Paris.VR, the Chainsmokers: where VR meets the music industry
“We are on a mission to push the boundaries of music and tech … join us on a journey to the edge of reality.”
— Sony Music
Sony Music promised fans a series of immersive experiences and virtual events that would take them “to the edge and beyond” through its Lost in Music campaign. As part of that, Paris.VR allowed audiences to experience a live-remixed version of ‘Paris’ from Grammy-award winning electronic dance music duo The Chainsmokers.
In collaboration with brand experience agency Ralph Creative, Paris.VR was created by specialist VR developer Kuju using the Unreal Engine games engine. Kuju provided its VR expertise to develop the creative pitch, as well as delivering the in-house team and hardware to create the experience.
Paris.VR debuted at Sony’s Lost In Music event at the SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas in March 2017 and allowed audiences a unique opportunity to step inside the creative process of making music. In Paris.VR viewers are transported inside the head of one of The Chainsmokers duo, Drew Taggart. Experiencing a live remixed version of the song ‘Paris’, the audience flies through an ethereal landscape, making decisions along the route as they go and applying changes to the mix. With Kuju’s background in creating music games, a narrative was constructed to which VR detail was added.
Brynley Gibson, Head of Studios at Kuju, explains: “It was very intimate. The idea is that you’re entering Drew’s head; you’re with him as he thinks about this song. You’re remixing and creating the song with him and that is very personal. This is something unique, it’s something super-special that the fans can come away with.”
“We wanted people to experience the song differently, every time they listened to it.”
— Chris Hassell, founder of Ralph Creative
Building the technology: Unreal Engine
“What Unreal Engine allowed us to do, was to create things quickly and try out different ideas,” explains Kuju’s Art Director, Matt Wilde. “Unreal is a language that many developers are speaking and we had seen what other people were doing with it; we knew it would give us the high visual quality we needed.”
Exploring how the audience’s gaze could interact and alter the virtual world of the experience became an exciting creative journey in itself during the process. New audio elements were activated by structures and objects as the player simply looked around.
“The ideas we were trying to create were all based on amazing visual scenes, built from tens of thousands of particles,” adds Matt. “So, you look at the trees and the birds fly out of the trees when the trees shake, and they all come past you and hopefully it feels great. These are the Unreal particles, the GDU particles – and Unreal is the leader when it comes to GDU.”
Building the team
“We knew developers who were up to speed with Unreal Engine, which allowed us to build a team quickly and work at the pace required for such a short turnaround time,” Brynley reveals.
And a “short turnaround time” was no exaggeration. Work began on the project in January with a deadline of mid-March for the SXSW launch – a deadline that clearly could not be moved. After its festival debut, Paris.VR featured at the Sony Square in New York and was available as a free download on the PlayStation Store from April.
Launching to a large audience of music fans in Austin meant the experience needed to be accessible for those people who had no experience of gaming. “We had to make it work for non-gamers who could play it in a pod and have a mind-blowing experience,” says Brynley. “We had to make sure it was easy to understand and easy to play; that everybody had a great time and didn’t feel any nausea.”
And its PlayStation release, shortly after its festival debut, also required that the experience appeal to hard core gamers, as it had to be engaging enough to attract PlayStation VR owners. A free-to-download experience, the objective was not to raise money but to make an impact, spread the Sony message and stay true to The Chainsmokers’ ethos and their huge army of fans worldwide.
Which naturally created several challenges. Because not only did the project have a diverse range of audiences, it also had a lot of stakeholders, as Brynley reveals. “As well as the team at Kuju, we worked alongside Ralph Creative, the publishers Sony Music and Sony Corp who were watching very carefully to ensure that we got the branding right. We were also dealing with the people at SXSW, with the band themselves of course and their management. And at the end of the project the band’s label was also involved. And finally, PlayStaytion was also on board, looking at the technical, as well as the creative, side of things.”
A lot of people can create a lot of opinions, as Brynley asserts, and it became very important to manage communication among the group. The team quickly learned that it was vital to take all of the stakeholders through the steps of each process to answer all of the questions. “It was a situation where a plain ‘no’ was never the right answer,” he explains. “We had to look at the reasoning behind all of the questions and provide options.”
And a very tight time-frame created its own challenges. “The Monday before it was due to go live, I played what we had created on Friday and said, ‘We can’t use this’. The optimisation wasn’t quite right and it didn’t look as good as it should have. It would also have made people feel nauseous at that point – so we pulled out all the stops and worked around the clock to make it right.”
Paris.VR: the reaction
The team at Kuju has been delighted with the reaction, which has been even better than anticipated, given the project’s challenges. And it picked up the Best Branded VR Experience at the 2017 Raindance Festival VRX Awards.
Gamers profess themselves pleased, with Reddit reviews claiming, “It’s really cool! The visuals are impressive and extremely colourful… it’s essentially an interactive music video ride” and “Whether you’re a fan of EDM or not, I highly recommend checking this thing out”.
The Virtual Reality Shop Review said, “Music and VR together is a powerful thing and this is one of the best examples of why that is. Even if electronic dance music isn’t your thing, watching this in VR might well change your mind.”
The PlayStation experience may well be a way into VR for those who have no or little experience of the medium. ‘Grizzled gamers say it’s now their girlfriend’s or mother’s favourite thing,” says Brynley. “We’ve also heard people comment that this is what they dreamed MTV would become.”
VR IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY: WHAT DOES THE FUTURE LOOK LIKE?
Interestingly, online reviews for the experience give an indication where this might go in the future. Like the Reddit reviewer who loved watching MTV and VH1 music videos as a child: “These days music videos more or less seem dead to me. But put them in a new medium like this, make the price right like this and you have a recipe to reboot a love for music videos to a new generation.”
Brynley Gibson agrees and reveals that this project is speaking to a lot of people in record labels and the music business. “At the moment people are creating 360° videos and not really engaging so much with VR. But we are starting to see 360° blending with game engines, and these two production aspects are becoming more blurred. Paris.VR is seen as what should be done; as the strategy to take.”
Other online reviewers speculate that this will become a portal for multiple forms of entertainment, with the next step being interactive VR short films, using the archive of artist resources and material that brands such as Sony have access to.
The current challenge in the industry is the cost involved, and so a project like this is only realistically possible for major artists and album launches with big budgets. With a restricted viewership and limited access to the hardware, projects are slower to get off the ground than they otherwise would be. And as the majority of people do not have access to VR equipment, the reach has been limited – but it’s clear this will change as adoption of VR hardware grows in line with forecasts.
“It’s inevitable that VR is the future. We’re giving our fans the chance to experience our music through the most cutting edge entertainment – having the feeling that you’re there, that only real-time can give you, because you can interact with it, because you can affect different things, even just for a short experience, that’s the winner.”
— The Chainsmokers
Words by Bernadette Fallon