Conquering the music
universe, one virtual world at a time.




I am staring at the back of my cartoon head, and beyond
that, a group of avatars have gathered to watch me, or at least my alter ego,
Nick Northman, play a place called the Aquastar Lounge. People are dancing, so
it seems like they’re enjoying themselves. But what they are really doing is
chatting with their friends in the chat box – I can see the onscreen conversations
as I am playing – or just letting their avatar dance while they pay bills or
surf the Internet at their desk at home.


This is live music in Second Life. For any musician who
plays live in real life, performing in SL can be a startling experience at
first. There is no scanning the faces in the crowd to see how you’re going
over. All the body language is predetermined, animated repetition. And you have
no idea where the real-life audience is – someone might be at their laptop in
the kitchen, someone else might be behind their desk in Germany. Which makes
it tough to make that all-important connection with an audience.


Before a friend hipped me to the music scene in Second Life,
my views on the online virtual world were almost entirely formed by an episode
of Law & Order in which a man stalked
a woman’s avatar and then found her in real life. Not the most positive of
identifications. What convinced me to join was the fact that it’s free, and
that I could earn a bit of money in tips for playing from home, testing new
material in a low pressure environment.


I did feel some pressure
at my first SL show. There is no easy way to monitor your sound, because there
is a delay of around thirty seconds. And there was no way to predict what
people were thinking or how they were reacting to my songs. Plus, the
technology involved can be confusing: at a real life gig, you soundcheck by
having someone going out into the audience; but in Second Life, you have to
worry about what bit rate to set your streaming software to, and it’s not
uncommon for someone to tell you in the chat box that you are only coming
through in mono. I also have to keep my dog quiet while I play and I shut my
phone off so it doesn’t ring during the more intimate moments.


According to Second Life official statistics, more than ten thousand live music events happen
there each month. After two months, I have played a few dozen gigs at tip
venues in SL, additionally circulating a bio for Nick Northman that includes my
virtual and real world credits, and trying to get more people to join the group
I’ve created for gig announcements. Just like any other real world musician, I
am working my way up from tip concerts to paying gigs, networking with the SL
club owners who book the couple of hundred concerts that happen on an average


But I’ll be honest: I’m actually having a ball and playing
more often than I ever have.


(In the real world,
Nick Zaino can be found at


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