First Look At A Second Life

Tired of braving cigarette smoke, bad sound, and harsh DUI laws to hear live bands? Enter Second Life (SL), a virtual reality environment with over 4 million “residents.” Second Life offers multiple opportunities for all types of artistic expression, education, and business. It’s like the Web on steroids; nearly everything you see in Second Life has been created by its residents, who are represented by a customizable, cartoon-character-like “avatar.” You can walk, fly, or teleport about to explore this world, and interact with other avatars.
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People buy and sell virtual real estate (using either $U.S. or the world’s virtual currency) and build houses, shops, nightclubs, hi-tech gadgets, etc. All creators retain the rights to their creations — you can give away freebie items, or sell them using the “in-world” currency. Some people simply sell enough stuff to entertain themselves within SL without having to spend any real money, while others are creating or supplementing real-life businesses.

Best of all for musicians, SL supports streaming broadcasts into the “world” from any Shoutcast or Icecast server — the same technology that enables Internet radio and podcasting. Musicians can actually perform live, at any number of existing virtual concert venues (or build their own), in front of an audience of people from all over the world — even though they appear to be in the same room. Lots of enterprising folks sell realistic-looking guitars, drums, light shows, and all the other trappings, complete with built in animation controllers, so you can get your rockstar moves on. And live music is extremely popular in Second Life.

HOW TO PLAY “VIRTUALLY” LIVE

The technology to stream live music into SL is common, and very similar to podcasting or running a Net radio station. You simply stream from your audio interface up to a Shoutcast or Icecast server, using WinAmp’s Shoutcast plug-in or other third party apps such as SimpleCast (Windows) or Nicecast (Mac). You can run your own Shoutcast server from your own computer, but it’s not recommended unless you’re running a server farm — multiple listeners will eat up your bandwidth and computer resources quickly. Many companies rent Shoutcast servers, and there are even residents in SL who will rent streams to musicians by the hour for specific performances. Also, many existing virtual venues already rent their own streams.

Once your broadcast client is up and running, you then enter your stream’s URL into the venue’s “land” properties (each virtual land “parcel” can have its own audio stream), and everyone at the venue will now be able to hear your broadcast! Your avatar can stand onstage and strum a guitar while you play — most performers simply set an animation in motion, then forget about it so they can focus on playing.

While it’s quite easy for a solo artist to broadcast a live performance or be a DJ in SL, it’s trickier for a full band. You need a space to set up live, and be able to get a decent live mix going into your audio interface. And you need enough computers (with significant horsepower, including a good graphics adapter) to broadcast the audio, plus log in each of your band members’ avatars.

HOW STUDIO OWNERS CAN BENEFIT

SL could also present an income opportunity for a project studio with a good live room, a well-equipped rehearsal studio with recording facilities, or even a small live venue, as these businesses could help bands facilitate SL performances. The performances could be recorded as they are broadcast, and downloads of the show made available to audiences. A coffeehouse in Atlanta even hosts a monthly Second Life simulcast, spearheaded by a singer-songwriter who performs at the coffeehouse while streaming into a virtual venue — which the real-life audience can see on a projector screen, and photos or video of the real-life performance are also broadcast into the SL venue.

To find out more, visit www.secondlife.com. It’s free to join, unless you want to own virtual land. To attend a live music event, search on “Events — Live Music.” We hope to meet many of you EQ readers in the virtual world!

Lee Flier is a guitarist, songwriter, engineer, and producer based in Atlanta,Georgia. Her band, What The…?, is a fixture in the Atlanta area and has released two independent CDs. Contact her via the band’s website at www.what-the.com, or via her “Backstage With the Band” forum at www.harmony-central.com. In Second Life, send an instant message to Lee’s avatar, Leyah Renegade.