I logged into Second Life at 7PM and within a few minutes my real-life friend Tony Gerber, who I know now as as Cypress Rosewood in Second Life, had sent me an invitation to become my Second Life friend. This would allow him to see when I was online, and make it easier to find me, offer me “items” ranging from clothing for my avatar to wear, neat stuff I'd want for my avatar Von Johin, plus handy things like landmarks (think browser bookmarks) which would let me instantly transport to another virtual location, note cards written in plain text, and more. It really helps to have a friend walk you around in Second Life, either with you in person, or on the phone while you’re doing all this for the first time. Believe me, it helps. A lot.
I accepted a teleport invitation from Cypress to the virtual stage he was performing on that evening. The screen went black as a progress bar showed me that I was “traveling” to my destination, much like I imagine it being traveling on a teleporter in Star Trek. When I arrived, in front of me I saw realistic, scale-sized three-dimensional renderings of guitar amplifiers, cool old vintage synthesizers, a keyboard, even a 3D microphone. It was on a stage. Much of what I was looking at I later found out that Cypress made himself from “primitive objects” aka prims, which are the building blocks for every object you see in Second Life. I spent a good deal of time grinning, laughing, kind of taking this all in and processing what I was seeing. Its a lot to comprehend the first time you get into the scene.
One thing for sure, I had a lot to learn, including the language of the gamespeak, like "prims." So here we are, me in my new cartoon-self-form standing in front of my old friend’s cartoon-self-form (a giant elf, no less), moving my mouse around the screen allowing me to see the view from the stage, looking out at rows of seating for a soon-to-arrive audience. It was surreal. Very surreal. The fact that it was all created by the people who use the "game" was amazing enough, but the stuff they create is really just jaw-dropping.
Sound silly? Yeah, well, it kind of seems that way at first. That is, until 70 other avatars suddenly started appearing in front of you, finding their way to a seat next to you, and you begin to realize that all of these odd-looking cartoon avatars you’re in this “venue” with on a computer in a 3D world are each being operated by a unique individual from around the world, all of whom came together at one set time specifically to hear Cypress Rosewood perform his music. You read right. People know Cypress Rosewood is going to perform at a certain time in a certain place, and make plans in their real life day to log into Second Life as their avatar self to come plop their avatar down on a virtual chair, or have them animate into a dance, as they listen to him perform live music for them. This was their planned entertainment for the evening, as sure as they could have planned to watch a TV show or go to a movie, they planned to log into Second Life and listen to a live concert. These were real fans.
From that moment on, it wasn’t silly; it was one epiphany after another.
The hard facts here are: A guy in Nashville, TN logs into Second Life as a giant elf character, sets up virtual instruments and other items on his virtual stage, and dozens of people showed up at the same spot at the same time just to hear him play his music, and paid him money while listening.
Well, sort of. In Second Life, they figured out the concept of micro-payments a long time ago, creating their own virtual currency called “Lindens” with $1000 Linden dollars roughly equaling $4.00US, all tied to a money system that fluctuates exactly like the US currency’s value varies daily against other currency. You can buy Lindens from the company that owns Second Life, Linden Labs, at whatever the exchange rate is that day against the US dollar (or your local currency), and you can also sell the Linden dollars back to them at the exchange rate, minus a modest transaction fee, then transfer the proceeds from the sale into your Pay Pal account, or have them send you a check or bank wire for the funds, again, all for a small transaction fee. That's how Linden Labs makes money from this virtual currency.
I settled into my seat, a penniless, well, Lindenless pauper newbie, and watched the hour-long performance, listening to it through the speakers my computer is attached to from Bose. The sound was excellent 128k stereo streaming audio quality. I began to take my first steps at “getting it.”
Cypress Rosewood is a star in Second Life. He is a bona fide virtual world star. He has fans around the real world that faithfully log into Second Life for the express purpose of spending their disposable real world income begin entertained by his performances, buying his recordings and more. The virtual world allows them a direct contact with the object of their fandom, in an intimacy experienced only by playing in pubs or house concerts in the real world. Only these fans were from all over the real world, literally. Some had stayed up until the wee hours of the morning in Europe just to hear the concert, and actually plan their week so they can do it. They love him. They love his music. They love the experience.
Cypress Rosewood was paid a fee for that particular show I saw by the “owner” of the “virtual concert venue” in Second Life that hired him that evening. He earned the L$10,000 fee for the concert, plus the people who came to see him gave him generous tips, around another L$10,000. Get this, he also pre-sold an MP3 of the live concert to a dozen attendees for L$5000 each. After the show, he gave a download link to those who had pre-paid for a copy of the night’s performance where they could retrieve an MP3 of the concert set. That's L$80,000.00. Eighty-Thousand Linden Dollars. Holy moly!
What did I just see happen? Was this real? Here I am in Nashville, TN, Music City USA, where musicians play on lower Broadway in Honky-Tonk juke joints for tips, lucky if they make enough money to cover parking and a beer, but there’s my old friend sitting in his home in a Nashville suburb, earning a lot more money for playing for an hour without even leaving the house.
Do the math. He made about L$80,000 “Linden dollars” from that show. Selling $80,000 Linden dollars on the “Lindex Exchange” nets him about $283.46 US. That’s right. You saw it, $283.46 (net after about $10 in fees for selling the currency) for sitting in his house, in front of a computer, logged into a “video game” of sorts, performing music. Cypress is a star in Second Life. Not everyone playing in Second Life is making that kind of money, but lots of people are making a lot of money playing their music from their bedrooms, living rooms, home studios, and kitchens to a waiting audience hungry for the original music live concert experience they get in Second Life. There are potentially over 14,000,000 fans in Second Life to promote one's music to, with 55,000 on average connected to the service at any given time every hour of the day.
I had to get in on this action. I wondered if the residents of Second Life would dig my music. Who would I be? What would I play? Wow. Lots to think about. How do I get started? What do I need to do this? How do I promote myself? How do I get a following, and get to a point where people would pay me to perform, tip me, buy my music?
All of a sudden, this was really intriguing to me, not only for the financial possibilities, but the whole concept of being able to do what I love, which is performing, in front of an audience from all over the real and virtual world, without having to lug my gear from the house to the car to the club to the car to the house every day, without having to setup for a show, and without having to dodge drunks on the road on the way home.
Sound crazy? I guess it is. But its crazy-to-the-bank. No lie, I was as intrigued about Second Life now in a way I had not been since I first logged onto CompuServe in 1991 and decided I should pitch them on the idea of letting their members download sound files, chat with celebrities, and more. In fact, I was more excited about what Second Life's potential for the future of musicians than I was about the emerging online world seventeen years ago. I never dreamed of a day musicians could sit in their homes and perform to a global audience and drop a hundred or more bucks into their bank accounts the same time.
Tune in tomorrow, and I'll tell you how I made my way in the virtual world, going from spectator to performer, making some pretty good money myself and landing a new real life record deal along the way.