Dawn Richard may be the first woman on Live 360, but she's no stranger to VR. At the live broadcast on Wednesday, she announced that the upcoming video for her single "Not Above That" will be in 360 — she's been hard at work finalizing it for the last month. So by the time she and her director Monty Marsh (who has worked with her on the visuals for "Billie Jean" and "Titans," among others) and their crew showed up in the YouTube Space in LA, they knew what they wanted. The opportunity to give the first live concert in VR was not one they took lightly.
"We wanted to create another world," she said during our Q&A. "Instead of creating just another live experience, where you just look at a show, we wanted to wrap you in our own world." Richard has been wrapping viewers and listeners in her own world ever since going independent in 2012; you can see the thought and concept in every video she's released as a solo artist. "It's always about taking you away and putting you in a utopia... it's always been about getting away from the crazy and going to a place where you feel welcome."
Watch the 360 video of this week's live performance:
Putting together a 360-video shoot is no joke — just ask everyone involved with The Verge's Michelle Obama VR interview. Those who have worked in the format frequently compare it to live theater — no cuts, no lighting resets, no sound resets. But at least in a conventional 360 shoot there's somewhat of a net — the possibility of reshoots and effects in post. When you're doing it live, all you can do is double, triple, quadruple-check that everything's in place, then hit the Live button and say a prayer. As the hours ticked away and nerves started mounting among the crew and the dancers (and yours truly,) Richard could be heard emphasizing over and over to everyone on set that we were making history. It's scary, but only because it's so huge.
"We're making history!"
"Being an independent artist, this is unheard of," she said later in our interview. And it's true — the big artists on the big labels with the big arena tours are the ones who usually are approached by tech brands to play around with their latest innovations. But when Richard talks about her love of tech, and sci-fi, and gaming, she's not just paying lip service to Google or The Verge. When I first approached her about doing the performance, the "yes" was out of her mouth almost before I'd finished the question. And that kind of energy is just great to be around. Her geekery runs deep, and you can see it in the way she involves herself in every level of production — from the omnidirectional lighting setup to the LED gloves handed out to fans as they came in. She wanted to put us in outer space, and she used every resource available to get us there.
This weekend, YouTube Live 360 will be broadcasting from the stages at the second weekend of Coachella. The music festival was one of the first major music events to embrace live streaming, which made the star-studded event more accessible to people around the world. By now, watching some part of the Coachella stream on YouTube is as much a yearly tradition for music fans as watching the Grammys or the VMAs. 360 will add a new dimension to that, but it will still be the same artist-on-a-stage-in-front-of-the-tanned-masses setup. That's certainly a more trusty configuration; one less prone to accidents or technical mishaps, of which we experienced at least a couple during the broadcast. But you gotta hand it to Dawn and her crew to come out of the gate the way they did; uncompromising and ready to make us dance with our Cardboards on.