See what's on at The Drum

Music and the metaverse: the vast sums behind Roblox’s virtual festivals

The metaverse offers audiences and artists alike the opportunity for new – and lucrative – experiences

The metaverse is maturing. Despite the relative nascency of the space for marketers, the seeds of the metaverse were planted a long time ago. Ahead of a rumored metaverse-centric rebranding of Facebook, one of the big winners of investment in the space could be Roblox – especially since its focus on music lets it command live events.

Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) is a Las Vegas music festival known for its eclectic and vibrant visual design. Most years it is most notable for its acts and the carnival atmosphere; this year the big news is its online counterpart on Roblox. Dubbed the Insomniac World Party, EDC is to become the first music festival ever to be held on Roblox, opening today and running to October 25.

Artists’ sets will be streamed on Roblox after the in-person sets, with artists joining shows through ‘server hopping’ and ‘meet and greets’ inside the experience. They will appear on the same stage in the metaverse as they did in real life, mirroring the real-world shows in the digital world. John Vlassopolous is global head of music at Roblox; he says that the partnership came together over three to four months based on the recognition of a shared ethos. “We thought if there was a sort of real-life manifestation of Roblox in terms of the magic and excitement that you can create in this online wonderland resort ... in the real world, [EDC] was close to it.”

It aims to appeal to the 50 million music fans Roblox says it has on its platform. It builds upon previous concerts that have taken place on the platform, from the Lil Nas X gig that attracted over 33m views to the more recent experiences with Twenty One Pilots.

Vlassopolous says that the success of previous iterations of live spaces on Roblox is attracting interest from a wide array of music companies. “With the advent of Insomniac and EDC moving into 2022, any music brand that you might think of ... ranging from radio brands to DSPs to festivals to artists, labels, venues, CPG brands and magazines will start appearing on the platform. We’ve been talking to the usual suspects in those spaces who’ve been reaching out. And we thought the festivals as an extension to concerts was a natural first step, because it’s people coming together, we’re all about to experience.”

He believes that the interest from music companies is based in part on the scale of its audience, but that interest was ramped up over the previous year due to the ease of connecting with audiences that could not otherwise attend live events. He cites the work of the performance artist Poppy in connecting with fans on the platform as an early example of what is possible. “Artists love their connection with their fans, and in the real world it’s harder to do because there’s only so many hands you can shake. So it’s a new kind of creative expression and connection with the fans in a new way.”

As a result of that live interaction, Poppy ultimately saw four times as many streams across the 10 experiences than all her DSP streams combined. Over the course of the Listening Party, those ten experiences received over 3bn visits.

Real money, virtual experiences

While the engagement with fans is the bedrock of the Roblox pitch to artists, there are significant commercial upsides as well. Vlassopolous says: “It’s been pretty profitable for the labels and the artists, so Lil Nas X is on his way to eight figures in revenue from little bits and bytes of virtual merchandise, so that is definitely an appeal, as well as a whole new revenue stream.”

He believes that the appeal of the virtual merchandise is multifold. For the fans it is – just as with real merchandise – an ability to display your fandom in a public space. Meanwhile for the license holders and artists there are significantly fewer costs associated with creating those assets and selling using the game’s in-universe currency – which is purchased with real-world cash.

Vlassopolous argues: “For the artists, it’s a great opportunity to extend the merchandise to the virtual platforms. Over the next three to five years we should fairly easily eclipse the physical merch business with virtual merchandise.”

He believes that the amount of revenue share and opportunities for brands such as Gucci, which have dipped their toes into metaverse creation, is yet to be set in stone, and is based in part on the work of the marketing industry. “Creative studios have an opportunity to start building for their clients – whether it’s music clients, media clients, brand clients ... and maybe we can pair them with expert Roblox developers. But we know that there’s a huge opportunity to increase that supply to meet the demand.”

That goal is lent legitimacy by the rise in NFTs and other virtual assets being taken seriously by brands. Roblox has its own version of NFTs in the form of ‘Limiteds,’ which are creations of users on the platform. Moreoever, research Talkwalker found that interest is exploding: “Over the past year we have seen the metaverse grow to become one of the most discussed topics in online conversations with over 5.4m mentions. With 28.7% positive sentiment, brands and consumers alike are seeing this new virtual space as a new opportunity for business and interaction alike.”

Music across the metaverse is a tricky business – though the fact that each metaverse space is currently separate from one another does help ameliorate the issue. Ultimately Vlassopolous believes that “lawyers tend to win” and that as long as the music brands receive value from having their artists on the platform, the virtual space is a perfect fit for live music.

Regardless of those issues, it’s clear that the metaverse is an opportunity for artists and events. While Facebook might have the money to invest heavily, it will be playing catch-up with Roblox when it comes to virtual gigs.

By continuing to use The Drum, I accept the use of cookies as per The Drum's privacy policy