Second Life’s a Stage

Real-world performers are making real-world money in virtual reality.
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Posted September 3, 2014 by EDWARD BROWN in Arts
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Singer-songwriter Matthew Broyles is setting up for a gig. He’s seated in front of a microphone with his playlist at his feet, tuning his acoustic guitar and lightly running through some of the chord changes he’ll be performing. But he isn’t onstage. He’s in the cozy confines of his White Settlement house. And instead of a crowd of people in front of him, there’s a computer monitor full of avatars.

Broyles and the virtual concertgoers are part of an elaborate computer game. In Second Life, their avatars are human-looking, and they interact across detailed replicas of real-world places like New York City and Chicago. Unlike most computer games, which emphasize fantasy universes and defeating opponents, Second Life is for folks seeking to re-create everyday experiences via virtual reality, including music concerts.

On this day, Broyles is sharing the stage with violinist Beth Odets-Brown, a frequent collaborator who improvises over Broyles’ songs, performing from her home in Dallas.

What Broyles and Odets-Brown are seeing is a large grassy area that’s slowly filling up with avatars, along with command prompts for communicating with each other and audience members. What the concertgoers are seeing is an elevated wooden stage with avatars of Broyles and Odets-Brown holding their instruments.

As the two musicians slink into their first song, Doug Kwartler’s “Just About to Die,” the virtual concertgoers begin dancing. Over the next hour or so, the revelers –– or, more accurately, the people watching the concert from their computer screens –– will tip the performers in Linden dollars, a type of currency used on Second Life that can be exchanged for U.S. dollars through PayPal. A typical tip amounts to a couple of bucks, Broyles said.

Broyles began playing Second Life several years ago as a way to maintain his sanity, he said, while staying home to raise his and wife Janell’s son Nathan.

Frustrated with not being able to play as many shows as he had before Nathan’s arrival, Broyles was intrigued by an article in Popular Science about Second Life.

Broyles, who also performs in the hillbilly hip-hop outfit Shotgun Friday, said most of his friends dismiss his virtual pursuit as frivolous, but he’s quick to remind them that behind every “pixel person” is a real person.

“A lot of them are shut-ins, disabled, or otherwise unable to leave the house and see gigs,” Broyles said. “So I’m performing for people who aren’t ordinarily able to see shows. I find they are more appreciative than some bar crowds who are there to drink and make out.”

Odets-Brown said that performing in Second Life has become her largest source of musical income. Being able to play any way she wants, she said, has made her a hot commodity. Her most lucrative Second Life gigs are private parties, including weddings, for which she receives a flat fee.

Her avatar will sport a “little tuxedo and wander around a restaurant,” she said. “The pay is pretty comparable to something I’d do in real life.”

Longtime concertgoer and Minneapolis resident Ursula Cinquetti said that, as an introvert, she is uncomfortable in crowded, loud bars. Second Life lets her explore new artists and new types of music without leaving her “drained of all her energy.”

Not all fans are as appreciative, though. Some Second Life users, referred to as “griefers,” occasionally rain on musical parades. “Griefers will spawn a [shower] of green dildos,” Broyles said. “They’ll do obnoxious things just to break up the concert, but usually the venue host will kick them out.”

One of Broyles’ favorite venues is a replica of the Chelsea Hotel. Though the famed New York City hotspot doesn’t have a concert hall, its virtual version does. Virtual proprietor Enola Vaher, who lives in Oklahoma, added one just for hard-working cats like Broyles. Since opening in 2009, the virtual Chelsea has, with help from a New York Times story, become one of Second Life’s most popular venues, attracting several hundred visitors per week. Vaher, who books the performers, and the virtual hotel’s designer, Michael Brown, seek a very specific type of performer: live and acoustic only.

“There are no backing tracks,” she said. “The musicians have to play their own instruments live while they sing.”

Broyles, who has been performing at the Chelsea since its opening, is “sort of a standard here,” she said. “He does covers, but they are never your typical covers. And his originals are absolutely wonderful.

 


10 Comments


  1.  
    Winn Storm

    I haven’t got to attend as many live performances as I would like, but I really like being able to be there and be part of the crowd and able to support someone doing what they love.




  2.  
    Celestiall Nightfire

    First, most Second Life people aren’t “shut-ins” or “disabled”.

    Second, SL is not a “computer game”, it’s a virtual world wherein the residents create the environment.

    Doing a little homework on the subject matter, would have helped put these two notions into the proper framework of, “misconceptions”.

    Otherwise, a wonderful write-up about Matthew Broyles, Beth Odets-Brown, and the fabulously talented live musicians that are SL residents. Yes, Enola Vaher over at the Chelsea, does a great job booking talent. Also, kudos to highlighting the versatile virtual world of SL, where people from around the globe mix, mingle, discuss, create and enjoy.




    •  
      Edward

      Sorry those parts rubbed you the wrong way. One was a quote, not mine, and the “game” part was definitely not meant in a pejorative sense of any kind. And I actually did a lot “homework” on the matter. Thanks for the feedback, though.




  3.  

    Thanks for the ink!

    Obligatory plug: If you wanna know where I’m playing either online or in meatspace, c’mon over to thematthewshow.com




  4.  
    CB Axel

    Live music from all over the world is the best part of Second Life. People have called Second Life” That Sex Game” or “That Shopping Game,” but there’s so much more! Music! Art! Science! Enjoy it all!




  5.  
    Jpeabody

    As a fellow performer in Secondlife, it is always wonderful to see word of what we do published in real life articles. Well done Matthew.




  6.  
    Jpeabody

    As a fellow performer in Secondlife, it is always wonderful to see word of what we do published in real life articles.




  7.  
    Trina Weatherwax

    I love the Hotel Chelsea I’ts an amazing place .. wonderful people and wonderful music.
    Maybe people should join SL just to go there and listen.
    SL is no game .. its the creation of thousands of people and the things they have created will just blow your mind.
    My RL persona lives in the UK .. but in SL I meet people from all over the world Something I could never do actually .
    And a big hug for Enola for all she does ;-) )))




    •  
      Tap Quentin

      I agree whole heartedly. What this article says about individuals ill and disable or just another place where an artist has another outlet for his or her work is so true. I manage my own art gallery… And show frequently in the SL space.





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