Music in Virtual Reality

B&O headphones

Since we started to listen to music in loudspeakers in mono or stereo configurations, or in headphones, we have gotten used to a sound mix that is somewhat static, and the format for how to produce and mix for this format was established many years ago. Sure, there have been other formats with multichannel solutions, or binaural audio recordings using dummy heads, but you as a listener have in nearly all cases been sitting still in the sweet spot. In the middle, hearing the singer straight in front of you, the drumkit a bit further behind, the two guitarists a bit to the sides, and so on. 

We have very much grown accustomed to this auditory perspective of experiencing recorded bands and orchestras from a static sweet spot position. Experiencing music in VR is in some ways a bit like going back to how we used to experience music before listening to recorded sound became the norm. In virtual reality with properly implemented spatial audio, the musicians are suddenly put back into the (virtual) room that you are in, and you can walk around them while they are playing. Just as it is when you are attending a jazz club or any other kind of concert, where it is acceptable not to be sitting still in your seat all the time.

This opens up a whole new world of possibilities

With the new possibilities there also comes quite a few complications, when trying to move from the current norm of music mixing, into the new/old acoustic 3D space. When discussing a virtual reality sound mix with someone coming from the music industry, it must be emphasized that the mix will be a combination of traditional sound mixing, and something resembling a live sound mix taking place in virtual acoustic space. The acoustics of the virtual room can, of course, be tampered with (except of course when it has been pre-recorded). But there is also a limit to how much it can be exaggerated, where the visual proportions of the room mismatch the heard acoustics. This could, of course, pass as plausible, if the room is a music studio, and the performers are using microphones, as in the case with our collaboration with Oh Land and B&O. In such a situation, it could be expected that the sound would be processed and manipulated.

Oh Land & B&O Play
B&O and Oh Land VR experience

All the points mentioned above relates to diegetic music. With non-diegetic music, the conditions are different, and we have indeed used music in traditional stereo formats for the sake of creating drama and ambiance in virtual reality experiences.

How music is used in virtual reality is a topic that is still under development, and here at Virsabi we are paying attention to the developments in this field, and we are contributing to it with our research and our collaborations with inspired first-mover clients.

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