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Endless Riff and the Rise of the Virtual Music Venue

Despite a lot of optimistic predictions, the growth of virtual reality in the live music space has been sluggish. While the site dedicated to Live Nation’s partnership with Next VR promises that users will be “front row (at) every show,” it only posts a few shows a month, if that.

Melody VR just raised $6.5 million and has deals with major labels, but hasn’t actually released any of their content to the public. An effort by RivetVR to livestream all the shows at the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York seems to have fizzled out — every video save for one posted to their YouTube page is over a year old.

Nevertheless, startups persist in trying to bring VR concerts to the masses. The latest entrant in the space is Endless Riff, which just announced a deal with Rockwood Music Hall in New York to live stream concerts in VR. According to founder Mark Iannarelli, one of the biggest differentiators between Endless Riff and its competitors is that it enables a social component in the experience; users can invite friends, who appear as avatars, to join them for a show.

The partnership with Rockwood doesn’t go live until next month, and the app that is currently available in the Oculus store for the Rift doesn’t offer much as of yet. The user is in a virtual RV and able to watch 2D YouTube Music videos: you can choose from a handful of different genres, but have no control over the content beyond that.

Eventually, the idea is that you’ll be able to invite friends to join you in the virtual RV or the concert venue and watch the show together. Iannarelli adds that Endless Riff also plans on creating virtual versions of iconic venues, allowing users to explore those and watch footage of shows (although he was mum on whether there would be an associated scent activation for notoriously rank CBGB).

Certainly, allowing people to invite friends to a show with them is a huge step forward. One of the biggest problems with live music VR experiences to date is that they don’t effectively mimic the upside of the real live music experience. The ability to always have a clear view of the artist is great, especially for a shorter person like me. But one of my favorite things about live music is the social element — without it, the experiences feel too clinical.

The ability to just hang out and watch TV with friends in VR is another huge selling point. While watching music videos socially probably died with MTV, getting your friends from all over the world to hang together and watch the latest Game of Thrones, for example, could be huge.

But the biggest obstacle Endless Riff faces is beyond its control. There simply aren’t enough headsets in the market right now to make it likely that your friends will be able to join you.

This will hopefully change soon, but in the meantime, users are likely to get frustrated if they invite friends that aren’t able to attend time and time again. Unlike traditional 360 video, which can be viewed just as easily on common devices, the factor that makes Endless Riff groundbreaking also holds it back. Still, the launch is a welcome and early step towards what could be future of live music consumption.