Saturday, February 28, 2009

Who is Performing in Second Life and Why?

Classical performers in Second Life range from emerging and mid-career professional musicians, retired and semi-retired musicians, competent amateurs, music students, music educators, plus occasional cameo appearances by leading artists and ensembles.

Some performers find it is a good way to work up new material and play it before a live audience before facing an audience in the concert hall. For students it is a way to get more live concert experience. For educators, a way to keep performance skills sharp.

Performers are warmed by the appreciation of the audience and by reaching new audiences. (some links to sites for performers in Second Life are in the sidebar.)

While some hope to promote real life careers and boost earnings, this last goal is more difficult. The requirement to have a pseudonym in Second Life hobbles name recognition. As Second Life evolves into a serious platform for art, corporations, and learning, this role-play with fictional names seem more and more out-dated.

On Music Island we have been getting around the name recognition issue with posters, T-shirts and even virtual CD stands with links to performers' real world websites.

Anyone interested in learning more about classical music in Second Life should get a free Second Life account. Once you are on the grid, join the Classical Music Group in world. Please contact me—Kate Miranda—if I can help you or answer your questions.


Because virtual reality is so new, artists and organizations have managed to create a great deal of buzz with concerts in Second Life. Two years ago, when the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic streamed a video of a concert into virtual reality it created headlines in the New York Times, the Liverpool Telegraph, and many other newspapers due to the novelty of the activity. When major artists such as pianist Lang Lang have appeared in Second Life, they have been rewarded with both coverage in the mainstream press and also amateur YouTube videos and spin in the blogosphere.

For emerging artists, Second Life becomes one of a number of online strategies for promotion and dissemination. The Second Life community has been described as an international cyber tribe. If so, it is a large and growing tribe and savvy artists and arts organizations are finding that virtual reality is a great way to reach beyond regional and national borders. Second Life has its own media, and the popular news, radio and television stations covering events in virtual reality have proven to be a great way to communicate with this select group of high tech audience members.
One interesting place to visit is the Second Life Cable Network.

Communication within SL is done primarily through groups that individuals can elect to join. Because avatars are limited to membership in a maximum of 25 groups, getting avatars to join your group is highly competitive. You are reaching a very select group of “opted in” classical audience members when you broadcast a classical concert on one or more of the main classical music groups.

Friday, February 27, 2009


Second Life is an international community that is small enough to facilitate networking among people of shared interests. Second Life performers and creative artists are finding virtual reality a great place to learn about new projects and make connections that will help them with organizing concerts, shows and tours in other countries.

Training of professional musicians

Faculties of music and individual music teachers are beginning to use virtual reality as one vehicle to train young artists, by providing fun performance opportunities that are no cost or low cost.

Thom Dowd who teaches at Swiss Conservatory of Music is one of the Music Educators using Second Life as a performance opportunity for his adult students.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Music Education and Outreach

The other unique element to the SL live concert experience is the accessibility of artists. Performers can view text messages and questions. Artists customarily engage the audience before and after concerts and sometimes at breaks in the program. This accessibility is as rewarding to the performer as to the audience.
The use of virtual reality for musical education is relatively new but music educators are already discovering that the ability to have students view text while they listen to music helps deepen understanding. In one recent music appreciation class, students were able to read text information about what they were hearing during the performance.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Second Life concerts as audience development

The aspect unique to classical music in Second Life is the quality of the audience experience. A podcast or webcast can deliver the same sound quality and serve promotional purposes, but all of these are solitary experiences.

By contrast, concerts in Second Life are joyfully social; audience members are celebratory in their anticipation and appreciation of the music in a way rarely matched in real life concerts. Unique to the medium, listeners silently text appreciative comments, hurrahs, and questions that they hope someone more informed will be able to answer. Sometimes Second Life avatars even decide to dance to the music in the manner of small children at a summer concert at the park.

Conversations quickly reveal that many of those attending classical concerts in Second Life have little or no experience of live classical music. While classical music series in the mainstream arts are having trouble attracting new audiences to conventional concert stages, it is demonstrated that the Internet virtual audience is open to the experience of art music. It seems worth it to step into the virtual world to reach out to this new audience.

The construction of Second Life Musical Venues

The subject of virtual real estate, 3-dimensional building and managing lag issues in Second Life is a very large topic, which I can only touch on here.

Artists and arts organizations may wish to know that non-profits can apply to purchase virtual real estate at a reduced price if they use that land for their non-profit activities. Virtual building is a highly specialized skill and can be costly unless you are able to access highly skilled volunteers. Everything in Second Life is built by users out of basic shapes (virtual building blocks) and textures (graphic images applied to shapes). Poor building is costly in efficiency and in performance for people visiting your site.

However, it is not necessary to buy land or build for the artist or ensemble to begin to present concerts in virtual reality. There are many venues and now several established concert series. You do, however, need to understand SL building, economics and technology to some extent to choose project partners wisely.

In my role as one of 4 Officers of the Classical Music Group in Second Life I have helped support classical musicians and ensembles in presenting and promoting their concerts in various venues across the virtual world. Very early on, I identified a number of issues with many of the venues that held concerts.

Very briefly these issues were of three types:

  1. The largest problem was venues constructed for appearance—visual impact—rather than maximum capacity of venue

  2. Lack of support for technical problems

  3. The venue lacked the support people or knowledge to deal with occasional trouble-makers

To a large extent these problems were the result of either ignorance or lack of interest in the art form. Most concert venues in virtual reality are built with the simple goal of attracting more people to simulation in the hopes that it will directly or indirectly serve commercial goals: The hope is that people will stay and shop at virtual stores, buy or rent virtual property in a lovely sim they have visited, and/or the increased traffic in the simulation will boost ranking on the SL search engine, rather like boosting Google rankings.

Naïve virtual builders are swept up in the desire to create a wonderful replica of gothic cathedrals or baroque salons. They believe that this visually impressive space with detailed, high resolution textures will be a fantastic place to hold classical concerts. The reality is that the amount of RAM needed to draw & re-draw all those textures at 15 fps or above for ideal display means that with the addition of just a few moving avatars in the scene, people will experience lag and crashing.

As avatars move about a visually rich environment, their computer has to draw and re-draw all the textures from different angles and proximities as they move their field of vision. The more avatars doing that in a simulation, all running on the same server, the slower the simulation becomes until eventually the server can crash. Individuals within such a slow moving simulation experience problems called “lag” which disrupt their enjoyment of the experience in various ways, often even causing individual avatars to “crash,” to be abruptly disconnected from the grid.

I brought this problem back to my own non-profit, open-learning community and gained consensus that we would hold a broad-based consultation to explore the idea of constructing a classical music venue built purely for music. We spent a half-day meeting with sound experts, builders, event planners with experience with large SL events, and classical musicians.

From that consultation we came away with the following advices of excellence:

  1. Use as few textures and as low-resolution textures as possible

  2. Keep the audience view as simple as possible: looking out to open sea was thought ideal--the less the avatar's viewer has to draw the more efficiently the program runs

  3. Build the venue in two simulations with the stage in one simulation and the audience area in a separate simulation. That way, audience lag will not affect the performer(s)

We have used all these advices in the construction of our classical amphitheatre, placing it on its on islet that we simply called “Music Island”.

Detailed instructions for SL streaming from PC

In order to stream "live" audio into SL, first you need to capture your music through microphone (s) and “broadcast” your sound from your computer. It is recommended that if you are going to broadcast more than one track (several instruments, instrument plus voice, or instrument plus recorded accompaniment) that you use an external mixer to enable you to broadcast one mixed signal. There are 3 broadcast programs available to download: Winamp {with a dsp plugin called Shoutcast}, SimpleCast, or SAM. Simplecast and SAM, can be found at If you have the Newest Version of Winamp, you can also find the SHOUTcast plugin at this site.
Edward Lowell, a leading provider of streaming services in Second Life, (The Stream Team) finds Simplecast to be his broadcaster of choice noting is as simple and reliable, and by far the easiest to set up. These instructions are based on his notes. Download the broadcaster to your PC according to the instructions provided at their site.
The Spacial audio site is a great place to invest some time in reading, now only about their products but about what Internet streaming really is. There is an ongoing wiki built by users for users and discussion forums It is a great place to get knowledge and a basic understanding on how this works.

Setup Encoder for SHOUTcast Server:

The next step is to create an encoder that can supply the streaming server with a source stream. (The following instructions are for SimpleCast but can be easily adopted to other broadcasters.)
  1. Click on Encoders button in SimpleCast

  2. In the Encoders window click on the add encoder button

  3. Select MP3 and mp3PRO and Click OK

(Note: You may use the legacy ACM MP3 encoder, but it is not recommended.)
Configurations below for MP3 and mp3PRO encoder apply.

MP3 (PRO) Encoder & Streamer Configuration

  1. On the Converter tab, set Quality to Medium
  2. Under Format, select the format that matches the URL of your stream host provider, such as
  3. Check Auto Start encoder after 5 seconds
  4. Uncheck “Allow scripts in stream.” Note: If left checked, you will have problems with stream.

Server Details tab

  1. Server type is SHOUTcast
  2. Enter Host in Server IP field
  3. Enter Port in Server Port field
  4. Enter password in password field

How does Second Life Music work?

The performer or ensemble use microphones or instrument pickups to capture a live performance. Where more than one performer or sound source is used, it is advisable to have microphones & pickups attached to an external mixer and to send the combined signal to the computer. That performance is encoded as an MP3 stream and uploaded to a ShoutCast server on the Web.

Meanwhile in Second Life, a venue owner tunes the media channel available as an option for his/her land parcel to the URL for the streamed music. The result is a live webcast into the virtual world where a real-time audience sits and listens in a virtual concert hall environment.At the same time the performers, or in some special situations their helpers, are accessing their computers to position their Second Life avatars to "play" virtual instruments, in fact triggering animations.

Performers also can use the stream to introduce their works by speaking into a computer headset microphone or by using their avatars to text introductions. Some performers and ensembles have opted to use streaming video of real concerts within virtual reality, but this has proven to have less appeal when it is the only medium. (Detailed technical instructions in next post.)

Outline of the beginning of Music Island

Organizing and presenting concerts on Music Island is part of my work and play within Second Life. It is a specialized new platform and in this blog I hope to share the basics of what I have learned about presenting concerts in Second Life, as well as some information about the concerts that have happened at Music Island and the artists who have performed there.

In 2007 I became a member of the open-learning community of Cedar Island. Cedar is the private project of a remarkable individual Second Life resident, Jon Seattle. Wishing to create a space where people can develop and share positive learning in life he has created a community within Second Life for people pursuing individual projects that contribute to the intellectual, cultural and spiritual life of residents. Residents present on their projects twice a quarter in the form of status updates, formal presentations, exhibits, concerts, events.

During the prior year of 2006, my exploration of Second Life had been sporadic and personal, simply learning to navigate, exploring worlds and thinking about what the whole thing was about. Having to choose a first topic I focused on developing a basic skill I would need if I were to pursue a musical project in Second Life--the ability to digitally stream music. I presented on the topic and created a kiosk display of help materials.

In my second quarter, seredipitously, the leader of the Classical Music Group in Second Life--Tyrol Rimbaud--was looking for volunteers to help in a group that promoted occasional classical events to about 3,000 group subscribers. It was her thought that group Officers should/could also help the artists with creating and distributing concert programs and acting as helpers on site to direct traffic, make announcements, and provide general assistance. I reported on this at the end of my second quarter, citing a number of problems occuring in concerts and venues that were outside of the control of myself or the performing musicians.

These concerns--which I will detail in future posts--led to future projects and the development of the existing Music Island Concert venue and series:
  1. organizing a consultation on the creation of a non-profit venue for music, involving musicians, artists, builders, event promoters, classical group leaders, and Cedar Island community residents
  2. taking the advices of the consultation and applying it to the building of Music Island... this was work undertaken by Cedar Island owner and architect, Jon Seattle
  3. launching the Music Island Concert series
  4. beginning a Music Island Concert group
  5. reporting on my work at the Technology in the Arts Conference in May 2008
  6. the development of a Music Island Board of Directors

Virtual Concerts in the Park

Time was when orchestras and ensembles wanted to reach out to new audiences, they took their instruments out to the park and shopping malls where teens and young families tended to gather. In today’s world, increasingly, people are meeting online. Some intrepid, tech-savvy musicians and ensembles are out there in the virtual community, presenting virtual concerts in the new virtual park. Who are they? What are their experiences and what are the lessons we can learn?

Pictured above is a "live" concert by British community orchestra Sinfonia Leeds presented February 2008 in the virtual world of Second Life. The concert appeared in virtual reality within an open-learning community Cedar Island, where I reside in my Second Life identity as Kate Miranda. This was one of only three full symphony concerts ever presented within virtual reality, and the most successful by all accounts. Others spent many thousands of dollars on consultants and equipment, and yet realized only part of their goals. Sinfonia Leeds only costs were one-time broadcast rights of their selected repertoire (about $300.) and about $100 in incidentals, yet they realized all their goals. The Sinfonia Leeds effort in virtual reality was a result of a collaboration between one orchestra musician who was knowledgeable in virtual reality and my own project and project partners. Between us we were able to access all the resources we needed through a growing community of Second Life classical musicians, artists and artisans.