The IMI 16th Aug 2023

How can indies make the most of the metaverse?

Karta co-founder Tony Barnes talks to The IMI about metaverse strategy as campaigns become more cost-effective in virtual worlds…

The metaverse will steadily become more accessible to small and medium sized independent music operators as cost-effective marketing opportunities.

That’s according to music industry veteran and Karta co-founder Tony Barnes (pictured). To recap: Karta was launched in 2021 by Barnes, alongside Fnatic’s ex-Head of Events Erik Londré, as an agency with a mission to make the metaverse accessible and effective for musicians, brands and sports rights-holders alike.

Prior to co-founding Karta, Barnes rose to senior digital positions at Universal Music, Virgin EMI and Hipgnosis, working on campaigns for hundreds of artists including global superstars Queen, Katy Perry, Sir Elton John, Shakira, Kanye West, Florence & The Machine and Halsey, as well as dance music legends Avicii, David Guetta, Tiesto and Eric Prydz. He also helped to launch the careers of artists such as Emeli Sande, Jonas Blue and James Bay, and played a key role in the success of Swedish House Mafia.

In Karta’s two years of operation to date, the studio has delivered a number of successful projects on Roblox, Fortnite and Decentraland for the likes of Amazon Music, Unilever’s Sunsilk and Ronald McDonald House – reaching a cumulative audience of over 100m young people.

The company has also just launched its own studio dedicated to creating bespoke in-game experiences in Fortnite, with a remit of partnering with rights holders and popular IP owners from music, entertainment and sports talent to create experiences within the platform.

Barnes urges, however, that these virtual worlds should not be seen only as the playgrounds of global stars and big corporate operators.

“The cost of a metaverse campaign is dependent on each experience and how big or small the scale of the project is,” he explained, speaking to The IMI after Karta secured fresh investment in July. “As time goes on, and more brands begin to delve into the world of using metaverse campaigns, we see this becoming a more accessible way to market projects – similar to the way that music videos used to be shot using lots of equipment and resources and now it’s become more cost effective to shoot videos using more accessible technology, like an iPhone.

“Ultimately, everyone has the same access to these platforms in order to create fan experiences,” he added. “Some brands/people will already have established relationships with the platforms, and through that we have seen more ambitious activations take place like Travis Scott’s performance in Fortnite. But there are also opportunities for independent companies to create experiences and build potential partnerships, using some of the same tools that are used within the larger activations.”

"I believe the metaverse will become a vital new community channel for all artists looking to reach and engage younger audiences."

With his real-world credentials well covered, we asked Barnes what makes a successful campaign in the metaverse.

“The same thing that makes a good music campaign in the real world, in many ways,” he said. “It needs to connect and resonate with real people, in a real way. It is all about finding that sweet spot where the metaverse platforms’ audience and culture meet with the artist’s and their expression – and then using the medium to its advantage.

“Recreating real-world experiences and concerts is often not the way to go in the metaverse. People do not like to stand still and passively watch something inside a video game. They want to get involved and play.”

While some artists have fans that are naturally already engaged in the metaverse, and they will of course benefit from that base, Barnes believes that as the popularity of metaverses grows, there will be space and opportunities for every type of genre and artist.

“I believe the metaverse will become a vital new community channel for all artists looking to reach and engage younger audiences, and a significant new revenue stream for artists and labels alike,” he said. “We will see more and more live shows and integrations of music, but also an ever-increasing number of artists creating their own persistent presence in the worlds that are most relevant to their fans.

Barnes’ overall message to independents yet to explore the space? Follow your fans: “It’s important to ensure that you are staying updated with the activations going on in the industry,” he said. “Keep exploring with different experiences, and ask yourself, ‘Is there an audience that will fit what I’m wanting to do and are they active on the platform?’ The key is following the artist’s audience on the platform. Go where they go.”