Riding ‘TheWave’: How A Few Young Men Are Using VR To Change Music Forever
Two years ago, Clarke Nordhauser found himself preparing to make a decision even crazier than his hair.
The aspiring young musician had just been told by the management at the software development studio where he worked that his request for time off was being denied. What the company was calling a “vacation” Nordhauser was calling his first ever tour as a professional DJ.
He now had to make the choice between the security of a steady job, and music. For some people this may have been a tough call, but Nordhauser stood up, filed his resignation that very same day and walked out of that office for good.
In doing so, Clarke Nordhauser ceased to exist. In his place a new man was born; one with a new commitment to his music and a brand new name to go along with it: GRIMECRAFT.
Aaron Lemke was ready for his next challenge.
Lemke was already creating meditation tools and other unique projects on an Oculus Rift Development Kit. He had also been a perfoming musician since the age of 10. His work caught the eye of an ex-Harmonix employee. Harmonix is the company behind the musical mega-hits Guitar Hero and Rock Band. The two crossed paths at a GDC 2014 after party.
The ideas of the man from Harmonix sparked something in the both the musical and technological centers of Lemke’s mind. Soon after their first meeting, the two began to form a team and build a product that was aiming to do with VR what Guitar Hero did with plastic instruments: bring music to people in a way they had never experienced before.
The growing squad found their CTO in the form of a tech wizard named Finn Staber.
However, as the trio labored over their ideas they realized they were missing something. Another musketeer that could combine musical talent and technological prowess into one eponymous package. The group wasn’t stumped for long.
Harmonix was also once home for a man who had recently left the development scene to forge his path as a full time DJ. GRIMECRAFT soon became a member of the team.
From there, more staff was brought on and the combined efforts of the entire team gave birth to a product that has the potential to completely redefine the music industry in the wake of the ongoing virtual revolution.
It’s name is, simply: TheWave.
GRIMECRAFT’s explanation of TheWave is perfectly succinct:
“It’s basically a way for people to perform shows from within virtual reality for other users. Right now we’re focusing on DJs. If I’m a DJ going to a gig I just bring my tracks on a thumb drive. I plug them into our venue, I can go in and play those in this audio reactive live VR night club to other users who are networked and from around the world live.”
The term “audio reactive” needs a bit of explaining, fortunately Lemke is quick to provide an answer:
“We’ve built this 3D music visualizer that is basically creating the world based on the parameters of the audio. So if you hit one kick drum, there’s a giant wave in one color that comes at you. If you hit a snare drum, there’s another giant wave of a different color and a different shape that comes at you and as you start to play the music, the world is transforming based on the amplitude and frequency data of whatever audio is currently being played.”
This unique interface currently works best with electronic dance music (EDM), but Lemke clarifies that TheWave is being built as the next evolution of the live performance venue for all musical genres:
“Currently—EDM music is a perfect place to start, given VR’s current state. Our goal is to expand to all of the genres. TheWave is going to be the number one place where you go in VR to experience music. But right now, it would be incredibly hard to do an interactive, immersive rock concert because I just don’t know how you could do that with actual people and guitars. You need to use the Kinect or some sort of janky video capture to get them. So it’s really a matter of focus and execution of where the tech is.”
TheWave is no longer the secret passion project of a small, innovative team. Now that the world has seen it, things are beginning to move very fast for the young organization.
“We are currently working to close our seed round of funding,” Lemke explains. After that, the focus will be on hiring, acquiring an office space, and constructing a respectable company around the glowing engine of this ingenious little idea.
The team is also eager to start broadcasting shows now that the powerful Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets are getting into more and more sets of hands.
With shows premiering soon, the issues of monetization has to be decided. The group is still tinkering with the exact model they want to use but Lemke is personally partial to a ticketing system that mirrors the real world almost exactly.
“I like the idea of a ticket, it lets the artist set their own price and sort of test the waters,” Lemke said. “In the long term, for monetization stuff, my dream is to build a virtual economy where musicians can support themselves; whether that’s doing performances, contributing different sample packs, building custom avatars, building custom DJ booths for people. It’s pretty broad, but I’m a big fan of what Valve does with Team Fortress 2. I think that’s amazing.
GRIMECRAFT also sees TheWave as a potential answer to a music industry – and an EDM scene in particular – that is largely in decline.
“I tour a lot, and there’s a lot of places I can’t tour because there’s no promoters that can pay me enough to go there and there’s not enough interest, except a niche interest, to get me out there…There’s artists that hate touring now. Avicii quit. He’s retired from touring. Now he can have shows in virtual reality if he wants to, now he can do live streams if he wants to do that…People have cashed into this industry so hard, it’s gotten more and more expensive for these shows…I personally can’t go to a lot of EDM festivals unless I get a VIP pass. Its just getting out of control.”
The convenience of streaming music online has dealt a staggering blow to both live music and recorded music as well. If TheWave can truly combine the ease of access that the Internet provides, with the premium content architecture of live concerts, them this startup may actually be able to re-empower musicians and reassemble the industry in a very significant way.
Despite the massive potential that TheWave possesses, its founders are focused on more personally valuable goals.
Lemke would love to see his creation inspire people to overcome their fears and tap into their creative talents:
“I hope people who are intimidated by creation in general, or music creation in particular, can find a way to overcome that and learn how to create in a new way. It’s just such a wonderful thing. Creating music is something that I think everyone should experience but it is kind of scary to just jump into that. So any way we can facilitate creativity among people is amazing.”
And GRIMECRAFT is all about the music:
“Democratizing music and also creating a music experience that you can’t have in reality—for me, that’s the most exciting thing. A new way to explore music and experience it as a performer, even as a fan.”
TheWave will be released on any VR headset with hand tracked controllers, along with a cross-platform audience mode for all platforms including: mobileVR, PC, Mac and Web. It launches on Steam in Fall 2016.