Anthony Matchett and Nikki Lambert are looking to expand virtual reality firm Melody VR ( Daniel Hambury )
When your camera starts melting, you know you’re in trouble. This was the crisis for Melody VR’s bosses when the virtual-reality company’s prize gear began scorching under 45 degree Las Vegas heat during a raucous set from US DJ Kaskade.
“Now, when you’re watching one of the big shows with pyrotechnics and you see fire shoot up from the stage you do go ‘ulp’,” says marketing chief Nikki Lambert.
Melody, listed on AIM as EVR Holdings, is the brainchild of Anthony Matchett. It allows users to watch gigs filmed at various angles on a VR headset via its newly launched app.
Putting on the headgear and immersing yourself in it proves fascinating. The cameras give an intimate view as Rag’n’Bone man strolls past singing while you lurk down stage and you can get up close and personal with Kiss’s Gene Simmons (if that’s your thing).
As with all virtual reality, how convincing it is relies on how willing you are to go with it. The stars whirl past in decent definition (gigs filmed in darker surrounds appear less clear), it’s good fun turning around and watching the crowd bellow and, importantly, the headset fits comfortably over my specs. The sound’s average, but better with headphones.
At the moment, the selection of 40 gigs released on to the app feels slightly hotchpotch — live kings Royal Blood, warbler Katherine Jenkins and Jamaican rapper Sean Paul provide quite the cross section. But they’ve worked with more than 600 artists and their gigs (at £9.99 each) will be drip released.
The broad range is deliberate, says Lambert, as the headsets are often brought home by a teenager and used by the whole family. “And people are often drawn in by an artist that they know and love and then, when they’re in that environment, think ‘I’d never go to a Kiss show but actually it would be quite cool to see what it’s like,’” she says at EVR’s offices in Kings Cross’s Lighthouse Building.
“People end up spending a disproportionate amount of time watching things that are the polar opposite to their actual music taste.”
The key accusation against Melody’s concept is it’s a soulless venture, watching acts from your armchair with a cuppa instead of seeing them electrify a room live.
“We’re never trying to replace live, we’re offering people an incredible alternative, that’s complementary to the real thing,” counters Matchett.
He believes there are myriad reasons people can’t go to a gig, from geography to price, and his tech allows superfans and casual musos alike to watch on.
He adds that offering a cheaper alternative may also help take some of the wind out of the eye-watering market for sold-on tickets for sold-out shows which “artists and fans hate”.
Crucially EVR waited for new, cheaper headsets to arrive to launch the app, as virtual reality creeps into the mainstream.
The $199 Oculus Go has put the gadget within the grasp of the great unwashed, rather than just rich gaming enthusiasts. It means that, while EVR is reliant on Silicon Valley’s tech giants for innovation, the market is tentatively moving in the right direction.
It’s been a rapid venture for Matchett, who still owns a 13% stake. The audio engineering specialist stumbled across the tech while working at production houses in Soho. It didn’t take much to spark the idea for Melody in the music buff’s mind and he eventually persuaded business partner Steven Hancock to go to San Francisco to see the tech.
“I said ‘you can be on the stage with the Stones…’ When he saw the technology he thought it was an amazing idea.” He later brought in Lambert, a marketing wise-head with a decade at Virgin Group and five years at Spotify behind her, to build up the brand.
Life as a public company has been slightly less straightforward. Matchett got the float away fine, as a penny stock in 2016, and crucial deals with the three big labels, Universal, Warner and Sony, followed, helping its price.
There have also been investments by Adele, as revealed by the Standard, and The Who’s Roger Daltrey.
But, after hitting a peak of 18p on the app’s launch, the shares have come back to 9p, valuing the company at £117 million. Matchett appears unconcerned: “We have a number of retail investors who saw the app as the end of the journey and saw the chance to cash in. For us it’s the start of the journey.”
Long term, Matchett is open to that journey going beyond music, and into theatre, sport and other genres. First there’ll be live streaming to headsets, so you can watch along while your mates are at Wembley.
He’s a salesman confident of his product: “This is better than a AAA pass. Even then you’re only standing at the side of the stage. With us, you’re on it.”