Sunday, May 24, 2015

Linden Lab Second Life Music Fest Auditions (05.23.15)

Yeah, that's right. I auditioned for a thing. And I liked it.

Here's the story: I was be-bopping around the interwebs about ten days ago, and saw a post on the Second Life official blog that said "Sign up to Audition for the Second Life Music Fest in Celebration of Second Life’s 12th Anniversary!" This was a bit of a surprise for two reasons. First, it's been a number of years since Linden Lab, the makers of the Second Life platform, had been directly involved in their own annual anniversary celebrations. It's instead been run by a team of SL resident volunteers who have done a great job. Second (and perhaps far more perplexing), to the best of my knowledge, Linden Lab has never once held a music festival... especially one where the performers were offered compensation.

People have to understand that the reason for this is simple: SL is simply a platform, and nearly all of the content within is user-created, as opposed to being provided by the makers of the software. That includes all events and activities. All of the hundreds of live shows I've done there have been privately contracted between myself/my manager and the owners/managers of the venues, with Linden Lab having no role in the process. So, as a longterm SL musician, seeing this blog post was fascinating. I previously hadn't felt any interest in performing at the upcoming SL12B event; as you can see by flipping through this blog's archives, I'd performed at many other SL birthday celebrations. Frankly, they were never among the better experiences I'd had at live SL shows. But this call for musical talent from Linden Lab themselves was, if nothing else, something I'd want to check out merely to see how the process would go.

To be honest, I was a bit skeptical. Why get involved at this point, after more than a decade of musicians and venues doing it on their own? But like most things in life, a move like this is only as good as the people behind the idea, and I must say, they seem to have a champion of the music scene in Xiola Linden, SL's lead community manager. More on her later; I want to tell you about the auditions themselves.

A whole bunch of SL musicians gather at Lavender Field, awaiting the auditions to get rolling. Photo and top photo by Kat.

Where and When and Who and Why
They were held on Friday May 22 and Saturday May 23. The location -- which was a good idea -- was Brique Topaz's Lavender Field, the same place where I've done a number of "Feed-a-Smile" charity events. The reason this was a good choice is that a) it's a relatively low-lag venue and b) I noted that a number of folks were also contributing to Brique's cause while waiting around for their turn to audition. My audition day was Saturday, but I couldn't resist popping in on Friday to see how the process was running. The answer, it turned out, was pretty smooth. Of course, there were some issues; any time you get a whole bunch of avatars in one sim, you get the accompanying lag and other issues. Also, as any SL musician or venue owner knows, the act of flipping around between some 30+ musicians with varying stream capabilities, having to switch the venue stream concurrently... well, that's a pain in the ass, and little problems are inevitable. That having been said, I'd say that under the circumstances, it was very well organized.

I have to also say that they were smart in how it was put together. The audition was not an "open call". The Linden people had a submission process that allowed them to pre-screen musicians, and choose the ones they felt would be the most appropriate for this kind of event. Do you run into the possibility of making someone feel rejected if they are, um, rejected? Of course you do. But as performing musicians, even the best of us run into rejection constantly. Music is a subjective art where there's no such thing as wrong or right for 100% of the listeners. But I digress; I estimate that roughly 60-80 musicians were selected to audition over the two days. I was happy to spread the word around to the SL musician community so that as many of us as possible could try for a shot at auditioning.

Rocking for the Lindens
On both Friday when I stopped by as a spectator and on Saturday when I was scheduled to audition myself, the place was pretty packed. Lavender Field is a pretty expansive venue that does accommodate a lot of people, and a lot were there. In addition to the musicians present, the event was open to the public, and a number of people -- friends and managers of musicians, it seemed -- were in attendance. One thing I noted was that rather than seeming competitive, the musical community was being highly supportive of each other. The fact is that for the most part, we're a tightly-knit community who have come to know each other well. Many of us have become friends completely outside of SL, and have attended live jams together where we've had some real-life time to hang out and become close. What you saw at the auditions were many musicians applauding each other and truly enjoying the music that the other performers were doing.

The aforementioned Xiola Linden was the master of ceremonies for the event, and she was doing a great job. But she wasn't the only Linden there; on both Friday and Saturday, I saw a good number of their telltale blue-colored name tags. Xiola's demeanor throughout the auditions was what any musician wants from the most ardent fans at their shows. She was obviously thoroughly enjoying every performer. As my friend and fellow SL musician Ren Enberg said at the end of her audition, one can only feel sorry for the people who have to choose which of the performers will actually play at the music fest.

Since I got randomly picked to go first, I hopped on stage purely out of habit. Eight years of virtual shows tends to do that. Photo by Kat.

What I Did
Each artist had a 5-minute audition time. That's basically one song, and it was a tough decision as to what I should play. Between originals and covers, I have about 500 songs in my repertoire. If my goal was purely to try and increase the odds that I'd be selected for a spot at the Fest, I probably should have played a cover that would be familiar to all listeners. But being me, I didn't do that; instead, I did one of the original songs from my last solo album, a song I've been performing in SL since 2007: "You're Like a Cloud". I felt fine about my performance. There was a bit of a typical SL-style glitch; they asked me to use their house stream, but there was a problem getting it to work. No big deal; I'm long past sweating about stream problems. After a few minutes of getting it dialed in at the venue, I was rolling live. After my song, which kicked off the Saturday auditions, Kat and I stayed for two more hours listening to everyone else do their thing.

Rocking "You're Like a Cloud" for my SL musician friends. Photo by Kat.

Kat and I ended up having a great time listening to all the various kinds of performers who were playing their stuff at the audition. We hung out for almost the entire thing, over two hours of five-minute performances.

Perhaps the best part was seeing the level of supportiveness offered by the whole community for each other. It makes me proud to be part of this scene.

Probably the most fun parts of the day were twofold: first, getting to hang out with so many SL musician friends that I don't see in world very often, and second, getting to hear some of the newer SL musicians who I hadn't met or heard before. There were a lot of impressive performances I heard on both days. As usual in SL, just about every conceivable style and genre of music was represented, from rock to singer-songwriter to show tunes to metal to country to jazz (except for hip hop, which has always seemed under-appreciated in SL). A lot of it was impressively good. One note: some artists who I hadn't heard in a few years showed marked signs of improvement, and that put a big smile on my face. It's always nice to see evidence that your friends keep getting better at what they do.

What's Next?
I have no idea! It would seem that currently, there are sixteen slots for this music fest, spread out over two days of the SL12B event. I assume that at some point in the near future, Xiola and the other Linden folks and judges will go through their notes and select the people who will be playing. I am not at all worried about being one of the Sweet Sixteen. As I mentioned to my other friends in the SL music community, the most important aspect of this already happened, which was the exposure of the Linden people to our community as a whole. That does nothing but good for this group of forward-thinking musicians who have been using the virtual world for their stages over the past decade. I think it's exciting, and will certainly be attending the Second Life Music Fest shows as a fan if not a performer.


Unknown said...

Nice writeup Zak

Freestar Tammas said...

Great overview of the event. I concur with all opinions expressed, well except my name is spelled eNberg instead of eMberg, but it's still always nice to be quoted in a positive way, spelling not withstanding. Naturally, my name is spelled like a Dick (sportscaster) instead of model (Kelly, a swimsuit model). Ah well! Maybe I should be glad. lol.

Zak Claxton said...

Fortunately, Ren, there's an edit function on these silly blogs. Thanks for the correction!