From our friends at PopTonic:
We knew Sony Music Corporation of America was up to something when they took interest in Unreal Engine, the games engine from Fortnite maker Epic Games.
Now, the corporation has finally unveiled its secret Unreal Engine project. They’ve announced a new subsidiary that will reimagine music “through immersive media.”
Sony seemed to take notice when Travis Scott teamed up with Epic to debut his new music in an event called the Astronomical Experience in Fortnite. His in-game performance attracted a whopping 27.7 million viewers.
Of course, Scott wasn’t the first artist to hold a virtual concert in Fortnite. Marshmello played a live set to over 10 million people in the game back in February 2019. Following Scott’s success, the next concert featured Diplo, Young Thug, and Noah Cyrus.
The sudden success of these virtual music experiences had industry bigwigs dreaming of how they could get in on this new cocktail of music and interactive entertainment. And Sony — which actually owns Scott’s label, Epic Records — wasn’t about to let all that potential go to someone else.
The music corporation started building a team under the radar. They started recruiting a team of technical executives based in Los Angeles “dedicated to reimagining music through immersive media. They were hiring for several positions, such as gameplay engineers, technical animators, and lighting artists. There were a few telling open positions, though: Unreal Engine Networking Engineer, and Unreal Engine Generalist.
Soon after, Sony Corporation acquired a minority stake in Unreal Engine for $250 million.
Unreal Engine is owned by Epic Games, and is the “engine” on which video games like Fortnite are built.
On January 12, Sony finally unveiled what they’ve been working on. They announced a new subsidiary called Sony Immersive Music Studios, which is focused on “developing immersive music experiences through the power of creativity and technology.”
The new team will be managed by digital entertainment veteran Brad Spahr, who according to Sony is “an award-winning developer of next-generation experiences at the intersection of music, immersive reality, and gaming.”
Spahr was responsible for the corporation’s digital strategy, including verticals like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and virtual reality.
With their announcement of Sonny Immersive Music Studios at the virtual CES 2021 conference, they also unveiled the division’s first project. The team hosted a virtual performance from Epic Records-signed singer-songwriter Madison Beer in collaboration with Verizon. The performance showcased songs from her debut album, Life Support.
If you want to see the full experience, her performance will be available on PlayStation VR and Oculus VR.
The singer performed as an ultra-realistic virtual avatar. She was in a “meticulous recreation” of the Sony Hall concert venue in New York City. It was, of course, created using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine.
“When we first spoke with the team at Sony Hall and we first spoke with Verizon, [we asked] ‘What if we were to recreate a venue in Unreal Engine? What would that be like? How can we make it as realistic as possible?’” said Spahr.
So, how’d they do it?
“We actually worked with the venue and got the CAD files; the actual floor plan and dimensions of the venue, and were able to go in and reconstruct it in [Unreal Engine],” Spahr detailed. “And then, using reference imagery, really go into intricate detail to create the most precise recreation of the venue that we could.”
Once the venue was recreated digitally, they were able to add elements to the performance that wouldn’t normally be possible. They were able to use technology to create “a fire sequence that wouldn’t have been possible. There’s a rain sequence that would not have been possible in a physical venue.”
Dennis Kooker (President, Global Digital Business and U.S. Sales, Sony Music Entertainment) also spoke at CES.
Kooker said, “We have vast capabilities to showcase our artist creativity across platforms around the world and the combination of these strengths is a key differentiator in the value proposition we contribute to the music community.”