apple launch is that it’s not only a viewer, it’s a creative tool. There’s cameras built into it, it’s gonna be a lot easier to be social with this headset, and for users to create this content. I really see this as a new medium, a new genre. For years, especially in the music space, music videos have been a dying art; they’re becoming less and less popular, and a lot more visual focus has been on TikTok. I see this as a new ceiling for creativity and a new bar for fans to invest in and get closer to their favorite artists.