Six decades after the Grammy Awards appeared on the scene as black-tie events featuring legends like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, music’s biggest night is shaking things up once again, this time by entering the metaverse.
For the first time, Grammy Week—which begins today and features a number of preview events ahead of the awards on April 3—is happening on Roblox, a gaming platform that lets people explore virtual worlds built by individuals and companies. By hosting the events, the Recording Academy hopes to reach a younger audience and experiment with ways to engage with fans. Virtual meet-and-greets on Roblox will feature rock band Glass Animals, country singer-songwriter Walker Hayes, actress-musician Sofia Carson and the pop-metal star Poppy. Other events will include a virtual performance by Grammy-nominated Latin artist Camilo, games, digital merchandise and a red-carpet area where users can wear virtual clothing and take selfies in a virtual photo booth.
Panos A. Panay, co-president of the Recording Academy, says the technology doesn’t just change how music is experienced online, but also “alters the very nature of musical expression.” That’s why, he says, the Academy was interested in partnering with Roblox. By expanding the ways the Recording Academy engages with fans, he hopes it will find new audiences. Otherwise, “you’ll be leaving a whole lot of people behind, and we don’t want to do that.”
“This is a really exciting time to be in the music industry,” Panay tells Forbes. “Twenty years ago we were staring at the abyss. Having come out of that sort of Death Valley and seeing the growth and seeing how the industry is catalyzing and benefiting from these new technologies…There’s an opportunity for the Academy to play an even bigger role in terms of not just meeting these audiences where they are, but being the lead advocate for creators in this changing environment.”
When it comes to the metaverse, the music industry has been an early adopter—and with success. Just last week, 10 million people attended a concert with the rapper 24KGoldn inside Roblox that had 10 million visits. In 2020, rapper Travis Scott’s concert inside of Fortnite attracted 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 inside of the crypto-enabled virtual platform The Sandbox.
Virtual worlds might still seem niche, but some already have a massive audience that ranges from younger users to core demographics of young adults. Founded in 2004, Roblox has recently seen more rapid adoption more recently, with 40% year-over-year growth in 2021. Last month, CEO David Baszucki said the company had 55 million daily active users. (That’s about how big Twitter’s user base was in 2010 or the size of Snapchat in 2014.) In terms of monthly active users, some estimates have Roblox reaching more than 200 million.
There’s an opportunity for the Academy to play an even bigger role in terms of not just meeting these audiences where they are, but being the lead advocate for creators in this changing environment.” Panos A. Panay, Co-President, The Recording Academy
Although Roblox and the Grammys have been collaborating for six months, MasterCard, a longtime sponsor of the Grammys, made the decision to underwrite the experience just a few weeks ago. It marks the first major activation for the financial services company inside of a virtual environment and is one of several recent tests across emerging platforms. MasterCard—which has previously worked with various artists to 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, MasterCard chief marketing And communications officer Raja Rajamannar says marketing in virtual worlds will soon go from being “a shiny new penny” to just in a few years seeing a “significant jump.” The adoption timeline is accelerated in part by the high amounts of investment and interest in the space on multiple fronts.
“This is one of those game-changing moments where every aspect of Web3 we should actually explore the possibilities for marketing,” Rajamannar says. “Both in terms of marketing in those spaces, marketing components of those particular spaces as well as marketing real-world things in those spaces. . . . There are so many straight lines that can be drawn from the real world to the metaverse.”
The Grammys will be Roblox’s first major event for people to try its 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 also help with onboarding new demographics that haven’t already been on the platform. He added that concerts and branded experiences have also gone from being ephemeral events to more permanent experiences that evolve over time and will further help musicians engage with fans and also be discovered by labels.
“Music with digital service providers is less social by design,” Vlassopulos says. “Live music is superexciting. It’s very visceral. You go with your friends, you go to concerts, gigs, festivals. We’ve already been drafting off of that notion of live and trying to bring live to virtual.”
Despite all the hype, some experts suggest there’s still a gap between how companies and consumers think about the metaverse. A survey of 150 business-to-consumer marketers conducted by Forrester earlier this year found that 76% plan to invest a part of their marketing budget toward “metaverse-related activities” activities in 2022. However, a separate Forrester survey conducted in December found that just 34% of U.S. consumers and 28% of British consumers who were familiar with the metaverse were excited about it.
“There’s a real craving amongst consumers to make the most out of their physical lives instead of becoming buried in a virtual life,” says Forrester marketing analyst and research director Mike Proulx.
Just like the early days of the internet and e-commerce, Proulx—who coauthored Forrester’s new report about the metaverse—says it’s important for brands to prepare for nascent technologies while also tempering expectations.
Beyond virtual worlds, the Recording Academy and MasterCard have both also begun experimenting with another part of the Web3 zeitgeist: NFTs. Earlier this month, the Recording Academy released its first collection on OneOf—an NFT platform backed by record producer Quincy Jones—with digital works by various artists to celebrate the 64th, 65th and 66th Grammy Awards. In January, MasterCard announced a partnership with the cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase to let people use their credit cards to buy NFTs. And in February, MasterCard expanded its consulting services to include crypto and NFTs.
“Sixty years ago, network television wasn’t the platform that it is today,” Panay says. “Forty years ago, cable TV wasn’t that way. Thirty years ago the internet wasn’t what it is today. . . . I have no doubt that more and more of the incomes of the people we represent will be dependent on these platforms.”
Foto: This week, the Recording Academy and sponsor MasterCard are hosting a series of events related to the Grammy Awards inside of Roblox.ROBLOX