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Building it is not enough to make them come

Two conversations this week with Second Life venue owners at the opposite ends of their involvement in organizing concerts in SL made me think about the expectations and hopes that we bring to our event organizing in Second Life.

CONVERSATION ONE: The retiring veteran:
A few weeks ago a musician who performs regularly on Music Island as well as elsewhere around Second Life, mentioned to me that he had been sorry to hear that one of the pioneer music series organizers was thinking about packing up and giving up on her activities. He wondered if there were not some way that a collaboration might be found to keep her involved in some way.

Finding opportunity to to speak to the lady in question, I found her very sad and frustrated. I learned that she had poured hours and dollars into a full sim with several concert venues, maintained an audio stream and had rigged up a video server in her home, all to support musical activity in SL. After two years, she felt unsupported, unappreciated and left on the sidelines by others who came into SL and preferred to “do their own thing” rather than collaborate with her and her venue. She’s stopped hosting concerts and her sim stands empty and for sale. It is a sad ending to good intentions, hard work and an end to some fun times for people in Second Life. Were her expectations for support and recognition unreasonable? I don’t know. I don’t think that anyone was under any obligation to financially support a space in SL that was purchased by this individual speculatively, on her own dime. I DO think that the contributions of human effort to the common good in SL needs more recognition and support though.

As one of the people who was running a concert series I felt some of the hostility and hurt feelings this arts lover was feeling. Fairly often new people come into SL and make pronouncements like “the first time X has happened in virtual reality” and it is something that happened on my series a year ago. I find it hard not to go ballistic on those days. I can also remember how furious I was in the early days of the SL Showcase when I saw that the only featured “classical” music venue was not mine or one of my esteemed colleagues that offer quality programming. Instead Showcase was featuring one of the many vanity concert halls, the venue in question at that point in time hadn’t hosted a single live classical concert. There was no connection with the vibrant community of musical practice in Second Life. I thought “why didn’t Linden Labs do some fact-checkingl?”

Like other places on the net, there is a difficulty sometimes in Second Life with the recognition of “authority” and there is very little maintenance of the history of projects within the community. I find that there is a tendency throughout Second Life to put the focus on the grid, the sims, the buildings of Second Life and pay much less attention to the things that bring the grid to life: people, events, communities, arts, education, networking.

CONVERSATION TWO: The newbie music venue owner:
A new sim owner sent me an IM and asked me to come and see her new concert hall and said that she hoped that I would bring performances to her sim. When I said that I really didn’t have time to organize more concerts, her response was one I had heard before, …. “But it’s beautiful and you can use it for FREE!!!

“Yes”, I said, “but who will pay me for the hours of time it will take for me to book musicians, create notices, signs and promote the events? Why should I bring people to your sim? What can you do for me? Can you pay me? Sponsor artists? Connect me to people who can offer me resources I don’t have?

I actually was a lot less blunt than that but the fact is that building a space for events in Second Life is a very small part of making an event or concert series work. Of course an attractive and functional space is a starting point but there are empty spaces all over Second Life. Only with the animating energy of human work do these places come alive and how is that work encouraged and rewarded. For each event that actually happens in SL, there are many human contacts, information exchanges, discussions and promotional notices involved. Things don’t just “happen”.

SUMMARY: In SL like RL, work is either rewarded by appreciation, recognition, fun, and/or with financial rewards. When event organizers feel unappreciated and un-recognized, there’s no fun anymore and it is costing them money to continue of course they are going to pack it in and find some other arena to contribute their energies. And without events, SL will be a dull, dead world.

What can Linden Labs and the Second Life community do to assure the continuance of worthwhile events within virtual reality?


  • Emilly Orr
    Posted September 8, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    I am reminded, as ever, of the Tribute Island sim. It was such a worthy cause–memorials to things or people that had passed–but it also featured a live music series that really caught on. Those of us who worked with the sim owner were careful and conscientious to mention the charity behind things, and the sim did prove to be a revenue stream.

    What killed it was corporate downsizing, not lack of interest, but to be fair, if it hadn't been corporate-funded, I doubt the sim would have been self-sustaining.

    It is very, very hard to create genuine music events in SL, and that seems so odd to me, because it's perfect–bringing live music to those who may not otherwise be able to travel to hear it, sounds like a brilliant idea.

  • Kate Miranda
    Posted September 13, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    A big part of the difficulty is that arts funding is mostly tied to local, regional and national governments or interests. Funders support the arts to improve quality of life in the community or showcase the achievements of arts companies in order to attract tourists. Neither of these two rationales holds up in SL.

    SL music is international in scope and all about providing art without the need to travel.

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