Six decades after the Grammy Awards took the stage as nightly events featuring legends like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, music’s biggest night shakes things up again, this time by entering the metaverse.
For the first time, Grammy Week – which starts today and features a series of preview events ahead of the awards on April 3 – is taking place on Roblox, a gaming platform that allows people to explore virtual worlds created by individuals and companies became. By hosting the events, The Recording Academy hopes to reach younger audiences and experiment with ways to connect with fans. Virtual meet-and-greets on Roblox will feature rock band Glass Animals, country singer-songwriter Walker Hayes, actress and musician Sofia Carson, and pop metal star Poppy. Other events include a virtual performance by Grammy-nominated Latin artist Camilo, games, digital goods, and a red carpet area where users can wear virtual clothes and take selfies in a virtual photo booth.
Panos A. Panay, co-president of the Recording Academy, says that technology is not only changing how music is experienced online, but is also “changing the nature of musical expression”. Because of this, he says, the Academy was interested in partnering with Roblox. By expanding the way Recording Academy connects with fans, he hopes it will find new audiences. Otherwise, “you’re leaving a lot of people behind and we don’t want that.”
“This is a really exciting time in the music industry,” says Panay forbes. “Twenty years ago we stared at the abyss. Coming out of that kind of Death Valley and seeing the growth and seeing the industry catalyze and benefit from these new technologies… There’s an opportunity for the Academy to play an even bigger role by having that audience not just there hits where it is, but to be the leading advocate for creators in this changing environment.”
When it comes to the metaverse, the music industry is an early adopter – and with success. Just last week, 10 million people attended a concert with rapper 24KGoldn in Roblox, which had 10 million visits. In 2020, rapper Travis Scott’s concert in Fortnite drew 12 million people to tune in. Last fall, Decentraland hosted a four-day “Metaverse Festival” featuring DJs Deadmau5 and Paris Hilton. Earlier this year, Warner Music Group announced a new virtual concert hall within crypto-enabled virtual platform The Sandbox.
Virtual worlds still seem to be niche, but some already have huge audiences ranging from younger users to core young adult demographics. Founded in 2004, Roblox has seen faster adoption lately, with 40% year-over-year growth in 2021. Last month, CEO David Baszucki said the company had 55 million daily active users. (That’s the size of Twitter’s user base in 2010, or the size of Snapchat in 2014.) In terms of monthly active users, some estimates put Roblox at more than 200 million.
The Academy has an opportunity to play an even bigger role, not only by meeting this audience where it is, but also by being the primary advocate for creators in this changing environment.”
The Grammys will be Roblox’s first major event to see people trying out the layered clothing feature, which allows users to wear more realistic items on their avatars. Jon Vlassopulos, Roblox’s vice president and global head of music, says the music events are also helping to onboard new demographics who haven’t been to the platform before. He added that concerts and branded experiences have also evolved from short-lived events to more enduring experiences that will evolve over time and will continue to help musicians connect with fans and get discovered by labels as well.
“Music with digital service providers is inherently less social,” says Vlassopulos. “Live music is super exciting. It’s very visceral. You go with your friends, you go to concerts, gigs, festivals. We’ve already moved away from that notion of Live and are trying to make Live virtual.”
Though Roblox and The Grammys have been working together for six months, Mastercard, a longtime sponsor of The Grammys, made the decision to take on the experience just a few weeks ago. It marks the first major activation for the financial services company within a virtual environment and is one of several recent tests on new platforms. Mastercard — which has previously worked with various artists on recording songs — says its Roblox presence will also include “sonic branding” as part of a strategy to incorporate sound and music into its marketing.
While the Web3 era is still in its infancy, Raja Rajamannar, Mastercard’s chief marketing and communications officer, says marketing in virtual worlds will soon go from a “bright new penny” to a “significant leap” in just a few years. The launch schedule is being accelerated in part by the heavy investment and interest in the space on multiple fronts.
“This is one of those groundbreaking moments where we should actually explore every aspect of Web3 with the possibilities for marketing,” says Rajamannar. “Both in terms of the marketing in these spaces, the marketing components of these particular spaces, and the marketing of real-world things in these spaces… There are so many straight lines that can be drawn from the real world to the metaverse.”
Despite all the hype, some experts suspect there’s still a disconnect between how businesses and consumers feel about the Metaverse. A survey of 150 business-to-consumer marketers conducted by Forrester earlier this year found that 76% plan to invest some of their marketing budget in “metaverse-related activities” in 2022. However, a separate Forrester poll conducted in December found that only 34% of US consumers and 28% of UK consumers familiar with the Metaverse were excited about it.
“Consumers have a real desire to make the most of their physical life rather than burying themselves in a virtual life,” said Mike Proulx, marketing analyst and research director at Forrester.
Just as it was in the early days of the internet and e-commerce, Proulx, who co-authored Forrester’s new report on the Metaverse, says it’s important for brands to prepare for emerging technologies while also tempering expectations.
Beyond virtual worlds, The Recording Academy and Mastercard have also started experimenting with another part of the Web3 zeitgeist: NFTs. Earlier this month, The Recording Academy released their first collection on OneOf – an NFT platform powered by record producer Quincy Jones – featuring digital works by various artists to celebrate the 64th, 65th and 66th GRAMMY Awards. In January, Mastercard announced a partnership with cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase to allow people to use their credit cards to buy NFTs. And in February, Mastercard expanded its advisory services to include crypto and NFTs.
“Sixty years ago, network television wasn’t the platform it is today,” says Panay. “Forty years ago, cable TV wasn’t like that. The internet wasn’t what it is today 30 years ago… I have no doubt that more and more of the incomes of the people we represent will depend on these platforms.”