A startup team based in Ireland that includes some ex-musicians and fans of the potential inherent in augmented reality is building a company to essentially prove what Shakespeare wrote about all the world being a stage.

Firstage is the name of the company. Its app, currently in beta but available to download now on iOS and Android, lets musicians broadcast a kind of mini-gig, well, pretty much anywhere.

DON’T MISS: This is why it’s so great that the iPhone 7 is killing off the headphone jack

To do that, Firstage has been recording artists performing in front of a green screen. Users download the company’s app and print out a “stage” in the form of a small card that carries that company’s signature letter “F.” Hold the smartphone up to that, and presto — it looks like the musicians, albeit in miniature form, are right there playing just for you.

In tandem with the app-based virtual performance, the company has also been teaming up with places and events around its hometown of Dublin (think coffee shops and festivals) to offer performances for fans only viewable at a specific venue — or on a specific product’s packaging.

Says co-founder Neil Harrison, himself a former musician, Firstage isn’t meant to be a replacement — nor does the company have any illusions it ever could replace — acts needing to hit the road to get in front of fans. What it represents, instead, is one more way to reach fans where they are, and one more source of potential revenue at a time when… well, who really needs to be reminded anymore how comprehensively things have changed when it comes to making money in the music business?

Harrison, formerly a vocalist for the band Beat Antenna, met Firstage co-founder Keith Lawler (a former drummer for the band giveamanakick) while working at the Saatchi & Saatchi advertising agency in Dubai. Their marketing work, plus seeing first-hand how tough it is for a working musician to make a living, convinced them to try to build something together.

Harrison and Lawler don’t perform themselves anymore (“This is keeping us away from the leather trousers in our wardrobes). But they’re still close enough to the musician’s life that it meant something to them to try to improve it.

“With our new studios in Dublin, we’re recording new bands every week and testing how fans and brands would like to engage with this augmented entertainment,” Harrison tells BGR. “Moving the company to Dublin provided a great test bed for the platform with hardcore music fans, at great independent festivals such as Hard Working Class Heroes which has now grown to a small group of test partner venues and the new recording home at The Workman’s Club — a popular music venue that hosts live gigs and now the recording of virtual gigs with Firstage.”

The founders came up with the idea for an AR-based concert platform to help artists earn more money three years ago. Since then, they’ve been experimenting with, in addition to building and refining the product, the different monetization levers they can pull.

Features the team has been testing include streaming bands playing live at a specific time so fans can buy virtual tickets to on-demand content. Harrison said the team is also currently investigating a live feed that allows artists to interact with fans and vice versa in real time, to include things like song requests.

“As professional musicians, Keith and I understand how difficult it is for artists to constantly gig,” Harrison said. “So our mission is to bring down all these barriers that touring presents, to allow bands to still give a personal performance to the fan through immersive augmented gigs.”

Firstage is currently a team of six. Taking a broader look at the space they occupy, that team may also soon find the wind at its back.

Over the next four years, according to research from International Data Corp., VR and AR revenue is forecast to explode from $5.2 billion this year to more than $162 billion in 2020. That research is forecasting a surge of VR-related revenue compared to AR this year and next, mostly due to “consumer uptake of games and paid content.” After 2017, though, IDC sees AR revenue pulling ahead thanks especially to use cases around things like health care delivery and product design.

No one should need a reminder about what an AR blockbuster Pokemon Go became. And in recent days, according to Marketwatch, Piper Jaffray sees Apple packing more AR functionality into the iPhone.

Music certainly seems as ripe a category as any to bring some AR functionality to.

“(This) means that artists can play millions of stages at once, anywhere in the world, without packing their drum kit and arguing with their partners,” Harrison said. “They can still give a personal immersive gig and see which towns, countries their music is taking off in.

“Augmented gigs will never replace going to a gig. It supports tours and festivals by giving fans the chance to see artists before and after or even if they can’t get to the gig. With technology advancements, a gig now can be far more immersive than watching a YouTube video — the band comes to you and you can now get as close to the band as you like.”

View Comments