For this week’s installment of our State of Music series, we asked Steve Fullbright, President and COO at MAX, to share his predictions for 2022. Steve talks about “pandemic limbo,” hybrid music experiences, and the origins of the metaverse.
President & COO @ MAX
2023 UPDATE: A Look Back On 2022 With Steve Fullbright
"Yikes! Predictions are tough, but let's see how I did. I had three themes and I’ll score them (very unscientifically) here :
The continuing pandemic. I hypothesized that the pandemic would continue creating business ambiguity, consumer uncertainty, and (not surprisingly) new COVID variants. For fun, I mused that future variants should be named after Transformers. Mark me down for a B grade. Sadly, I was right about continued business ambiguity, but didn’t anticipate that supply chain challenges would persist nor that we’d begin to see meaningful hiring retreats in the second half of the year.
Finally, my recommendation that covid variants be named for Transformers fell flat.
Live Music. I forecasted that acts would have logistical challenges when touring and would make touring/dates fluid. I’d give myself a B+ for this one: many acts faced challenges with increased fuel/labor costs during the peak touring months when fuel prices were higher, and some acts had to navigate band illnesses that postponed shows, but, remarkably, the music industry weathered all of this very well and had a strong year–even by pre-COVID standards.
The metaverse. I predicted that hybrid digital and in-person experiences would continue to blend. I also opined that the “Metaverse” would struggle to gain adoption outside of gaming use cases. I felt that the big tech companies would continue to fight over who would lead the space and that we’d see expanded brand and advertising experiences in these new digital worlds. Ultimately, I stated the obvious that physical events would be more impactful than digital ones. Here, I’d give myself an A. The Metaverse has still not been adopted for broad use by most consumers–particularly outside of the gaming community. Branding within it is still tough–and ad formats, sponsorships, etc. are emerging very quickly, but are in their infancy.
For music, artists seemed far more interested in in-person shows than virtual shows–but, we are still in the early adopter stage of the metaverse and it will likely persist as new experiences come to bear."
MAX sits at an interesting intersection and we touch a lot of different areas, particularly in music/marketing/social/tech. With that perspective, have you had any particular topics or predictions on your mind going into 2022?
"I’ve been thinking a lot about how the world is in kind of a 'pandemic limbo,' a state of flux, in and out of the pandemic, and it’s affecting a lot of things, including consumer behavior and peoples’ general mental states. And we’ve gone back and forth so much - when alpha was over, we started to come back out, then came delta, and we all went back in our caves, then delta subsided, so we came back out, then we got omicron (they should name these variants after transformers - it’d at least make talking about them more interesting if Optimus Prime showed up in March) and we went back into our caves again. And where you live has such a big effect on that limbo state, so not everyone is in the same state of mind and there’s a lot of ambiguity in the marketplace."
How do you see this pandemic limbo shaping what brands do in 2022?
"Effectively, the world got sick with 'long Covid' and it’s had a huge effect on how companies are functioning. Manufacturers changed what they were making, shipping ports shut down, shipping containers were stranded at far-away ports, and supply chain issues lingered. Now we have the labor crunch, inflation, over demand for goods, etc. As with any persistent disease, there are good days and bad and we’re seeing that the actions of one day affect the next. Regardless of what’s going on with the pandemic limbo, brands need a way to connect with people. Music has always been something that makes people feel better, and that’s something that brands can bring into people’s homes, no matter what is going on with the pandemic."
Speaking of music, what effect do you think all of this will have on live music in 2022?
"In terms of music, this state of limbo makes it difficult to schedule tours, difficult to plan traditional concerts, and makes planning constantly fluid. I do think that even as we move back into live music, digital experiences will continue to bleed into those physical experiences."
I’m glad you mentioned the blend of digital and physical experiences. Can you talk more about the experiences people will expect out of live music events in 2022?
"We’re definitely moving towards more hybrid experiences in the music space. The blend of physical and digital has already happened in commerce and other spaces, and we expect that the physical and digital worlds will keep morphing together more in music experiences. In the live music realm, as with any other realm, it’s a matter of finding digital experiences with broad enough applicability that they enhance physical events, and aren’t just novelties.
"As far as the fully digital experiences go, some of the digital concert experiences got a lot of views specifically because they were novelties, like the in-game concerts that Roblox and Fortnite have done, but I don’t know if consumers would choose a fully virtual concert (watching an avatar of my favorite band perform pre-recorded music for my avatar) over a live concert."
Speaking of fully digital experiences, any thoughts on the metaverse?
"The metaverse is an interesting thing, and it’ll depend on who ends up controlling it. Will it be owned by big tech companies or will it be decentralized? If Facebook ends up with a big piece of the metaverse, will the digital you and physical you merge, since the digital you isn’t anonymous in the Facebook world? Or will there be more anonymity? Will you get to choose who you want to be in the metaverse.
"I think back to playing Diablo (the multiplayer game from Blizzard) when it came out, and games like that kind of feel like the beginnings of the multiverse. And then there was Second Life, where people could create this whole virtual life separate from themselves. And, of course, brands tried to use Second Life back then to varying degrees of success. It might be different now, but there were definite challenges that came along with brands interacting with anonymous people.
"I do think that the best path to have a substantial connection with consumers in the metaverse is through gaming. I think if we could wind the clock forward, we’d see Meta, Microsoft, Amazon’s Twitch, and Google in a cage fight over who will own the biggest piece of the metaverse. The latest Microsoft acquisition of Activision Blizzard shows that they are picking gaming as the strong path to winning consumer adoption within the metaverse.
"Of course, these gamified experiences will be advertiser friendly and we’ll see many new and unique ad experiences beyond the current virtual storefronts and billboards on digital paths in builder games."
And how will music fit into the metaverse?
"Like I said, gaming is currently the best path to connecting with people in the metaverse, and music (outside of background music) will initially be a sideshow within the gaming platforms. Again, like the Roblox and Fortnite concerts, big pop stars will have altered VR setups and people’s emojis will watch artist’s emojis, and it’ll be a gimmicky experience --but consumer interest in these experiences will continue even after the novelty wears off.
"What’s more exciting to me is the idea of the physical and digital worlds merging, and that will be true for music too. I think back to when Pokemon Go came out and how these digital experiences joined the real world. Suddenly, there were Pokemon chasers walking around in circles, chasing digital items in the physical world. We’re always looking to the future here at MAX, and the metaverse will be a part of that, but digital elements bleeding into physical events will be more impactful in 2022."
So, what’s in the future for MAX in 2022?
"I see us as being 'musicnauts.'
"Music is an open space, a sea of possibility, potential new sounds, new ways of recording, people bringing things from the past and reformatting for the future. At MAX, we look forward into the horizon, often from a data point of view (how music impacts peoples’ day to day lives, what they buy, their behavior, the indication of peoples’ lifestyles) but always from a perspective of discovery. We’ve learned a lot in the past five years, and we look forward to even more discovery. We see vast opportunities for artists and their songs to be further incorporated into brand stories going far beyond the jingle. We believe brands will continue to seek to become a part of consumers’ lifestyles and will leverage music and the artist’s that create it, as a way to build deeper relationships within a consumer's day-to-day life."
Next week, we’ll talk with Matt Henderson, VP of Operations at MAX, to hear his 2022 State of Music predictions. And as always, if you have any questions you’d like to see answered by any of our featured experts, comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.