Meet TFMJonny, One Of The Biggest Powerhouse Singers of Social VR
The chanteur speaks on tech, community, and what makes it all work well.
Up until now, The Metaculture has covered musicians who operate within the dance scene in VRChat. However, the history of music in VR is such a wide scope, it's unfair to keep the lens focused on EDM exclusively.
TFMJonny got his start in VR in 2018, and has been belting out tunes and entertaining audiences across live VR concerts and Twitch gaming sessions alike. His fans are numerous; have him show up anywhere, and he's guaranteed to fill every seat in the house. Yet even when commanding the spotlight, he does so with utter kindness and professionalism.
A featured performer at this year's MusicVket, TFMJonny will be gracing the stage on June 24th for a special concert along with a dedicated lineup and special guest VJs. We managed to catch up with him before dress rehearsal recently, where he gave us his opinion about XR and streaming in general.
We have to begin with the obvious. What first brought you to virtual reality, and how did you then go from being a regular user to a virtual performer and livestreamer?
TFMJONNY: I always had an interest in new technology and VR was no exception. Almost invested in the first Oculus kickstarters back in the day, but I would eventually purchase a HTC Vive as my first headset. I was already making connections in the VRChat talent community in early 2018 on desktop. When I got my headset in April of 2018, I immediately started to devise a way to perform in VR.
Shortly after that, I worked with a few friends to start up the Star Collective talent community which is now known as Artifex. After every show I would do, people would ask if I was going to start streaming. So I just eventually just started doing exactly that.
You have a natural voice and are one of the best singers in VR, hands-down. Who are your musical influences? What albums did you listen to growing up?
TFM: I was lucky to grow up in the Napster generation so I didn’t really listen to albums, I listened to songs. My generation was the first to have uninhibited access to the world’s full catalog of music. We take it for granted now with services like Spotify. But before the internet and Napster, teenagers in their time of music discovery were limited to what they could afford to buy and what was marketed to them.
Through services like Napster (regardless of the legality) I was able to sample whatever music I wanted. I discovered great classic artists like Elton John, David Bowie, The Beatles and Cyndi Lauper. To this day my favorite music comes from the 60s, 70s and 80s eras.
Speaking of being a performer and Twitch streamer, you actually wear a lot of hats. When someone asks what you do, what do you tend to go with first?
TFM: I will always be a singer and musician, music is one of the most important things in my life. However in this stage of my content creation journey, given what content is the most popular, I say I am a comedian.
This isn’t unique in the entertainment industry at all. Lots of comedians are amazing and successful mainstream music artists as well. Great examples being Eddie Murphy and Bo Burnham, both of which are comedians I look up to.
What are some things you love about VRChat, and what do you wish would improve?
TFM: VRChat has been amazing for so many people in developing positive reinforcements for mental health. There is so much research that could be done to discover just how much VR and VRChat can be leveraged as a mental health tool. Especially in the LGBTQ+ community, VRChat allows people to realize a vision of themselves that they most identify with. I have so many transgender friends who literally say, VRChat saved their life.
As for what can improve, I would love to see mechanisms that allow the community to step up and do self-moderation. There are lots of great examples on the internet such as Reddit and Discord where community self-moderation works well to strike a balance and protect its members. I hope VRChat is one day able to achieve this as well.
Same for Twitch: what do you love most about the community, and what's something you think the service can do better?
TFM: Twitch is great for small creators, that’s what I love about it. I was able to make a living as a full time small creator and work my way up from the bottom. The crowdsourced funding model on Twitch will always allow for this type of thing and I’m so happy that services like YouTube are copying this model through things like Memberships and Super Cheers. This only serves to help grow smaller creators.
Where I think Twitch could do better is exactly in this regard. There seems to be a movement at Twitch Headquarters to leverage other revenue streams like Ads. This has led to Twitch tightening their TOS rules to be more advertiser friendly and banning streamers that would have otherwise been fine under old regulations.
Because Twitch was always a crowdfunded platform first, it allowed them to play more fast and loose with the rules. I worry that as they move away from this, they will lose the heart and soul of what made the platform so great and unique for creators in the first place.
You're passionate about many issues. What's your greatest cause right now? What do you want people to go out and learn more about, or get out of their seats for?
TFM: I’m a full time creator, so my biggest passions will be for the protection and growth of creators. Recently there seems to be a lot of talk around issues of censoring and moderating creators and their content for one reason or another. Whether you’re talking about the recent tightening of Twitch’s TOS, or YouTube’s handling of The Act Man, or TikTok's horribly inconsistent content violation flagging system.
Creators constantly seem to have their voices silenced for many unjust reasons. I don’t think anyone has a clear answer to the problem, we still need to protect viewers from actual bad content that still gets uploaded to these platforms as well. But I do think there is massive room for improvement.
You cross-promote a lot; there are many arguments that a "seamless metaversal world" would encompass not only social VR platforms, but Twitch and social media as well. How do you feel about that theory?
TFM: I think it’s a cool idea, but I don’t think anyone has cracked the code on this one just yet. Each platform has unique audiences and unique ways of posting and communicating content. I love that about the internet. If we try to push all of these different platforms together to make a ‘seamless internet’, I feel we would lose a lot of what makes each of them great.
You're also very into technology and VR in general. What new product are you eagerly awaiting? What's something you wish someone would create to make your daily VR life better?
TFM: I hope that more companies can get into VR and start providing more competition in the space. I worry that after so many years of mainstream VR we still only have 2 or 3 major headset makers. I would love to see more choices for consumers.
As for something I'd love to see created, in the higher end VR space, I’d love to have a good wireless headset that is natively SteamVR compatible. The Quest with Virtual Desktop support got so many things right. For me, it is the gold standard wireless headset right now. However, there are a lot of trade offs because of Meta’s closed system and lack of support for SteamVR and the OpenVR standard.
If someone could make a Quest-like headset with Virtual Desktop support and wireless over Wifi6 technology that natively supports lighthouse driven SteamVR and FBT, they would have a hit headset on their hands in the high end consumer tier of VR.