Music Production in the Era of Augmented Reality

There’s a movement sweeping through the entire tech industry to make virtual and augmented reality the next big thing. Now, after having used Microsoft’s HoloLens for myself, I’m inclined to agree that it is. My experience cements a thought that I and many others have had: this technology could be transformative for many industries.

Astronaut Scott Kelly with the HoloLens

To be clear, the HoloLens didn’t blow me away; it was more or less what I expected. But it’s not about watching a silly little zombie run on a record player, or planting a life-size Tyrannosaurus Rex in your living room. It’s about snapping your digital calendar right to the wall, where it stays in physical space for easy reference. It’s about having a secondary display for a tutorial video, with the ability to resize and move it, or have it follow you around your workspace.

Musicians should be paying attention to this

Of course, I’m very interested in the applications HoloLens (and other augmented reality headsets) has regarding music production. I’m not the only one; look at this video:

This particular demo looks a little crude and inelegant to me, but the possibilities are really interesting. Imagine having a bunch of EQ, compressor, and reverb plug-ins open, but instead of the overlapping mess of windows you’d normally have to contend with, they would simply be hovering around your display. Easily accessible, but out of the way of your primary window. Frankly, this scenario is not far-fetched. It serves exactly the same function as a multi-display setup, without the need for physical hardware.

Even more exciting is the kind of forward-leaning stuff in the Behringer video, where you see innovative new ways of interacting with sound. There’s a Theremin-like interface, adjustable envelopes, and a floating cube that looks to modify the sound in some way. We don’t know how well this all works in practice, of course, but it’s still early days.

Thinking ahead

A developer edition of the HoloLens costs $3,000. That’s not cheap, and obviously not a price point that’s targeted at consumers. However, it’s not difficult to imagine computer manufacturers like HP and Dell making their own versions of this technology — 3 to 5 years down the road, maybe — and pricing them about the same as an iPad. And I think a lot of people would put down $500–600 for a device like this, especially once it matures.

It’s possible that none of this pans out, but what I see so far is pretty convincing, and should be exciting for all musicians.

-Phil