Music college makes VR headsets so struggling musicians can play iconic concert venues

23 October 2020, 11:12 | Updated: 23 October 2020, 12:55

VR headsets give musicians chance to play iconic concert halls
VR headsets give musicians chance to play iconic concert halls. Picture: Royal College of Music

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

An alarming number of musicians haven’t worked since March, amid coronavirus restrictions. Now, a new VR headset allows them to perform ‘live’ in a concert hall once more…

VR headsets, developed by the Royal College of Music, are giving musicians and audiences the chance to be – virtually – back in the concert hall, as venues struggle to put on live shows due to coronavirus restrictions.

Accessed through a headset or laptop, the tech visually and acoustically maps iconic concert venues, so you can experience the sound, space and atmosphere of famous stages as if you were there in person.

The RCM tried it out in its prized concert room, the Amaryllis Fleming Hall (watch the video below), with plans to roll it out to a range of major UK venues throughout 2021.

Mutong Shao, an RCM student who has been working on the project, described the experience as “phenomenal”, adding: “We were able to practice and perform within simulated acoustics that resemble a concert environment.

“It was like a step into the future of music learning.”

Read more: 170,000 jobs in UK live music sector will be lost by Christmas >

VR Rehearse & Perform - selecting a different performance in the same iconic venue

According to the Musicians’ Union, 70 percent of its musician members are unable to undertake more than a quarter of their usual work and more than a third currently have no work at all.

A further third are considering leaving the industry altogether, as prime minister Boris Johnson warned that severe restrictions could be in place for a further six months. Despite welcoming the government’s £1.57bn survival fund for concert halls, orchestras and theatres, many freelance musicians feel their “plight” is being left out.

Dr Vali Lalioti, Director of The Innovation Consultancy and project leader, says: “Musicians and performing artists are now training in home spaces, visually and acoustically poor in comparison to real venues and with their livelihoods in peril.”

Lalioti continues, she believes the tech will “support the recovery of creative sectors and performing venues in the most challenging times”.

The VR technology, created in partnership with The Innovation Consultancy Ltd, will be available to anyone who would like to download it.

Project partner Dr Terry Clark, a Research Fellow in Performance Science, says: “We are very excited about the chance to develop this tool, as it will provide musicians with the opportunity to practice coping with and responding to the visual and auditory features of performance spaces while still in an environment that is safe.

“As such, this project stands to make a significant contribution to how we teach and train musicians, in the future as well as in the current COVID-19 response.”