Paul McCartney invites virtual reality users into his studio
Former Beatle is the subject of six VR mini-documentaries promoting his new, 67-song retrospective album Pure McCartney. They offer a rare peek into the musician’s private domain
In 1967, Paul McCartney used studio technology to usher in a new musical era with the revolutionary concept album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Now McCartney is pushing the hi-tech envelope again by peddling his latest album with the help of virtual reality.
McCartney is the subject of six VR mini-documentaries produced by Jaunt Studios to promote his new album, a 67-song retrospective called Pure McCartney, out on June 10. The interviews were conducted at McCartney’s British home studio – location undisclosed – and represent a rare peek into the man’s private domain.
The first two clips rolled out on Tuesday, featuring McCartney talking about the creation of his 2007 solo effort Dance Tonight and the 1980 Wings hit Coming Up. The shorts, which run between three and 11 minutes, can been seen either as 360-degree videos on Jaunt’s website or in VR through its mobile app on Android and iOS.
A small avalanche of virtual reality gear has inundated consumers in the past year, from smartphone-based systems such as Google Cardboard and the US$99 Samsung Gear VR to the US$600, computer-tethered Oculus Rift. Last week Google announced a new platform, Daydream, aimed at improving the visual quality of smartphone-based VR experiences.
Gamers are seeing the most immediate benefits of this immersive technology, while broad-based content has lagged.
Most industry experts predict that sports and entertainment will lead the non-gaming content charge, and various VR content studios have already made deals with professional sports leagues and concert promoters to bring those kinds of events to the masses via VR.
Industry advisors Digi-Capital predict that of 2020’s US$30 billion annual VR pie, about 20 per cent of the revenues will be generated by VR video content, second only to VR games and hardware.
“What VR does is bring a visually new experience to anything that we used to absorb in two dimensions,” says Lucas Wilson, a producer for Jaunt Studios. The Silicon Valley-based start-up’s first cinematic VR project, in November 2014, was an in-concert clip of McCartney singing Live and Let Die. “Paul is a guy who doesn’t rest on his laurels. This project is just an extension of his creative interests.”
Jaunt’s Pure McCartney VR episodes, sponsored by the British Tourist Authority, were directed by Grammy-winning music video and feature film director Tony Kaye. He captures McCartney talking about his musical process and career memories.
The clips are augmented by everything from “images of chords, the ocean, stars, art, whatever helps bring that moment to life”, Kaye says.
For example, during the Jaunt documentary accompanying the song Early Days (2013), McCartney talks about his relationship with John Lennon while a McCartney drawing of his late collaborator comes to 3D life in VR.
“My prerogative was to make things easy and comfortable so that Paul could forget that he is, well, that Paul,” he says. “I interviewed him the day after (fabled Beatles producer) George Martin died, so he was very much in a reflective mood. It was lovely.”
Kaye adds that audio is a critical component of virtual reality, and notes that the VR mini-documentary that accompanies the contemplative 1977 hit song Mull of Kintyre “is the first to be remixed using Dolby Atmos”, a technology primarily used for home-cinema surround sound.
The other songs getting the VR treatment by Jaunt include 2012’s My Valentine, McCartney’s ode to wife, Nancy Shevell, which will be accompanied by two Jaunt mini-documentaries (one out already, the other publishing on June 7) as well as Mull of Kintyre (June 10) and Early Days (June 14).
Kaye, 63, who counts McCartney and Steve Jobs as heroes, says his mission with the VR documentaries was to “borrow the eyes of the audience, which meant making sure that wherever they look there was something happening”.
What became apparent during their shooting session was McCartney’s fierce drive for perfection and innovation, as evidenced by his eagerness to embrace VR.
“Paul is a driven man,” says Kaye. “The impression he gives is someone who is happy-go-lucky. But he’s tough, he’s hard and he’s a workaholic. Sgt Pepper’s was one of the greatest pieces of recording artistry ever, and that was Paul. He’s an engine. And now VR is one of the things he’s interested in.”