Earlier today, UK-based virtual concert startup MelodyVR announced it was buying Napster, which you probably remember as the music piracy service that almost got you kicked out of college for using too much bandwidth. In recent years, Napster struck licensing deals with labels and was bought and sold, but never achieved the market penetration of services like Spotify or Apple Music; it was most recently owned by Rhapsody and repacked as a B2B music play.
With this acquisition, MelodyVR is taking a direct shot at the Wave, whose most recent partnership with The Weeknd and TikTok drew huge buzz. Until now, MelodyVR focused on virtual reality concerts, with footage from events pre-Covid and performances taped in Covid-safe studios since the spring. But neither caught fire; its 2019 financial results showed revenues of $256,000 and an operating loss of nearly $21 million.
The Wave, meanwhile, scored $30 million in funding a few months ago and has drawn huge names like John Legend, as well as The Weeknd. The key differentiator is that while MelodyVR relies on performances where the artists are physically present, the Wave deals in avatars, which means the performances can be animated and customizable; The Weeknd experience, for example, let users vote on whether that avatar should take certain actions and change the direction of the video.
For MelodyVR to do a fully Wave-like performance, it would still have to strike deals with artists for likeness rights, but if it just wanted to create animated VR experiences, the Napster licenses give it the ability to do those without getting one-off deals. If these experiences are interesting and could scale quickly, there is definitely a volume play, as opposed to the Wave’s special events.
No matter what happens in the long run, the music VR space just got a whole lot more interesting today.