With many music and arts venues closed, St. Louis Park musician Symone Wilson is seeking to help create a virtual venue that’s out of this world.
Wilson is teaming up with Kelsey Jo Geiger, who provides instruction on the music industry business at the Institute of Production and Recording in Minneapolis, and St. Louis Park-based virtual lab REM5. The plan is to create a sprawling virtual venue in which visitors will be able to interact with each other through a variety of devices, take in music, wave virtual glow sticks and even try to find a hidden horse room. The Placebo Records Virtual Reality Venue would be named after Wilson’s own record label.
A St. Louis Park Arts and Culture grant and Metropolitan and Regional Arts Council grant are helping to fund the venue, but Wilson is also seeking to raise $20,000 on GoFundMe.com.
The additional funds would help pay staff for graphic design and marketing work, cover the cost of remaining work on the virtual venue and pay artists.
The venue has a cosmic-style sky along with a variety of rooms for participants to virtually gather to chat or watch videos.
“I definitely want to make it feel like a venue you’ve never been to before or probably can’t exist in real life,” said Wilson, who performs under the stage name SYM1 and worked as a staff member at the SLP Nest youth-centered coffeeshop and music venue.
One space could feature a 24-hour music stream to help create the feel of a listening party. A main stage area would be connected to a Twitch account featuring either live performances or pre-recorded music videos. A “green room” would allow artists to gather together virtually to mingle.
“I want to have that interactive feel, for sure, that everyone craves right now,” Wilson said. “There’s more opportunity for that interaction and engagement, which I heavily miss.”
Like a live venue, a merch booth is planned. It would feature digital art and items linking to an artist’s merchandise website or Instagram page to allow participants to view more of their work.
Beyond seeking to reignite the music community, Wilson said she wants to encourage diversity in the music industry. She plans to create a mentorship program with the assistance of Ro Lorenzen, lead vocalist for the Twin Cities funk band Static Panic.
“She’s a person of color and a person of the LGBT community, which I also am, and so we are both joining heads on getting BIPOC, LGBT and youth involved within the space,” Wilson said of the mentorship plans. “We’ll definitely be promoting that as a big part of the venue.”
In the grant applications, Wilson set a goal that half of the artists involved would be Black, Indigenous, people of color, LGBT or youth.
“I feel like consistently marginalized communities, especially the ones that I listed, are left out too often, and if they are included there’s like one token to every group or scene,” said Wilson, who referenced the electronic pop scene that she is a part of along with other genres. “It’s not always like that, and I’m definitely seeing there be an improvement. But I want to see that happen on just such a broad scale.”
She indicated that she wants to promote diversity through her record label.
“I want to see Black people in opera,” she said. “I want to see white people in rap. I want to see everybody in everything – just mess it all up, whatever the narrative has normally been. I want to see it completely different on every level so that you never expect to see somebody in a certain place.”
Work on the venue is ongoing, but Wilson hopes to launch next month.
Brian Skalak, director of marketing and events at REM5, commented by email, “REM5 STUDIOS is incredibly excited to work with such an innovative group of artists and musicians here in the Twin Cities to make this virtual venue a reality for them. We’ve spent the last year really diving into the use cases for this WebXR platform and making 3D, social worlds accessible on mobile devices to laptops – and, yes, VR headsets.”
Skalak noted other recent work REM5 has undertaken.
“Music and entertainment executions are a slam dunk, but we’ve also utilized the tech to create a Hall of Fame for the Minnesota Twins and a museum on racial inequity,” Skalak wrote. “The possibilities are endless!”
The idea for the virtual venue came about after Skalak suggested to Wilson that Placebo Records could host a virtual event. That suggestion prompted Wilson to brainstorm about a more far-reaching collaboration.
“I felt like there was a need for community to be built up in an intentional way,” Wilson said.
With City Pages ceasing production and no music venues open for months, Wilson said she felt a lack of connection with the rest of the music community.
“I want to feel excited about my community again,” Wilson said. “I want others to feel excited about their communities again. I want them to feel like they have support, and so I want to be able to provide that support and excitement in a way that’s never been done before and is also safe.”
While geared toward the Minnesota music scene, Wilson hopes to bring in artists from across the country and abroad.
While she suggested the virtual venue team’s work could emerge into the real world eventually, she said she would like the virtual venue to remain for music lovers to visit if the weather is bad or they feel like staying in.
“Going to a venue is, like, a lot of time and energy, and sometimes we want to just support and see music without having to leave our homes,” she said. “We can now.”
To learn more, visit placebo-records.com. The fundraiser page is at gofundme.com/f/virtual-reality-venue-for-music-arts-accessibility.
If you’re like everyone else, the last 12 months have been both one big blur and filled with far too many video conferences. Nearly overnight, Zoom and other video conferencing tools became the norm for displaced workers to still connect and meet in the new COVID normal. Quickly, video became the norm even when the meeting could have easily been handled over email or a quick phone call.
In a recent study by the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab, they note that video chat platforms, “have design flaws that exhaust the human mind and body.” They note the four reasons for this exhaustion: Close-up eye contact, seeing yourself in real-time, reduced mobility, and increased cognitive load. Now, amplify this over an entire year, and you can easily see why employees are so drained. Video conferencing is far removed from natural social interaction.
As an innovative alternative, several companies have begun utilizing a new platform, WebXR, that combats many of the factors contributing to “zoom fatigue”. WebXR is an immersive, three dimensional, social experience that runs across devices (mobile, PC, and VR) right out of a web browser.
Think of WebXR like a multiplayer video game that runs online. You control an avatar to move throughout space and talk with others. The really cool features include spatial audio and spatial presence, two things that you don’t get on traditional, 2D video chat.
While WebXR doesn’t look to fully replace video chat, it does provide a unique and alternate option for companies and organizations in any industry. It sits nicely in between video chat and full virtual reality and the fact that it works on mobile and PC makes it just as accessible as your favorite video conference service.
Now besides hosting more immersive, less tasking meetups, meetings, and social hours on the platform, it can also be used as a tool for content delivery in the format of speaker series, museum installations, and brand activations as well.
Recently, Minneapolis-based XR Agency, REM5 STUDIOS, built out an entire Hall of Fame experience for the Minnesota Twins in WebXR. This allowed fans from all over the world to visit and explore together as long as they wanted, whenever they wanted. The 3D modeled space contained multiple clubhouses with shines for each player plus archival photos and video. Fans were even able to select avatars with Twins jerseys from over the years. It was an engaging and immersive brand experience that couldn’t be told any other way.
The Twins and major sports teams are just one example of the unlimited use cases for WebXR. Earlier this year, Sundance Film Festival went all online with an impressive WebXR component for their New Frontiers section of the event.
Another big opportunity is in the education and training space. According to PWC, immersive platforms allow participants to learn quicker and be more emotionally connected to the content. Museums can now deliver immersive content and extend their geography overnight. These types of experiences are just at their infancy and will live long beyond the “end” of COVID as a new tool to reach audiences both internally and externally for years to come.
Virtual reality has been moving mountains across a myriad of verticals. In the past few years, we’ve also been seeing VR as a force for social good. REM5, a Minnesota-based company, is doing just that with a virtual exhibition space called “1 City. 2 Realities.” which is part of their REM5 For Good initiative. It illustrates and educates people on the realities of racial inequity and inequality across the nation.
Tackling Racial Inequity in Virtual RealityThis year on March 21, we celebrate the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The theme for this year is “Youth standing up against racism.” In the digital era, we’re seeing a new wave of activism and social movements, which rely heavily on technology to promote social, economic, as well as environmental change.
According to REM5 co-founder, Amir Berenjian, they wanted to create a virtual space for sharing different stories about racism and discrimination. Also, they wanted to bring discussions about racial inequity to a meaningful space. Thus, REM5 For Good created “1 City. 2 Realities.”, which highlights the harsh truth about racial discrimination throughout the US.
To make the experience as educational and immersive as a real exhibit, they used VR to power it. The immersive nature of VR makes it highly engaging. Additionally, it enables a forum for social interaction, allowing its users to start those difficult conversations about race and racism.
As you enter the exhibition space, you can view the displays at your own pace. You can also engage with other users. Although you can only hear other users who are close to you in the virtual space, you can engage with anyone regardless of their location.
The “1 City. 2 Realities.” exhibit even comes with a virtual idea board that you can follow using your mobile device.
Virtual Reality as a Tool Against RacismREM5 For Good has two main objectives. They are as passionate about K-12 education and cultural competence as much as emotional intelligence education for large companies. They’ve worked with over 15,000 users and enterprises, such as General Mills, Target, Boston Scientific, and the University of St. Thomas.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Target and General Mills provided their employees with access to “1 City. 2 Realities.” This powerful tool helped raise awareness about racial inequity and racism by sharing real-life stories of racial discrimination. Moreover, it illustrated the impact of racism on communities.
The virtual exhibit provides a safe space for participants to learn and reflect on their actions without fear of judgment. After every session, employees are given a chance to talk about their realizations and listen to others. From there, these institutions can work on addressing racial inequality within their respective systems. They can make positive changes to create fair and inclusive workspaces for their people.
REM5's Co-Founder, Amir Berenjian, joins Coruzant Technologies for the Digital Executive podcast. He shares how his technology is bringing education around social justice, inequality, and even Major League Baseball in an immersive VR space.
Twin Cities musician Lady Midnight is known for powerful stage performances, but like many other artists, she’s pivoted in the pandemic era. Her latest project, “Practice for Relief,” is an immersive virtual reality experience featuring sounds meant to promote calm, peace and healing.
MPR News host Cathy Wurzer talked with Lady Midnight about the project, and how she’s weathering the challenges of the past year. You can find more about “Practice for Relief” at her Instagram.