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Second Life logoOne of the fastest-rising internet phenomena you should know about if you’re serious about marketing and distributing music on the internet is the virtual world known as Second Life.

It’s essentially a 3-dimensional environment — much like an online computer game — though there are no villains to kill, missions to accomplish or points to score. It’s a social space.

You can walk around (or fly, if you prefer) in the online world, meet people, chat, and explore this new world. So far, so dull. I can chat to people online already. Why bother?

There are two things that set Second Life apart, and they’re worth paying particular attention to if you’re at all interested in being innovative and creative in finding new ways to bring your music to a new audience.

1) Anyone can build anything in Second Life. With a few simple shapes (and some rather more complex ones), the addition of a few object properties and a bit of know-how, you can build anything from a skyscraper to a magic wand, a pair of shoes to a flying car. Or maybe a record shop.

2) It’s a real economy. Really. Its currency, the Linden Dollar, is freely exchangeable with real money, and so can be traded for goods and services (real or virtual) within the online environment… and the result of that transaction can have a real world effect on your bank balance. This, I hope you’ll agree, is important.

These two factors create a powerful opportunity for anyone with access to a bit of technical know-how (not too much: finding a bribeable teenager should adequately address the issue). In short, you can sell your music online — and all of the opportunities to promote and distribute your music in the real world also exist in the virtual world… only the playing field’s much leveller.

Admittedly, some of the major players are already there. The BBC has staged a couple of events on their own island in SL, there was an X-Men III online movie premiere – and Duran Duran have staged concerts there. But this is tip of the iceberg stuff.

Jeb Spicoli live

This is a gig I went to in Second Life. That’s me (or at least, my avatar) sitting and examining my shoes while Jeb Spicoli performs live on stage. Actually, he was probably at home in his living room, but he was actually playing live (singing and playing the guitar) — and responding to events going on in the virtual venue — while people from all over the world danced and enjoyed the music. Virtually.

I gave him a five Linden Dollar tip, if I recall correctly. That’s real money. Not a lot, as it happens, but all the same, it went from my pocket to his. There is most likely no other way I would ever have had occasion to interact with Jeb Spicoli in an economic fashion. We just move in different circles, on different continents.

You can buy property in Second Life and set up your own retail outlet, performance venue, nightclub, cafe, gallery, home or office. The design of your building and its contents are limited only by your imagination. Other than land and any prefabricated items that you don’t wish to build yourself, the raw materials cost you nothing.

It astonishes me that no record label or music retailer seems to have yet set up a Second Life front end to either a download store or a mail-order system. Other SL-ers could easily pay in Linden Dollars, which are both a secure method of payment and so convenient that impulse purchases are the norm rather than the exception. The first organisation who does it successfully — and has a bit of PR savvy — is virtually guaranteed (no pun intended) to get all sorts of global press coverage over such a thing.

Why should it not be you?

You could build portable devices that play your music and give them away free to any and all comers within the online environment at no cost to you — with links to your website built in to the players. This, I understand, has already been done. Quite successfully.

You can make and give away (or sell) t-shirts and other merchandise for the other characters (avatars) in the world. Each one of them, remember, represents a real live human being sitting at a computer somewhere on the planet, enjoying and helping you promote your music.

There are as yet, to my knowledge, no Second Life ‘street teams’ of youths putting up posters, giving out flyers and generally spreading the word on Second Life.

There are a few SL radio stations here and there — but to my knowledge, no virtual pluggers having meetings with virtual Programme Controllers.

There are no Second Life music publishers exploiting synchronisation rights for music in machinima films made in the SL environment.

There are, let’s face it, all sorts of opportunities here. For more information about Second Life, the Wikipedia entry is pretty solid.

But to really understand Second Life, download the software and have a bit of an explore. Before too long, you’ll no doubt see the potential. And keep an eye out for a New Music Strategies seminar I’ll no doubt be presenting in Second Life in the near future. I’ll keep you posted.

Any questions? Chat to you in the forum.