EXCLUSIVE: Universal Music Group and virtual reality company Within today announced they would work together to create and develop augmented and virtual reality experiences around music.
The strategic alliance between the world’s largest music company and the Los Angeles startup is an attempt to get more artists and others involved in producing, marketing and promoting music to think about how best to harness the medium to create something new.
Within has attracted notice from heavyweights in Hollywood and in Silicon Valley, having raised a total of $56.6 million from a who’s who of investors including Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective, 21st Century Fox, Andreessen Horowitz and Raine Ventures.
Two of its VR projects, Hallelujah, which reimagines Leonard Cohen’s best-known song, and Life of Us, a social-VR project in which four people experience the evolution of life on earth, starting from a single-cell organism, were selected for this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
In the latest announcement, Within will work with Universal artists to develop experiences around music that go beyond the standard VR concert footage that places the viewer onstage alongside an artist.
“Together, UMG and Within will push the boundaries of how audiences experience music and create new ways for artists to forge deeper connections with their fans,” UMG EVP Michele Anthony said.
The alliance is a homecoming for Within co-founder and CEO Chris Milk, who spent the first decade of his career directing music videos for Kanye West, U2, Arcade Fire, Green Day, Johnny Cash and Modest Mouse.
As music videos migrated to YouTube, Milk took advantage of the new medium’s two-way communication.
“I was frustrated by the music video format as a director because — this is important — music is by far the most experiential medium there is. It becomes the soundtrack to the most important moments of our lives, in a way that no other art form or medium does,” Milk said in an interview with Deadline. “I spent many years as a music video director trying to crack how I could ever make a music video as raw and experiential as music. That’s what pushed me into interactive music videos online.”
Milk capitalized on that interactivity with the Johnny Cash Project, in which fans of the man in black drew portraits that were integrated into the artist’s final music video. The flickering black-and-white works illustrated the video for the song “Ain’t No Grave.”
A project with the band Arcade Fire, The Wilderness Downtown, aimed to create an intensely personal experience. Before watching, the user was prompted to enter his or her childhood home address. The interactive film would depict a teenager running through the old neighborhood and stopping in front of your home — drawing from Google Maps and Street View images.
Milk says virtual reality has the power to truly complement music. One project with The Chemical Brothers, Under Neon Lights, featuring St. Vincent, provides an interactive, colorfully animated VR music experience — in this case, a coming-of-age story built around a girl whose world builds in neon color as she runs through different stages of her life.
“What we’re talking about here is more than just the future of music videos,” Milk said. “We’re creating a medium of human experience — and that’s going to change everything.”