Second Life Provides Musicians With New Moneymaking Opportunities

There is a burgeoning new online market for musicians of all types. Recording artists, performers, singer/songwriters, turntablists, playlist DJs, karaoke aficionados, and more can find paying audiences in Second Life.

Second Life

So what is Second Life? It is an online 3D virtual world, or Metaverse, where people meet and interact with each other through digital ‘avatars’ in a virtual landscape. Visually, this Metaverse bears a passing resemblance to Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) such as World of Warcraft. However, this resemblance carries no further than the ‘look’ of such MMORPGs. Second Life is an alternative universe where avatars (people) are free to carry out whatever activities they wish. In my mind, the three qualities of such a metaverse that distinguish it from an MMORPG are:

  1. There is no previously defined goal or objective by which one may ‘win’. Instead, avatars live the life of their choosing.
  2. Everything inworld is created by the residents. With enough talent and time, you can recreate every thing you would encounter in the metaverse — be it a house, a landform, an article of clothing, a manner of moving, or any other ‘thing’, tangible or intangible, that can be discerned.
  3. Second Life has a freely functioning real economy, with a unit of currency that is freely exchanged to and from US dollars.

Size of the economy

So how big is this potential marketplace? Linden Lab, the creator of Second Life, reports that over $1 Billion in resident-to-resident transactions have been made since the inception of the metaverse. In 2010, the projected figure is in excess of $500 Million per year, and growing quickly. As quoted from San Francisco Business Times:

In 2008, Second Life users spent more than $360 million on virtual goods ranging from land to designer shoes to lavish homes. The Second Life economy almost doubled in size – 94 percent up – between the second quarter of 2009 and the same period in 2008. User-to-user transactions now amount to nearly $50 million per month.

To put this figure in perspective, in 2009, all sales of digital downloads of music combined totaled about $1.9 Billion — barely a little over three times the size of Second Life’s economy. Indeed, Second Life’s economy is larger than the GDP of some real countries.

Music and other economic activity

Of course, not all this money reflects musical purchases. There are many other activities and goods vying for the avatar consumer’s dollar. Again from the aforementioned source:

In total, users around the world have spent roughly 115,000 years in Second Life socializing, attending live concerts, creating, selling and shopping for virtual goods, learning languages, attending business meetings etc. User hours grew 33 percent year-over-year to an all-time high of 126 million in the second quarter of this year….

However, music does represent a significant part of the overall inworld economy. At any moment of the night or day, there are multiple performances occurring across the grid. Rock, Country, Hip Hop, or Americana… solos, duos, bands… some completely live, some with backing tracks, some doing mimed ‘role play’… about any form of music you can imagine can find a worldwide audience on Second Life.

At any given moment, there are dozens of thousands of people logged in as their avatars to the Second Life virtual world, or ‘grid’. And for many of these people, attending musical events is their primary reason for being inworld. They visit virtual venues, hosting musicians on their stages, at virtual concerts. There they can sit and listen, or dance and interact with the other avatars onsite. While partying there, they may converse with the others in text chat about any given topic. As a musician, you are also able to see the local chat, thereby providing you with a direct communication channel between you and your fans. This provides a higher level of interactivity than typically possible in real life.

Employment in Second Life music

There are several broad categories of musicians performing within Second Life. Linden Labs makes an official distinction between Live performance and other forms of music:

A live performance in Second Life is presented by a person who is represented in-world by an avatar, and is creating the performance in real-time, streaming the audio (or audio and video) portions into Second Life as they are being created.

Playing back a previously recorded performance, whether audio, video or Second Life machinima, is generally not considered to be a live performance if there are no live elements performed while the audience is watching the show.

We do not intend to imply here that either Live or non-live music is superior to another. This is just being pointed out in order to understand how to present your performance consistent with inworld norms. If you are presenting a playlist DJ type performance, it would be a breach of protocol to list this as a Live Music event — however, it would indeed be appropriate to list it under the Nightlife/Entertainment event category.

And the variety of opportunities is quite staggering. I have seen the following types of acts, all paid for their performances:

  • Playlist DJs performing various styles of music for the dancing enjoyment of the venue’s patrons
  • Scratch or BeatMatch DJs creating unique layered performances using prerecorded tracks and synthesizers for real-time creation
  • Singer/songwriter types with a guitar or keyboard and vocals
  • People singing over Karaoke backing tracks of hit songs
  • Solo musicians performing with backing tracks of their own creation
  • Duos, trios, and full groups completely live
  • ‘Tribute’ acts, where the ‘musicians’ construct and animate elaborate imitations of chart-topping groups — to the original recordings by those groups
  • ‘Role Play’ or ‘listening’ sessions where original artists mime performances to their own recordings

Much as in real life, some performances are the main focus of the venue, and others are an adjunct to some other commercial or social venture — such as a mall opening, or a mingler. There are also inworld opportunities to sell digital downloads of your music — either limited to playing inworld or as universal mp3s.

Is it for you?

After reading the above, you may be eager to delve into Second Life as another marketplace for your musical endeavors. As you can see, the opportunities are nearly endless. Further, it costs nothing to try your hand at it — plus, it’s just a whole lot of fun. No matter what sort of musician you may be, there is another market waiting for you in Second Life.

This is but one article in a series on opportunities for musicians in Second Life. Further articles will cover resources, technical issues, groups and organizations, revenue streams, publicity outlets, and more. Next up, however, will be a brief overview of the software required to pipe your music inworld. I hope you join us in this journey to a strange and wonderful new world. In the meantime, you may wish to do some early exploring on your own — it is free to get started!