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I spoke recently with musician Seth Regan, whose online avatar Mankind Tracer is one of the most popular virtual performers in Second Life. Second Life is an online virtual world started in 2003, which currently has over 20 million registered accounts and averages about 50,000 concurrent online players (called “Residents”) who play the game through avatars that they individually design and name. Once in the gigantic virtual world of SL, players can do pretty much anything you can do in real life, like socialize with other people and spend virtual money, with the additional benefits of being able to fly, transport anywhere instantly and the ability to build virtual real estate and have virtual sex.
Regan has been able to do something in SL that most performing musicians would love to do – no, not having virtual sex onstage. Since 2006, when Regan joined SL, he has performed hundreds of live shows within SL, in front of thousands of online players. Seth books himself in online venues within the game and then by streaming performances from his home, fans can enjoy his concerts where they see his animated avatar Mankind Tracer (which looks a lot like Regan) playing his acoustic guitar and singing on a virtual stage. More recently, he has performed using a live video stream while he plays at a real life venue, so that online fans can actually see him perform live within the virtual world.
There are some drawbacks to performing this way; for instance, after a song is over there is a lag of about 10 seconds before “applause” from the audience comes in the form of text messages on the performer’s screen, but as Regan explains, these limitations are far outweighed by the positives that a virtual tour provide. You still have to book yourself in a venue in SL if you want to have a chance at playing in front of a crowd of people, but some venues will actually pay you to perform. You don’t have to lug any gear and best of all – you don’t have to buy any gas!
And you can play in front of audiences from around the world all while still wearing your bathrobe! Want to play a gig in Japan? Then book yourself in a Japanese “sim” area venue and remember that to go onstage at 10 pm in Japan means you’ll need to get up early in the morning if you live in New York.
You can even sell merch at your shows, like virtual custom designed clothing that players pay for with virtual money (called Linden dollars) or with links to your website and iTunes pages where fans can buy your stuff with good old fashioned greenbacks. And after performing a song set, Regan regularly gets positive messages written to him from people around the world – currently he has over 2,500 fans in his online “group.” Although Regan’s performances are usually seen by 50–100 fans per show, he has been able to arrange multi-venue shows within SL to audiences of up to 3,000 people. In fact, Regan’s fans like him so much, that in recent years they have twice paid to fly him to Amsterdam so that he could perform live before patrons from over 20 countries that came to see him. There are also groups of Second Life players that regularly get together in different cities around the world to see their favorite Second Life artists perform live and in person.
So how do you get started playing your music in this virtual world? As Regan will be the first to point out, Second Life can be a lot like real life. Don’t expect to just stroll into Virtualville and become an over night sensation. There is a lot of musical competition in Second Life and many of the same rules apply that you’d expect. In the beginning, don’t be surprised if you are playing for tips at virtual dives with very few people in attendance. There is a learning curve and it can take a while to get the hang of what works and what doesn’t. You still have to have the songwriting and musical chops, but if you hone your craft and persevere, you could find yourself sitting in your living room someday soon playing sold out shows.
Performers interested in perhaps a “second career” in SL should visit Mankind Tracer at www.sethregan.com. There you can check out Mankind Tracer’s music and videos of his virtual performances within the game. Regan also offers his services as a virtual manager within Second Life to help guide artists through the maze of confusion.
Zac Cataldo is a musician and owner/producer at Night Train Studios, a recording studio in Westford, MA. He is also co-owner of Black Cloud Productions, a music publishing company. Reach him at [email protected].