Steve Hancock, co-founder and chief relationship officer of London-based virtual reality and live music streaming operation MelodyVR, tells Access that on the back of a year that saw the company enjoy “exponential” growth and acquire original music industry disruptor Napster for $70m, 2021 will be another pivotal year that will see it assume the Napster brand, launch a multi-functional content delivery app, and build on its work with festivals such as Wireless.
With a background in the live music industry, having worked on Ibiza Rocks, Steve Hancock says he is deeply saddened by the impact of the pandemic on the live events industry. However, for MelodyVR, which he founded in 2013, it has been a remarkable year.
The acquisition of pioneering streaming service Napster, from Rhapsody International, was completed on December 30. With the Seattle-based operation under his wing, Hancock is planning to rebrand Melody VR as the Napster Group and launch an app in Q4 to enable users to access both streamed music audio and watch “immersive” live music shows on the one platform.
On Monday 8 February, MelodyVR announced it had raised a new investment of £6.48m ($8.9m) via an issue of convertible loan notes. It is certainly a time of considerable momentum for the company on the back of a huge rise in demand for streamed live performance content.
“We grew exponentially during 2020 but, Covid aside, it was a year we were expecting to see a lot of growth from what we had planned in the live-live streaming space,” says Hancock.
Regardless of an existing plan to ramp up activity, MelodyVR proved adept at meeting the unprecedented rise in demand from the Covid-ravaged live music industry.
When the pandemic hit, the company built Covid-19-safe studios in LA and London. It also partnered with Live Nation on Live From O2 Academy Brixton, a series of shows streamed from the venue in 360° virtual reality. It also worked with the promoter on Wireless Festival’s virtual incarnation, Wireless Connect (pictured), which attracted an audience of 132,000 people from 34 countries.
More recent shows include a performance by Liam Gallagher on a barge travelling along the Thames that was streamed on 5 December to a global audience. Meanwhile, the company has also been busy in the US, with its Live From LA series of shows having so far involved performances from 38 artists.
“We obviously wanted to do something for the music industry and for the fans; we didn’t want to be seen to be capitalising on the pandemic.”
Hancock says he spent the past year treading carefully while forging ahead with the business plan: “It’s a balancing act between the two – growing users but ultimately showing that we have stayed true to our core founding values; which is being part of the music industry and offering fans attainable access to their favourite music.
“We obviously wanted to do something for the music industry and for the fans; we didn’t want to be seen to be capitalising on the pandemic. So we set up Covid-safe facilities in London and LA.
“My background is in the live industry so it’s an interesting spot for me. I can see the terminal damage that has been done to the industry and it upsets me every day. We lifted all the paywalls on everything we did last year from a live perspective all the way through to October when we launched the Live Nation partnership.”
Festivals of the future
Hancock says MelodyVR has shot and digitally delivered content from festivals since 2015, so the focus on major outdoor music events is nothing new: “That is where we started and cut our teeth. We’ve got around 70 festival partnerships across Europe and the UK, the US and further afield. Pre-pandemic, we probably shot content at more than 100 festivals. Our work with festival operators during the pandemic was very much a natural progression in terms of partnerships and support.”
The Wireless partnership in 2020 was not new, the previous year MelodyVR broadcast the event live in virtual reality, with users able to stream performances on their smartphones via the newly launched MelodyVR app.
“There’s no hiding behind the fact that a live virtual festival is nothing like a physically attended one but being able to bring in elements of stage design and lighting, and bits that make things feel as close to having an audience there as possible is the aim.”
Hancock says, “We launched our mobile and our live technology in 2019 at Wireless, where we shot every artist across both stages live throughout the whole weekend. We had around 250,000 people through the mobile service on that first weekend of launch.
“So, being able to continue to work very closely with Live Nation and Melvin Benn on Wireless Connect last year was a nice step forward. That was aired as-live and we captured around 75 hip hop and grime artists from both sides of the Pond. It was a huge success. Artists loved it – for many it was the first time they had performed on stage for six to 18 months as they had been out of tour cycle.”
“There’s no hiding behind the fact that a live virtual festival is nothing like a physically attended one but being able to bring in elements of stage design and lighting, and bits that make things feel as close to having an audience there as possible is the aim,” says Hancock.
Looking ahead, he says streaming live performance content will become a near ubiquitous element of major live events: “I don’t see, unfortunately, the vaccine giving us a quick switch back to a 100,000 people in a field. I wish it was that simple but the industry has suffered terminal damage and at the same time it has obviously meant we have had to look for new, creative and safe ways to make shows.
“Live stream with the physical attendance is what I think the future will look like. I think a physical tour model will be very heavily supplemented with live digital ticketing revenue be it 360 or 2D.”