TECH DIGGING

Women In MusicTech #4: Anne McKinnon, Overview Ark Cofounder

Overview Ark
Photo cover by: Overview Ark
Published Sep 09, 2021
8 min read

In a world where the COVID pandemic has deprived the public of live music and where artists have had to invent new ways of communicating online with their audience, it is not difficult to imagine that the future of concerts could be through virtual worlds.

Deep tech journalist, editor, curator and event host, Anne McKinnon is also the co-founder of Overview Ark, a digital concert platform that allows music shows to happen simultaneously in the real world and the online one. Overview Ark doesn't aim at "disrupting the music industry", the startup wants to make virtual concerts easily accessible to all artists and their fans. Today, she'll be our guide to the metaverse.

Anne McKinnon

Hello Anne, could you tell us about your professional path and how you came to do what you do today?

My background is in tech journalism. I traveled the world speaking with tech executives, bootstrapped startups, developers, creatives and musicians. I learned from a wide range of perspectives what was happening in this space, and where it might be going. Very quickly, I was drawn to the intersection between music and technology, fascinated by the live component of performance and its relationship with technology. 

It seems like my career in this space really began when I arrived in Paris in 2017 to cover the city-wide all night arts festival Nuit Blanche. I discovered a live concert using augmented and virtual reality performed by the band Miro Shot- who released their debut album on Believe. 
I was introduced to Believe’s team and brought onboard as a tech consultant, looking at the potential of these virtual concerts in the music industry. 

It was my first step into the music industry. I was inspired by the band’s work, learned a lot about how music views tech and how tech views music. It was pre-pandemic, and this topic was very nascent, but this experiment led me to where I am today.
 

You’re working in a new field where music, technology and gaming are intertwined. Did you struggle to break into these traditionally male centric industries?

Music and tech are definitely a bit of an old boy’s club. A lot of the mentors I’ve had through accelerators and programs with my company are men because the industry has been very male dominated. It’s more challenging to find women mentors in lead roles. But I think that music is becoming more inclusive and tech more diverse. We’re living in an exciting time. Now is a great time for women to enter the industry and apply for executive level roles. For instance, there’s a huge push right now in industry events to have more female speakers to have a better parity in terms of attendees.

My advice to women entering these industries is to pursue what you are passionate about, surround yourself with positive people and supportive mentors, and never hesitate to reach out to other women in the field, regardless of company or role for advice or networking. There’s a lot of support out there. The most important thing is to continue conversations and initiatives around diversity. 


Overview Ark inworld preview

My advice to women entering these industries is to pursue what you are passionate about, surround yourself with positive people and supportive mentors, and never hesitate to reach out to other women in the field, regardless of company or role for advice or networking. There’s a lot of support out there. The most important thing is to continue conversations and initiatives around diversity. 

Anne McKinnon Overview Ark Cofounder & COO

You describe your company Overview Ark as a metaverse made for the music industry. Before going any further, how would you define a metaverse? And how is it different from a virtual world or an online game?

The metaverse is set out to be everything that the Internet promised to be. Open networks, global communities, creative and economic freedom, equality. If you imagine the metaverse as an extension of the Internet, virtual worlds can be compared to web pages with various purposes and experiences, and websites can be compared to metaverses that have various creators and communities.

In terms of Overview Ark, you can think of us as a portal to the metaverse for the music industry. You can imagine us in the same way as a music festival, but online like a game. You can create an avatar and walk around, see acts you know or discover new music by exploring the place. Unlike a livestream, what’s important here is that you experience things: you can go to the front of the stage, talk to your friends, socialize with other people, buy a shirt, you can even go on quests. It should really be an adventure you live in real time.

For fans, it’s a chance for them to see an artist they might not be able to see at a physical show. For artists, they can reach a wider audience, connect with more fans, and sell more tickets. For A&R it can mean discovering new artists, like they did going to clubs back in the day, but also with granular data insights. For managers and booking agents, it’s about not being limited to a single geographic area or just a few venues. 

We’re building a digital twin of the music industry and the live music circuit. It’s more than a livestream, and more than a game. None of this will replace live music. The live show will always be the peak experience. Technology won’t change that. The idea is to bring all the exciting things about live performance and live events and combine it with the power of game engines.

We’re really just setting the foundations of the metaverse and no one knows exactly what it’s going to look like, and the technology is also evolving very rapidly. But by going in and doing lots of these types of events we’re figuring out what works and what doesn’t. 

Overview Ark inworld preview

Ariana Grande has an incredibly dedicated fanbase of younger girls who were attracted to Fortnite for the concert. On the other hand, Fortnite’s audience is primarily male between the ages of 18 and 34. For Epic, it’s a way to attract a new audience to Fortnite, and for Grande a way to reach new fans, and new revenue streams.  
 

Anne McKinnon Overview Ark Cofounder & COO

We've seen a lot of artists in online games - Ariana Grande in Fortnite, Lil Nas X in Roblox, Kero Kero Bonito in Minecraft - so there's definitely a trend for gamers. But is the public ready to switch to concerts held in virtual worlds?

Absolutely! Digital habits have changed in 2020. During COVID, everyone has become a digital native. Musicians are looking for new ways to reach their audiences and vice-versa. As social platforms, games created a new opportunity for a new type of music experience, and we have seen games and music intersecting more and more. Just as we’re defining what the metaverse is, we’re also defining what virtual concerts are.

They must be live, a social experience more engaging than throwing emojis and clicking around to different views on a screen. Otherwise, it’s just a livestream and that’s something different. The idea of what a virtual concert should be is already evolving: in the game Fortnite, we went from having EDM artist Marshmello  “mixing” on a virtual stage to a fully scripted event with interactive cinematic scenes for Ariana Grande.

Speaking of Ariana Grande, her Fortnite tour was really interesting to learn about what was in it for Epic, the creator of Fortnite, and what was in it for the artist. Ariana has an incredibly dedicated fanbase of younger girls who were attracted to Fortnite for the concert. On the other hand, Fortnite’s audience is primarily male between the ages of 18 and 34. For Epic, it’s a way to attract a new audience to Fortnite, and for Grande a way to reach new fans, and new revenue streams.  

In a virtual universe you can get the avatar you want. Does that imply more diversity and fairness, in your opinion?

As someone who goes into virtual worlds all the time, I still feel like there's a long way to go, especially for female avatars. 

Last fall we did a really interesting exercise with our interns where they had to go into these virtual worlds using female avatars and see what it was like from body customization to clothing, and then interactions with others on the platform. We found there weren't a lot of options in terms of body sizes. You’ll see a lot of voluptuous or anime-like avatars, and this isn’t something everyone is comfortable with. It sexualizes women and doesn't help with inclusivity.  

But there’s a lot of conversation now on this issue. Games are trying to attract more girls because there's a massive market opportunity there, and there are more women getting into coding which will make a difference in the way games are made, creating better representation and more positive spaces. 

There’s a lot that can be done around this, especially to protect younger audiences. In our events, we worked with host DJ Tobi Lynn, who welcomed people arriving in the world, gave shout outs, complimented on style and through this positive feedback, created a really fun and safe event atmosphere.

We found there weren't a lot of options in terms of body sizes. You’ll see a lot of voluptuous or anime-like avatars, and this isn’t something everyone is comfortable with. It sexualizes women and doesn't help with inclusivity.  

Anne McKinnon Overview Ark Cofounder & COO

Mark Zuckerberg sees the metaverse as a successor to the internet. So if he's right, what advice would you give to the next generation to prepare for it?

The metaverse is definitely the next iteration of the internet. It’s going to connect us in new ways as an evolution of the networking that it was originally created for. 

Science fiction author Neil Stephenson is often credited with coming up with the term metaverse in his book Snow Crash in 1992, and today, I think artists are the best equipped to pioneer in this space. They can take something and make it beautiful. It’s when technology is in the hands of the artists that we see the most exciting future. So, it's very important that we continue to have these conversations between arts, music and tech, and also that we continue to have more diversity in music and tech industries to create a future that is meaningful and equally representative.