First, there was Hatsune Miku, a vocaloid that allows anyone to create music and art using her voice and likeness. Then, there was Gorillaz, a fictional band backed by real musicians, utilizing art to deliver albums and entertaining music videos. Then, there were streamers like Ironmouse, and a slew of 2D personalities who play video games for audiences on websites like Twitch. There's also been CodeMiko and Imma, live-mocap 3D personalities and virtual fashion models, respectively.
Now, there are VRtubers or VR streamers--take your pick with whichever phrase you prefer. Like vtubers, they can stream games for audiences while remaining in character. They can also do what Gorillaz and Ironmouse have done, and perform live music in sync with avatar magic to win hearts. Or, a VRtuber can do all of these things as the ultimate digital personality.
VRtubers are not exactly the same as "VR influencers", which is a broader term that can encompass Youtube personalities who are VR news enthusiasts (such as Cas and Chary). Instead, VRtubers are specifically virtual. You might see a face reveal occasionally, as TFMJonny or Phia might do, but they mostly rely on an avatar presentation to keep their fans engaged.
And that gives rise to some pretty talented musicians. Starheart is one of them, specializing in ballads and jazzy productions, and a range that lets her hit beautiful high notes with a professional demeanor. Her latest cover is Feeling Good. Listen below, and read on for her insights on performance in VR and the philosophy she's found along the way.
Who are your musical influences for singing? What do you enjoy listening to when you aren't working on your own music?
I've been incredibly inspired by a lot of singers- Norah Jones and Allen Stone come to mind. Lately I've been enamored with Hoshimachi Suisei, a fellow blue haired Vsinger. Suisei is definitely the most famous in the community, but she has the chops and drive to back it up. I also love Joni Mitchell, Paramore and beabadoobee. Other music I've been listening to on repeat is Fearofdark, Kero Kero Bonito, Jacob Collier, and Camellia.
VR streamers are a subgenre of vtubers, in that the personality on the screen is being controlled by a mocap-backed 3D avatar, rather than a 2D image with Liveleap or streamer software. Have you felt a division in this existence as a streamer, or do you feel the vtuber community ultimately is united in their nature?
I don't see a separation at all. Maybe it's controversial, but I see 2D being much more limiting than 3D. A lot of the love for 2D is from its anime roots, but my approach for Starheart draws a lot more from vocaloid than anime music. Regardless, whether you're 2D or 3D, it's still real-time motion capture which is what makes the medium so exciting. Many VR streamers emphasize the social aspect more than I do. I love the collaborative aspect of coming together to put on something very polished.
Do you feel being a VR streamer mandates a persistent personality in virtual reality as well?
Luckily, Starheart isn't really a character- she's an ideal version of myself. So my personality with friends in VR is just a bit more relaxed. Becoming Starheart has been integral for finding my musical voice, and is the most authentic version of myself as a performer I've ever been. Also, someone I aspire to be.
How much work does it take to shoot a music video in VR? What's the process?
The work can range, but I LOVE making videos in VR- it combines useful aspects of both real life filming and animation. I can film and get my ideas out really quickly, while having the unlimited potential of virtual environments and characters.
First, I need a finished recording for a song. Then, I jot down lots of ideas in my notebook about how I want that song to look, and I then scout for a world or multiple worlds to shoot in.
This latest video I just created for my cover of Feeling Good, I found two beautiful worlds: Amber Glade by Mankey and z5:00pm by Ozen. I route the finished vocal track to my mic output in VRChat, so my avatar would mouth the correct visemes along with the song. I generally leave a few days for editing the footage.
In the future as I improve my process, I want to tell more of a story in future videos. Working with world creators directly would give a lot more flexibility for a more conceptual music video.
What media are you enjoying lately? Tell us about something that's caught your attention.
I just rewatched Belle, the anime movie from Summer Wars director Mamoru Hosoda. There's so many parallels to my journey finding my voice again in VR. The music is incredible. Also I've been reading a manga called The Golden Sheep by Kaori Ozaki. It's about a girl who plays guitar who moves back to her hometown after years away and realizing her old friend group has changed.
Everyone who uses VR eventually comes to adapt a certain philosophy about it. What's yours? What outlook about VR have you developed?
Social VR, in its current state, is acting as a culture incubator.
I just saw comments on a friend's video horrified at the idea of a VRChat rave. I love that it's not cool yet. The people are here because we see how beautiful and unique a place like this really is. How cool is it that many people are making a living using their skills to make 3D models, clothes, tools, shaders and selling directly to other creators?
So many people learning tools to express themselves in new ways. Like a lot of small art scenes, the energy is electric. Where's the next amazing club, who's making the newest VR film, what kind of otherworldly experience is someone dreaming up... I'm so grateful to be a part of it.
I've gotten to perform for hundreds of people in the last few months. I have so many exciting ideas in the works right now including my own venue, an upcoming little fashion zine showing my illustrator Em’s gorgeous design of this new outfit from the latest video, and so much more music.