The First Real Intersection of Music and Virtual Reality

In 1995 I made a seed investment in a tiny company called Harmonix founded by two guys, Alex Rigopulos and Eran Egozy. After one meeting with them I knew I wanted to be part of their journey and made one of my early $25,000 angel investments.

The journey they went on as founders and a company was amazing. A big part of it was captured in what I think is one of the best long form magazine articles ever about the history and drama of building a company – Just Play in Inc. Magazine in 2008.

After being acquired by Viacom in 2007, Alex and Eran bought back the company in 2010. Over the past two decades they’ve created two billion dollar game franchises – Guitar Hero and Rock Band – and one multi-hundred million game franchise – Dance Central.

I joined the board and Foundry Group invested in Harmonix in 2012. The last few years have been complex and challenging as the classical video game business continues to go through massive structural changes. However, the Harmonix team has kept a steady beat of innovation going, including a recent release of Disney Fantasia and a reincarnation of one of my favorite early games of theirs, Amplitude.

But the stuff they are doing that I’m really excited about fall into two categories: (1) Rock Band 4 (which needs no explanation) and (2) Music VR.

This morning, Matt Whittaker wrote a really smart article titled Harmonix’s Music VR Might Just Bring on the Apocalypse. In it he talks about the amazingness of what Harmonix is doing and the broader societal challenge around VR and a compelling mainstream app like music.

First, the Harmonix Music VR stuff is unreal. If there is a company on the planet that can figure out the compelling music experience for VR, it’s Harmonix. And, they are working on scalable stuff – not “music specific things” – but algorithms that adopt to any music you are playing. This is technology they’ve had for several years and is part of what sets them apart from everyone else who has followed them by trying to mix video games and music since they came out with the original Guitar Hero software.

Next, while VR video games are cool, they aren’t mainstream. But music is mainstream. So the opportunity for VR in music, and music being a leading use case for VR, is enormous.

Did I say that the Harmonix Music VR stuff is unreal? Oh yeah, I did. And when I say “unreal”, I mean in an amazing way.

If you want or read science fiction, you see music + video as a central background component of everything. Sometimes it’s plot, sometimes it’s context, but it’s always there as part of the VR theme. Today’s technology is still young, but the software will outpace the hardware, as it usually does, which means that amazing software will drive users to adopt hardware early and then will push the vector of innovation on the hardware.

I’m super proud that I know and get to work with Alex, Eran, and team and have been able to over two decades. They never cease to amaze me.

  • mobiusbobs

    In the music/tech/VR, are the amateur/game market much larger than professional equipment? or is this line getting blurred with improved hardware and definition of creation?

    • I don’t really know.

      • mobiusbobs

        I feel somewhat conflicted by the shifting of the production side of music, form, content, creativity etc. But am excited on the future consumption of music + VR …

        • Music should cause internal conflict like this (that’s the nature of it’s timeless change).

          As for the tech, I recently saw some great stuff being done by the LEAP motion guy and Oculus in the space of VR + Music, also I think we’re fast moving from a formal music education to a much more creativity focused music production direction.

          • mobiusbobs

            Yeh, totally agree, music is about tension and tension can definitely go beyond musical structure and into the production. Would love to have seen Cage play around with Leap motion and Oculus, and see what he can come up with.

  • Rajiv Jha

    Music is required for freshness of our mind..

  • Finally got round to watching Interstellar last night and it reminded me of 2001 A Space Odessy, and I asked why…

    If you cannot go to a place personally, you only see a virtualised version of that place.

    If you cannot hear a place personally (space has no air to carry sound vibrations), you only have your own sound reality (emotions and the sounds of your breathing etc).

    Put these two together and it is clear that they are analagous – they are both a flight of fancy – a dream. Dreams are about the worlds that go on inside your head. To communicate these is therefore necessary an abstraction and an art. It seems to me Harmonix are therefore about producing a new art medium.

    When it comes to why? – I once had the privilege of sitting in the B&W acoustic chamber at the Steyning Research Establishment’ Sussex, England.

    If you get the chance to hear nothing – you find it does not exist – It will be filled – and as I understand iteven deep space abhores a silent vacuum. Near quantum mechanical zero-point energy reality vibrates its way into existence .

    Poetically speaking existence implies sound and vice versa – maybe Descartes

    I hear therefore I’m here !

    • Love it. I still haven’t seen Interstellar but this is another reminder that I should.

      • My wife and I enjoyed (good clean family fun hint of morality tale) – pretty impressive effects, fun if slightly unlikely plotline, but then who says what might go on “Over the rainbow”.

  • Konrad

    Guitar Hero oraz Rock Band to świetne gry nie mogę doczekać się następnej części! 🙂