#1086: Anne McKinnon on the Ristband Music Platform going into Alpha, Pixel Streaming, & the Future of Musical Experiences

The Ristband music platform (formerly known as Overview Ark) launched an alpha version at SXSW during co-founder Roman Rappak’s mixed reality show with his band Miro Shot that I previously covered in episode #1082. Ristband is described as “your portal to the metaverse” in order to “perform shows, discover music, play games, and hang out with friends.”

I spoke with the other co-founder of Ristband Anne McKinnon to hear more about her journey into VR, how she started collaborating with Miro Shot in 2017, her XR blogging at The Boolean, getting an Epic Megagrant and implementing Pixel Streaming to get AAA-quality graphics, Ristband’s Report on Diversity in the Metaverse [PDF], their evolving business model and how web3, NFTs, or cryptocurrency may be explored through third-party integrations.

I’m currently bit skeptical for how web3 will integrate into the Metaverse that I started to detail here in this Twitter thread, but here are some resources that have influenced my thinking on the topic:

McKinnon said that the exact business models of the Metaverse are still evolving, and they’ll be exploring whatever emerging tech platforms best serve the needs of independent musicians to be able to hold compelling music experiences on an immersive platform, to enable fans to discover new artists and facilitate the connection to other fans, provide VIP experiences, provide monetization opportunities for digital merch (whether 1st-party implementations or 3rd-party integrations). Right now they’re using cloud rendering and pixel streaming technology, and so it’s not a fully immersive VR experience just yet.

Ristband is an event-based platform that’s still in an alpha phase, and so be sure to join their Discord to hear more about upcoming events to check out their platform.


This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So in today's episode, I get the story of Anne McKinnon, who is the COO and co-founder of Wristband, which is a music platform that was co-founded with Roman Rapek. So I featured Roman in a previous episode and there was a mixed reality performance that was showing at South by Southwest this year where 50 people within a room you have the mixed reality headset with gear VR There's different pass-through effects that are happening and then you switch into VR and so it's kind of like this mixed reality performance by mirror shot and She originally saw the Mirror Shot performance in Paris back in 2017 and then got into working and collaborating with Mirror Shot and now has created this whole music platform that is intended to be for independent musicians and be a place to see artists and discover music and to be there for the fandom. So they got an Epic MegaGrant to be able to bootstrap the first prototype that launched at South by Southwest. So it's still in alpha phase and it's using a lot of the cutting edge tech of pixel streaming for Epic. So it's really high res. But right now it's only a virtual world that doesn't have any immersive VR components just yet. But there's still early phases and trying to figure out a lot of stuff in terms of their business plan and they are event based. And so they have events that you can go in and check out their platform. So we get a lot more context as to what they're working on and some of their future plans as well as means journey into VR as a Journalist blogger and consultant with her blog called the boolean so that's what we're coming on today's episode Otherwise the VR podcast so this interview with an happened on Wednesday March 16th 2022 so with that let's go ahead and dive right in

[00:01:49.613] Anne McKinnon: My name is Anne McKinnon and I'm the COO co-founder of Wristband, which I'm sure we'll talk a little bit about today. I started my career in XR as a journalist and blogger, traveling the world, meeting loads of really incredible people, working on the cutting edge of their fields across art and tech. Eventually started consulting for companies, helping them through growth and acquisition across like hand tracking gesture recognition, AR, VR, And the story we'll hear today is how I met my co-founder and what we've been working on since 2017 together. But he has been working on it long before as well.

[00:02:25.788] Kent Bye: So maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into VR.

[00:02:31.915] Anne McKinnon: I started in VR probably when I was 21 and I was really fascinated. I love science fiction. I read a lot of classical science fiction, really inspired by the vision of what the world can be. And when I started to learn about XR and VR, I thought this is an opportunity we have to build the future that we imagined it to be. And by building a better future, we have to think about it now and talk about it now and design it now. Because it takes a lot of care and curation and conversation to even start thinking about how to go about this and how to make something meaningful. So that's why I started my blog called The Boolean. At first, I was learning where I could go and learn about this. I landed in L.A. after finishing school and started going to events, meeting people in the field. One of the first people I met was Charlie Fink and Amy Lemaire. And both of them, so Charlie's a Forbes writer, Amy's an angel investor and also a partner at the WXR Fund. And they were both extremely welcoming and inspirational. and really helped to give me a voice and confidence in the writing I was doing. And from there, yeah, I met just great people in the field, and that was the start of, I guess, a career that leads up until today.

[00:03:51.106] Kent Bye: Great, so maybe you could talk a bit about how you met Roman, because that seems like that was maybe a big turning point in your trajectory of what you're doing in VR.

[00:03:59.358] Anne McKinnon: So in 2017, I got this all-night art tech event on my radar in Paris called Nuit Blanche. And at this festival, Roman Rapec, my co-founder, was playing with his band Mirror Shot. and what they were doing is a live VR concert and what that looks like is you go into the venue, it's a smaller intimate setting, the band is there live, the audience is live, they're let in, there's voiceover, there's projection mapping, custom sense and haptics, so even before you go in there's a story being told and you put the headset on and there's a pass-through camera which means that you can not only see your friends and the world around you, But you have this transition period where you can kind of get used to the sense of being in another reality. And when the band walks on and begins to play, you are transported between realities. So from the live view of the world around you and your friends to augmented overlays where you have this like new graphic effects overlaid on the real world. And then you get plunged into the fully virtual worlds, which is a new way of experiencing the world that the artist has designed. And it's kind of almost like a multiplayer game soundtrack live by the band. So there's so many different things you can call it. But that was a complete changing point in my life, in terms of career, but also the way, like my optimism for tech and like what it can be. Because we had artists using the tools in a cultural context and in a social context. And I thought, okay, this is really meaningful and this is something that is really important.

[00:05:33.508] Kent Bye: And had you studied journalism up to that point, or what were you doing as a career?

[00:05:38.009] Anne McKinnon: Yeah, so I'm Canadian. I grew up in Canada. And when I went to school, I actually qualified for journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa. I guess I was really lucky. It was a tough program to get into, so I felt really lucky to be there. And I always thought, OK, I want to be a journalist. But then after a couple of years, I was like, OK, all I'm learning is how to write what happened. And I don't feel like my voice is valued in the way that that career path was being taught. So I also was doing, at the same time, a double major in law. and I was learning about criminal law, so this is completely different to what I'm doing now, but I think that the investigative part of both of them and the idea about looking at what is really there and the fact that you should go out and speak to people and find out the perspectives, I think those tools I was equipped with is really important to, I guess, the approach I take today with my writing and reading and storytelling.

[00:06:34.936] Kent Bye: OK, and so being here at South by Southwest, if we fast forward to 2022, I just saw the mirror shot demo performance that was that mixed reality experience with the live song. So maybe you could explain what I saw and how that compares to what you saw and if they were pretty similar or if there was quite a bit of evolution between those two.

[00:06:54.322] Anne McKinnon: Yeah, huge amounts of evolution. So on Monday we did a live VR concert, an evolution of the one I saw in 2017. And this time, because we were doing smaller demos and because we were doing it all off our own backs, we couldn't get the full experience. We wanted as many people as possible to experience a smaller show. But what is completely different, and maybe it's easy to miss if you're not deep in XR, is the networking sense. So none of it was pre-recorded. Everyone is in the same server, which means it's a multiplayer connected experience. So when you put your headset on, there was like 50, 55 people in the audience with you, all in VR. And when you go into VR, you see a little icon. Each of those icons represents a person. So in that sense, when you're looking around in real life, you see the people in real life. And when you look around in the virtual world, you see a little icon that represents their avatar. And that is something that is really complex on the networking side of things, especially when you have 55 VR headsets sending live signals on a real-time server. And then on stage, the artist, none of it was programmed, so he would be manually changing what world they were going into based on the story they were telling on stage through the music, through the voiceover artist, and through the visuals.

[00:08:09.140] Kent Bye: Okay, so yeah, quite a lot of change and evolution. So how long was the version that you saw when you first saw their performance?

[00:08:17.146] Anne McKinnon: The first version I saw was about 25 minutes start to end. The version that they have now, which is called Simulacra, the full experience is a 30-40 minute installation type where you have crypto art, interactive digital art, and it's a journey towards the concert that happens. And that's a shorter set, about 10-15 minutes of live music and virtual reality. A couple reasons for that is a lot of people are experiencing VR for the first time, and 10-15 minutes is good. And it's like something you get plunged into, you go with your friends and you leave, and it's an incredible experience that you want more of. This is gonna evolve so much every single year.

[00:08:52.290] Kent Bye: Okay, okay. Well, let's go back to 2017. You've seen your first performance by Mirror Shot in Paris. And so, what happens after that?

[00:09:01.911] Anne McKinnon: Yeah, so at that time I was still primarily blogging for my own blog, The Boolean, and I was working with a couple clients on the AR, VR side of things in Los Angeles. And then I met the band's management team at the event, including their labels, so Believe, and they brought me on to help with tech partnerships because I was quite connected with lots of different companies and also the festivals that I'd been going to. So the band is endorsed by Razer, which is a gaming company. They create incredible laptops and gear. which powers the shows we have now. I also connected the band with South by Southwest, with Cannes, with Venice VR Expanded, and at Veran Festival in Germany. So from first meeting them to coming on board is like tech partnerships, PR, and doing my best to get the band at the intersection of this tech and arts world, which is completely removed from what a traditional music industry or a label would have their focus. And it was challenging, like the messaging, especially in 2017 before the pandemic and before people with, why would you ever need a virtual concert? Live experiences are great. It was really fun, but the people who understood it were people who came from XR. And I don't think XR will ever replace a live music concert. I think that live music experiences in VR is going to be something different and the approach should be different because they're two completely different things.

[00:10:27.133] Kent Bye: And so, at what point did the wristband come up? I know that you were doing some different experiments in, say, like, sign space, and there was the live performance, and so maybe you could just talk about the evolution of how it developed into more of a platform.

[00:10:40.700] Anne McKinnon: Yeah, so in 2020, when I was still working with the band, so from 2017 to 2020, that was all focusing on the live side. And in 2020, we were supposed to come to South by Southwest. So Blake Cameradiner and James Minor, so from the programming side of the XR and the music festival, invited us. And they've been so, so supportive. They've really been like our champions over the years. They invited us to the online experience in VRChat in 2021. And also, when people were reaching out to us when the pandemic hit, for us, first of all, it was devastating. We'd been working so hard to get the band here on an indie budget and with a technology where developers are expensive. So doing the best we can, we were working with some incredible interns from Goldsmiths in London. on the side of the platform for wristband we thought okay so we have people reaching out to us saying their venue's being shut down or just like Mirror Shot they were about to launch an album and it was the tour was cancelled so we really felt like the effects firsthand of how challenging the new COVID era was for artists and creatives to make a living to like learn about how to reach their audience and engage the audience especially performers So we thought, OK, how can we take what we've learned from blending game engines with live performance and bring a live experience into game engines? Building a platform is extremely expensive and complicated, so we thought, OK, let's first go out and see what is out there and see what we can do. So we used SignSpace, we did AltSpaceVR, we looked at Sanzar, we did shows, but a lot of these platforms aren't designed for live performance, especially for music industry and for touring and for monetization. So there's a lot of challenges for artists to build a career and a following on these platforms in a way that's accessible, especially for folks who aren't necessarily gamers or VR enthusiasts, but more like event goers. So how do you onboard them and create an interesting experience for them, but also create something that's meaningful for the artists and their fans? So we learned a lot. We learned what worked, what didn't work, what was missing. We learned things that we never would have thought about how the audience engages and how fans engage. There's some really rubbish moments where everything went wrong. There's some really fantastic moments where we had our minds blown by surprising things people did in our showcases. Epic Games saw what we were doing. Alistair Thompson and Ben Lemson from the UK team, they kind of like helped us to apply for an Epic MegaGrant and supported us with networking connections and we got an Epic MegaGrant to build Wristband, which is like our vision for how we can create a platform that supports creatives.

[00:13:25.586] Kent Bye: Yeah, and so I saw that there was like an alpha launch of Wristband happening here during SXSW, and I guess I didn't realize that the show that I went to on Monday night, it was the US premiere of that Mirror Shop performance with the mixed reality and the Gear VR headsets, but it was also somehow connected to Wristband, Roman said. I didn't realize that when I was there, but maybe you could talk about what was happening in the Wristband side during that concert.

[00:13:49.053] Anne McKinnon: Yeah so we had a showcase of what was happening in the real world in wristband. So that was a one-off thing so we try to hybridize it so it's happening at the same time. What was happening on the wristband platform is we had a lot of, it was kind of an NFT music metaverse stage and showcase. So we invited a lot of creatives to be a part of wristband. We had I guess it was super rare and rareable that really got behind us the two big marketplaces for NFTs and like shouted us out on our open call on Twitter. We got hundreds, maybe thousands of submissions and we ended up being able to bring in 80 artists that we curated and put them in wristbands. We created like this beautiful world you can go in, you can pick your avatar, you can explore, you can learn about the different artists who are there. There's amazing sound design by Marishot. And we're really looking at, okay, world building. How do we create a world that you go in and it's like an experience in itself? How do you create value for artists that you showcase in the world? How can you hybridize a live experience and have people attend online in a way that makes sense? Because does it make sense to have a live performance the way we have in real life the same way in VR? Might not. Again, it's different. So that was a lot of things we were exploring in this hybrid showcase.

[00:15:07.109] Kent Bye: Okay, and Roman just showed me briefly on his phone and pulled up the demo of the wristband and said that it was doing the pixel streaming with cloud GPUs and so it looked actually really high res in terms of like, I went to the sign space experience which was much more low-poly and low-res in terms of the experience. And this is, it looks great with what I saw, at least in the streaming phone. But it's also, it sounds like it's only 2D, and so it's not WebXR or being able to be immersed within VR quite yet, as my understanding at least. But maybe you could go back to this experiment that you did in Sign Space with trying to have Well, it was essentially walking around a virtual space but having a concert and there was different stores and there was different elements that were happening within that space. So yeah, maybe you could talk about that and what you learned from that experiment with a platform like ScienceBase.

[00:15:57.350] Anne McKinnon: I also want to touch super quick on the pixel streaming that you bring up because there's a really important reason why we chose to do that and because when you go to a lot of metaverse platforms like you and I like we're very familiar with XR and with crypto and digital assets but for a lot of people it's kind of challenging to get in and understand what's happening so a lot of metaverse platforms are hard to get into You have to have a really high-end gaming laptop to get a great experience, or they're low-poly or ugly. So there's a lot of, I guess, challenges we're trying to overcome. And Pixel Streaming allows us to deliver something that's easy to access on your phone, PC, or laptop. It's AAA curated, and we're also doing event-based. So when you go in, you don't have this empty world syndrome, where you go in and it's like a ghost town. So every time you go into Wristband, there's going to be something happening. We open our doors for events. And then to your second question, which is?

[00:16:52.537] Kent Bye: Oh, the sign space experiment. I saw a concert. What I remember was running around and seeing some of the songs in concert, but there was also different stores and different places, but you're kind of building out a virtual world and trying to experiment with what does the virtual world give you with the context of some of this live concert performance. Or maybe at that point it was a prerecorded playing of the music, but having a more of a virtual embodiment within that space.

[00:17:19.420] Anne McKinnon: So, for those listening, I'm sure lots of the people listening will be at South by Southwest this week. Kent Byeand I are sitting by a beautiful window looking over the city of Austin. And when we think about we're in a city-wide festival here, you can come here with an intention to go to an experience, but you can also discover other things. Like, there's the music festival happening. People might have come here for XR, but they might also discover incredible artists. So when we're building out Wristband and like the same thing about what we learned in Sign Space is how do we create an ecosystem where you go in and you recreate that sense of excitement about a live event which means not just showing up having watching something and leaving but it's like the journey to the concert. or like the merch like the t-shirt you buy on the way and then you see your friend who's got the same band t-shirt and then you become friends with this total stranger and it's the conversations and that kind of serendipity that you have like meeting people who you become friends with for a lifetime and with the different shops too like a lot of it is I want to go back actually quickly to like a web2 example which is Shopify which gave physical stores a digital storefront And I think the Metaverse is doing the same thing but reigniting the sense of organic discovery. So we were working with a fashion brand, Anthony Hamdan Dengeli, who's a French designer who brings organic and like French couture to like this more California laid-back feel. We had a sunglasses brand from Paris called Vinyl Factory. We also partnered with Dash Radios. We had a digital broadcasting radio center in there. We had Toby Lynn, who's like a New Music Champion DJ and radio host in LA. She was our host for the event. So we had interviews, we showcased new music. We also had Branching Story. I think you were there for that one, Kent, where we had like to make a decision.

[00:19:07.517] Kent Bye: I think when I saw these shops, I didn't realize you had partnered with all these different companies. But yeah, I think what happened for me is that there was an audio channel that I wasn't quite getting, and so I heard the music, but I didn't hear the story that was unfolding. So it was kind of like, I missed that part because of some weird science-based technical glitch.

[00:19:23.538] Anne McKinnon: Yeah, yeah. So that's something we found out when we were doing these SignSpace events, is like, you need a production channel. Like, you have to have a channel you're talking on the back end, because a lot of the platform SignSpace is designed for conferences that they help to build. It's not so much a UGC world where creators like ourselves, we could go in and make an event. There were a lot of tools we didn't have access to, so there were definitely bugs. But we learned a lot from people's experiences within that world.

[00:19:51.507] Kent Bye: OK. So when you had the Wristband opening up, were you partnering with anybody else with some of the different things that were in that virtual world?

[00:19:58.750] Anne McKinnon: Yeah. So we actually opened up our partner labs program for Wristband a couple of weeks ago. And we just had an open call. And some of the questions we asked anyone could apply was, what was your vision for the metaverse? Like, what are your goals? Or what are your challenges? And we had companies, individuals, artists, reach out to us with really thoughtful answers or questions and people who we never thought we would engage with at this early stage like there's one company GL Venues that has venues all over the world that they have like sports stadiums or concerts and like it's really interesting to speak with them and see Okay, like, they want to have a metaverse offering. How can we work within the limitations and capabilities of technology to create something that's meaningful for attendees who cannot go? And also with the limitations of networking, so to bring 10,000 people into one server where you're all on the same server is extremely challenging. Like, even Fortnite, VRChat's like 40, 50 tops. I mean, there's some more, but then it gets glitchy. So can we create intimate, meaningful experiences with meet and greets? with art drops or like remote experiences or you go in and play the game or you meet your favorite fan or you can get like digital posters or physical merch at the same place. So it's how do we create that extension for people who have events happening in real live venues and bring that into the metaverse.

[00:21:22.068] Kent Bye: OK, and so I guess when I was talking to Roman, I really got his arc and his journey as a musician and some of the struggles that he had and what really catalyzed this thinking is just how so much of the music industry doesn't work for so many people, especially for independent artists. just from the labels to the traveling around and doing live performances and concerts. And so with the pandemic, it catalyzed this thought to think about this virtualization. But it had already been the seeds of thinking about the potential of virtual concerts and stuff with Travis Scott and whatnot had already been happening. And so at what point did, in your involvement, start to think about the potential of not only the live performance aspect, but also the more virtual element with what eventually became wristbands?

[00:22:05.552] Anne McKinnon: Yeah, I think the virtual element was something we always thought about, but we didn't have the resources to explore, so that really changed with the Epic MegaGrant. We have an amazing team. I think we're six, we've got four developers, me, Roman, and we have some amazing people we work with that just help us with the community part of things. And I think the challenge with live, too, is how do you even define a live concert or a virtual concert within the metaverse? So what we see with Marshmello, who's the first DJ to have a big concert in Fortnite, it was still with the standard, he had a stage. And then with Travis Scott, you see, OK, we're in a game. What can we do that's more game design? So they had all sorts of cool underwater experiences and flying. And then we had Ariana Grande's, which was more like an interactive music video. But they're all pre-recorded. They're very, very expensive, so inaccessible to independent artists. And the reason why Epic gave us this grant is they say there's so much opportunity and so much need in the independent creative and artist market, and it's really challenging for them as a big company to go and speak to these stakeholders. And Roman, who is an independent artist and understands the needs of artists and the challenges, thus puts us in a great situation to be inviting people who we know, who've had a lot of challenges over the last couple of years touring or working as artists, to our platform and see how we can partner with them and support their careers.

[00:23:32.998] Kent Bye: Yeah, it's really great to see all the different types of independent projects that Epic has been funding and Tim Sweeney. I think in terms of a visionary of the metaverse, I think he's probably one of the more visionary people within the industry in terms of what he's been doing with Fortnite and the game engine and everything else. Certainly, Meta is playing its part with the hardware aspect, but in terms of cultivating an ecosystem, I think that Epic is actually helping to build out those ecosystems where, I don't know, Meta seems to be funding individual projects, but not really necessarily helping to build businesses. There seems to be a little bit more nose strings attached, like, here's some money, go do your thing, type of thing. Like, it's a little bit more hands-off. Like, what are the obligations if you get an Epic MegaGrant?

[00:24:13.767] Anne McKinnon: When we apply for the grant, we have to say what we're going to build. And we spoke with Alex Thompson and Ben Lumsden, who helped us shape what we were going to build. And that grant needs to go on Unreal Engine development. So we were able to partner with a really talented technical director, Martin, who works with us. And he built us a little team of really talented Unreal Engine developers. And through that we were, with the support of Epic, to identify tools or partners. And we spent a lot of time talking about community as well. They really support the Unreal Engine developer community. And with the grant, we were able to make Unreal Engine development a full-time job for some folks. And that's huge, and connecting with other teams that have the Unreal Engine grant. I would say the Epic MegaGrant, but then also discussing within our platform, how can we build a community around what we've designed? Because I think with any indie game especially, and that's kind of how we're approaching the development of Wristband, is talking to our community on a daily basis and listening to them and inviting them to our pre-alpha in-development experience and actually having them test things out and being really communicative that this is the stage we're at and we're a tiny team. opens up the door for huge conversations that really make impact on how we develop things.

[00:25:36.577] Kent Bye: And so I guess some more technical aspects of the platform since I've only seen just a brief screenshot essentially from Roman just now. I haven't had a chance to play around with it since it just launched here over the last couple of days. But is it mostly for bands who are, if they are performing live, do they send out like one audio feed and then you just broadcast that? Or what is getting put into this virtual world? Is it motion capture or just a video screen? Or what are they seeing when they go into the world?

[00:26:04.702] Anne McKinnon: Yeah, so there's like a sliding scale of how you can do performances and experiences in wristband. On the one end, we have to think, OK, we're with the indie market, so it cannot be a barrier to entry in terms of the technology they have and the expenses for like a volumetric capture live feed. And same with smaller venues we're working with to like outfit a venue for volumetric captures. No small deal today. In a couple of years, I think it's going to be super accessible, especially with camera technology and computer vision. But then, because we're also doing live experiences, we really focus on the value of the excitement of something that is a passing moment, that you can have real-time engagement and conversation with. We have to think about how we can do that in a meaningful way with the technology today. And 2D video feed is possible, but then what value is it bringing to your 3D world? So we've done live interviews, we've done live music video drops where it's a video you're showing but then you have the artist there doing an interview or you do meet and greets. As the technology evolves we'll absolutely be doing like the real-time 3D like capture and like beaming it into wristbands. And the vision is to have like the physical venues like a window into wristband so people can see one another and the same like in wristband to have a video capture of what's happening or like 3D capture of like the audience at the physical venue. So you have that true hybridization. And that impact point, I think, is going to be really interesting, especially for VR, for example, the hardware. The reason why we do our VR is just the live pop-up events that we produce is because, again, for most music fans, it's like $400, $200, $300 for a headset. It's really expensive. So by bringing VR to people and getting them excited about that future, and then in a couple of years the hardware will become miniaturized and normalized, then I think that's where we're going to have an impact point where we can have immersive experiences through your laptop, through your phone, as windows into the metaverse, and also the fully immersive and the live component.

[00:28:08.351] Kent Bye: Yeah. And so I guess in terms of like, when I was talking to Roman, he was really speaking about the journey of an independent musician. And so this is really born out of someone who's coming from that world. And so how is the economics of this platform work? Cause as people coming in, you want to get people onto the platform, but also people who are playing, they want to build the audience, but where's the money exchange and this whole wristband platform.

[00:28:33.550] Anne McKinnon: Yeah. So the business model of the Metaverse, I think a lot of it is in development. Because we're also focusing on creators, as you and Roman spoke about, we have to think about can people use this as a tool for their careers, where they can make money to support their lives, but also build a following. And this isn't just for artists, but for managers or for A&Rs, for labels, like do they have the data insights? So data is something that has value, that you can have like a pro profile to access the data. If an artist is selling tickets and putting on a show, that's revenue that we want them to capture. So that's really important for us that if they're putting on a show and they're doing work, they're capturing that value and also the insights on their audience so they can really own that. For us, it's also a free-to-play platform because we don't want to have a barrier to entry for fans to engage with wristband. The microtransactions. selling digital merch, having partnerships, like as you said before in ScienceBase we had like different shops, so enabling different vendors to be in our platform which are curated as well, so everything is contributing to this really atmospheric and like positive experience. We capture value from those relationships.

[00:29:45.848] Kent Bye: I guess one of the things with digital merch is the degree of interoperability, because if you buy something on the wristband platform, can you only have it on the wristband platform? Can you take it to other places? And so you get to these larger discussions about avatar interoperability, identity interoperability, and there's open standards like VRM, which is using the GLTF open standard to be able to have an avatar representation, but hopefully provides some sort of vehicle to be able to take one avatar from one world to the next. what kind of discussions have you started to have around if you are gonna buy digital merch, then is it only valuable for the context for where they're in wristband, or can they take that out into other contexts?

[00:30:25.862] Anne McKinnon: I really love this question, Kent, and I think there's so many different answers, especially with all the hype around interoperability now. I really like Convoy Ventures. Actually, if people subscribe to their newsletter, they've got great insights on this. And I think that interoperability is a little further away than the market is, I guess, marketing. The challenge with interoperability is, as you said, like file types. So even for a cube, I think there's like 200 different file types. The guy from Playable Worlds also has an amazing blog post on this. So to get that file type working in different platforms, then what if that cube has a jump animation? What if it has a superpower? Then you bring that into another platform. Is that fair? Is that going to crash the other platform? So there's all these challenges. Once we overcome those technical challenges, we have the challenge of business models. So if someone's bringing a wristband shirt into Fortnite, maybe it's NFT and there's royalties, and that could make sense. But then the third thing is, do we want interoperability everywhere? Like, if we have a concert happening, do we want, like, I grew up playing games. I played Halo a lot with my brother in Age of Empires. I don't want a Halo, you know, Master Chief to come in and start shooting other players. So, in some senses, we don't want interoperability, but where it makes sense, like, through merchandising and fandom, I think the first place we'll see is on the third-party marketplaces, and it'll be an ecosystem that works within wristbands and that can be sold and, like, exchanged with fans on the collectible marketplace. And that will slowly evolve.

[00:31:52.780] Kent Bye: Yeah, and as we're talking about some of this, you know, the discussion around cryptocurrencies and NFTs is coming up. And for me, I've been a little bit more skeptical about a lot of where this is going, mostly because in terms of virtual currencies and ones that work are usually more equivalent to like a centralized stable coin, like say within Second Life or even Rec Room that there's a fixed exchange rate that is more tied to existing currencies rather than something that's so volatile as a cryptocurrency where when you buy a cryptocurrency it's actually in the United States it's a taxable event and so whenever you buy an NFT that's another taxable event because they're treated as speculative assets rather than a currency. So it's less like you're changing from one currency to the next and more like you're doing in an investment. And because it's more like an investment than a currency, then it ends up not being used as a currency because it's more about investment rather than a mode of exchange in a way that typical currencies are. So because of that, I don't see the potential for things to be bought and sold and changed with the cryptocurrencies within the virtual context. But I do see that people want to buy these as valuable assets, but that there could be all these other assets as an investment or an expression of your identity. You know, for me, it's more about avatar representation and different things you want to express yourself rather than a financial asset that you're having that is going to maybe or maybe not be worth more money later by someone else who's going to buy it. So given all of that, I'm just really curious how you start to think about the cryptocurrency space. You know, you're showing things in an artistic context and so in that way you're able to fill out different art pieces within a world, but what is the modes of transaction that you're seeing and how does the cryptocurrency from your perspective start to play into a platform like Wristband?

[00:33:35.094] Anne McKinnon: Well, you bring up a really good point, which is like different people play for different reasons or different people engage for different reasons. So on the fan side of it, some people will want to go in for the artists that they know or to discover new music and they want to buy that shirt and hold on to it and keep that forever. Other fans might want to be there for the fandom but also because there's an opportunity to monetize that fandom on their side, which is if they have a limited edition shirt that they buy and they know it's going to capture value on a marketplace and there's a limited amount, maybe they'll actually be able to, you know, sell that down the line and then buy something that's, like, go to that artist's concert next time. for a VIP experience. And then on the other hand you might have people coming into our platform who are gamers and are there because we're creating great experiences. So we have to think about some people will go there for artists, some people come to play the games and have that in-world experience. Some people want to monetize, other people want to have that fandom. So if we have NFTs and cryptocurrency in our platform, What value does it bring to who? So for people who want to monetize, it brings transparency. It brings ease of use of the transfer economics within the platform. I think your point of a stablecoin is really valid as well because there's still a lot of fluctuation in different cryptocurrencies. And going back to Tim Sweeney as well, he talks about this for Fortnite and saying does it make sense for them to bring in crypto for Fortnite and maybe not because of the costs of gas prices and like the latency and networks. The amount of transactions they have in Fortnite happening would just completely delay and like crash the system for cryptocurrency. So you have that like market readiness and knowledge versus technology capability again. And where are you bringing value? Who is it bringing value to? And what purpose does it solve? So we're working on learning how we should integrate crypto. We're looking at a couple different solutions. But again, we have this luxury right now because of the Epic MegaGrant that we can explore with our community. Where should the monetization be happening? Should we be implementing NFTs and crypto at this stage? Or should we work on creating the great experiences first?

[00:35:52.590] Kent Bye: Yeah. Cryptocurrency I think has been a really hot-button issue for the wider culture and for me I look at the technical debt from an engineering perspective from the scalability but also the ecological impact for how much energy it consumes. I see it as something that is not currently in right relationship with the world around us and so because of that I tend to default to being a lot more skeptical because there are more decentralized architectures like Holochain as an example that is a little bit more based upon principles of biomimicry that are not necessarily having this idea that there's going to be something that's going to be immutable and permanent forever, which doesn't exist in nature because of that, then it's kind of not in harmony with the nature. And so I'm inherently skeptical because of those things. I feel like we're at the tail end of the hype cycle around NFTs and it might be waning a little bit rather than increasing that. I don't know. There's something about the financialization of NFTs that have just not been interested to me either from an artistic or an experiential perspective. And so what I think is viable is having something that is either based on the experience or is something that's actually supporting the artists in a way that is not doing undue damage to the world around us.

[00:36:59.999] Anne McKinnon: I think people are also just craving genuine experiences, like with the fact that there's so much NFT hype and it's been something that you can make quick money off of because there's the FOMO, the fear of missing out. And when we look at why we created Wristband, which is to create something meaningful for the people who use it and allow people to monetize their work and to go in there knowing that they're going to be treated fairly and that we'll listen to them. That's like a social platform and community and a creator's platform. When we look at social media, which is intended to be social, it's really challenging because it's so limited in the way you can express yourself and also so saturated. And with NFTs and crypto, I feel like when I look at my media feeds now compared to like a couple years ago, I barely recognize like what was Twitter even supposed to be or what was Instagram supposed to be. I have so many messages about scams that's almost like exhausting to go and delete and like try and find the people who are actually trying to reach me anymore. So there's the huge potential with NFTs. I think that the environmental impact is definitely a concern and like it costs money to mint something as well. Like it's for some people $60 is like a lot of money or $20 is a lot of money. It's also like, who are the people making these 10,000 FTs? Are those the creators that could really benefit from this type of ecosystem? So yeah, how can we make art and culture impactful again? And I think right now we're in the very middle and center of it, which is art and culture and community versus scams and the 2D Web 2, meaning the transition to Web 3, it's a rocky one.

[00:38:49.334] Kent Bye: Yeah, that's it. You're articulating a lot of the other reasons why I've certainly been more skeptical, especially in the context of Discord. I've stopped trying to even join any crypto discords because I just get inundated by spam messages. But yeah, so it sounds like that you've done the pre-alpha launch. What happens next with the Wristband platform? I know it's a concert platform, and so do you have either things that are lining up or what's next?

[00:39:12.760] Anne McKinnon: So I will talk about what's next and then I also want to talk super briefly about diversity if that's okay on our platform. So in terms of what next is we're still in alpha, development is going to be like an extended process for us, building the metaverse is complicated and expensive so we're partnering with the right people and like doing the best that we can as a small team to really make the best thing we can with the resources we have. so we're going to be holding a lot more regular events. Every event we'll try new things or we'll like fix bugs or we'll like implement a new feature. Right now we're doing a lot of the creation but we eventually want to have those tools in the hands of creators that we are familiar with and we know who we're already working with like the NFT artists so that we have great content and when people go in they're like welcome and like there's like a sense of you're a person in this platform so having a host that greets you like all these things about how can we design something that's great. Is there anything else on that?

[00:40:05.493] Kent Bye: Oh, no. Yeah, and you you said you wanted to talk something about diversity What was that something you're also focusing on either personally or professionally?

[00:40:13.129] Anne McKinnon: Both. So if you want to expand the website and go to the blog you'll see a diversity report and I started writing that like last August and it's March now and we published it in January and that was I think like one of the proudest pieces I've worked on and I was really inspired by like the women and men in my network who are really like pushing for this to happen and like looking at the creatives and like going to other platforms we had interns with us and We went into like other platforms and then we all went in as the opposite gender and that was so insightful like there's a lot of platforms that like even avatars and body shape and skin color like Diversity isn't just like your avatar but what you can wear like people don't all want to do the same thing or be the same person so I making sure people feel represented on the platform otherwise immediately you're excluding people. As a startup this is also really challenging for us because building for diversity is also like takes a lot of resources and that's just a reality. that we can't get around. So we also really want to be listening to people and doing as much as we can to bring in diverse creatives, bring in diverse developers, so we have these different viewpoints represented in our platform.

[00:41:32.529] Kent Bye: OK. So just to start to wrap things up here, what do you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality and the future of music might be, and what it might be able to enable?

[00:41:43.301] Anne McKinnon: I think, Kent, when I first ever heard your podcasts, and I think Roman actually introduced me to them in 2017, this has been one of the questions that's really inspired and driven my approach to XR and the future is like, what do we want it to be? And I think that the internet, like there's the independent declaration for cyberspace, which kind of outlines the vision of what the internet could have been. And it achieved some of those things, like it did connect people around the world, it created cultural exchange, economic opportunity. But again, it's like we have these really centralized concepts and economic models and cultural models on the internet. But with Web 3 and the Metaverse, it's a new opportunity for us to make the world a better place and to really get into thinking about how we can make it. I know I say meaningful in the community all the time, but I think if we get those two things right, then we're going to build for a better future.

[00:42:36.914] Kent Bye: Is there anything else that's left unsaid you'd like to say to the broader Immersive community?

[00:42:43.280] Anne McKinnon: Yeah, I am so proud of all the artists who are working with us and like bringing things to our platform and experimenting and supporting one another. That's another thing that really, really inspires me. And also just a huge thank you again to like Charlie Fink and Amy Lemire, who were like some of the first people I met and just really encouraged me and gave me confidence to be in this career in the tech world and gaming worlds and to encourage other people to do the same.

[00:43:07.975] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, Anne, congratulations on the launch of Wristband this past week here at South by Southwest. And yeah, I'm really looking forward to where you take this platform and have all these things blended together. And the concert that I saw was like a small taste of what is going to be in the physical embodiment, but I think in the virtual embodiment and how those will continue to collide over time, I think will be interesting to see how that continues to develop. So thanks for joining us today to share your journey and the journey of Wristband.

[00:43:34.125] Anne McKinnon: Thank you, Kent.

[00:43:35.399] Kent Bye: So that was Anne McKinnon. She's the CEO and co-founder of Wristband, also a journalist and blogger at The Bullion. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, well, it was just interesting to hear her journey into VR and the vision of Wristband is to create a place for people to come in and to discover artists and to See the artists perform and also to be there for the fandom and find different ways of monetizing that fandom on their site Maybe get a VIP experience and also for gamers are just looking for a great experience So there's a variety of different ways. They're trying to use the immersive platform to serve the needs of independent musicians Roman who I had a chance to speak to earlier actually just before I did this interview with an a Talking about how a lot of the music industry isn't really set up to serve the interests of independent musicians, so part of EPIC's interest in helping to support this as a project is to create more opportunities and platforms for musicians to be able to explore what's possible with this experiential aspect of music. So there's still a lot that needs to be set out. It's still in alpha. I was able to just see a very brief demo on Roman's phone. It's pixel stream, which means that it's super high res, way better than you would get if you were actually rendering everything on your phone. So it kind of goes all the way back to August 13th, 2020, when Epic deployed something to the Apple store, which was a violation of Apple's terms of service. They ended up pulling the app. And then there was a whole ad of 1984 that was released. And then Epic started to sue. Apple. That's been ongoing. It doesn't seem like the resolution of that was to break up any of the anti-competitive practices that may be happening in the context of these platforms. Since then, on May 5th of 2022, Tim Sweeney announced that Fortnite is now available to play for free streaming to web browsers on iPhone, iPad, and Android via Xbox Cloud. In order to do that, you have to have some way to distribute the stream, but also to feedback input. using some sort of open web technologies, whether it's WebGL. I'm not sure quite what the stack is, but to be able to interact with an immersive world by using the web browser. So this is the same type of technology that Wristband has been using to be able to just send you to a URL and to be able to dive into an immersive experience. So it's still an alpha and haven't had a chance to attend any events yet and you can check it out on their discord and get involved. It's still pretty early. They're moving towards probably more of an open beta at some point, but right now it's still pretty closed and event based. And yeah, I think just the epic mega grants is a great way for a number of different companies like this to be able to bootstrap themselves without the pressures of VC, just to do a little bit pie in the sky architecture and building. And so, yeah, just kind of an independent driven project here. So the whole web3 stuff I'm still on the edge in terms of how much energy to put into that as a viable path as we start to blend together all these things into the metaverse You know certainly a lot of buzz and hype and there's also kind of just in the last couple weeks a big crypto crash But there's been a lot of critiques that I've read about entities, and I need to do like a whole proper Episode just to dig into some of those I'd have an interview with Philip Rosedale It's probably a good time to dig into that but there's been different pieces that came up a lot of them in January of 2022 one was by Dan Olson the foldable human did a line go up the problem with NFTs around a two-hour documentary and then after South by Southwest there was a piece by Muni cat called web 3.0 a libertarian dystopia and The essence is that a lot of these talk of decentralization is that a lot of these systems aren't actually Decentralized that there's still a lot of centralized points that end up still putting the power into a small handful of people's hands You know as moxie marlin spike the creator of the signal app did a whole breakdown in January 7th 2022 of his first impressions of web3 and he walks through all the different ways that he was able to show there's centralized choke points, either with Matamask or with OpenSea, these marketplaces for NFTs. A lot of the stories that are told about Web 3 being this revolution of decentralization is ignoring a lot of the underlying economic realities for why Web 2 turned out the way it was, with all the pressures, the economies of scale, and the movement from Web 1 to Web 2, where Web 1 was all about information and Web 2 was all about networks of people. As we move into the future, what are the ways that are really addressing the core problems of what happened with Web 2 and to make sure that those same things don't happen with Web 3? If the foundations of that centralization and surveillance capitalism is a big part of Web 2, then with Web 3, with everything that is Out there on the blockchain and information, it's moving into a future that has even less privacy. Lots of different things out there that are probably worth an entire episode to try to unpack each of those points. But Ian did say that if there were going to be any of that type of marketplace that's happening, it would probably be on a third-party site and then some sort of integrations with that. The business model is still in development. They're looking at everything from free-to-play platforms to microtransactions to selling digital merch. I think at the end of the day, they're trying to find ways to have commerce for people to support artists in some ways. And whether that's providing a context on their platform to be able to do that, or whether they have integrations with third-party platforms. Either way, they're trying to help create a context for musicians to be able to have some of these performances that don't require millions of dollars of people who are the big stars that have access to all the motion capture and everything else. It'll be interesting to see how they continue to unfold and to meet with the needs of the existing music scene and playing with this idea that there is still value of something of those live moments and the serendipitous moments and the moments to be able to have a live performance that as you're there, you're able to connect with other people who are also big fans of that music. Musician or artists and finding different ways to be able to cultivate those events just like the live concert is still an event how do they start to bring elements of that into the virtual space while still either doing a hybrid approach or Starting to be inspired by what you get from the live performance of these event based approaches So they're trying to do a very similar thing to what the wave did I think which was focusing on those specific events and music so Yeah, it's still early, so if you're interested in checking it out and seeing how you can help support it, then definitely check out their Discord and look out for some of the different events that they're going to start to have folks get together and continue to develop their platform. So that's all that I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the WyssVR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a supported podcast, and I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voice vr. Thanks for listening

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