Makers of The Metaverse: Eric Alexander Of Soundscape VR On The Future Of The VR, AR & Mixed Reality Industries
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Passion — This industry is full of obsessed people who are either working on this stuff or dreaming about it while they sleep. If you don’t share that level of commitment, you are going to be beat by them.
The Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality & Mixed Reality Industries are so exciting. What is coming around the corner? How will these improve our lives? What are the concerns we should keep an eye out for? Aside from entertainment, how can VR or AR help work or other parts of life? To address this, we had the pleasure of interviewing Eric Alexander.
Eric Alexander is the metaverse innovator and creator of Soundscape VR, the world’s longest-running VR music destination. Alexander has been exploring the intersection of art and technology for over 25 years, and in 2014 his passion for audiovisual arts led to the inception of his most ambitious project yet.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you grew up?
I grew up in a midwest home that wasn’t very interested in computers. I saw huge potential in them, but my family saw them as a distraction, as a waste of time. I was constantly playing a game of cat and mouse to gain more access. My parents would remove the keyboard or mouse, I would replace them with my own hidden devices. My parents would install a physical lock on the computer, I would pick the lock and remove it. It wasn’t until I got to college that I would finally be able to dive fully into that world and satisfy my curiosity, but only as a hobby. I began my studies in microbiology rather than computer science, as I was too afraid that pursuing a degree and career related to computers would ruin my passion if I turned it into something I did for the money.
Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Seeing the movie Avatar on a lot of edibles had an enormous impact on me in showing the power of technology and art operating at their highest levels, being teleported to a hyper-immersive 3D world that felt like magic. I immediately saw the demand for experiences of that quality level when it became the highest grossing piece of entertainment ever created.
Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in the X Reality industry? We’d love to hear it.
The inception of the Soundscape idea happened at a concert in Chicago when I was standing on the upper balcony in the front row and realized how much more enjoyable a concert is when you’re fully immersed with the artist, when there’s nothing and no one in your way blocking your view or breaking the immersion with distraction. There’s a massive chasm between the best seat in the house and the worst, and I realized VR had the potential to give everyone the ultimate concert experience from home, while being a new form of art to celebrate all music and sound.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this fascinating career?
In my first years building Soundscape, I was viewed as a crazy person. I had this idea that I was so confident in and 100% certain that the future was leading to, but everyone I talked to was highly skeptical or dismissive of it. From 2014–2019 I built the foundations of Soundscape, pieces of virtual art that were enjoyed at places like Burning Man, but to the vast majority of the world this was a dumb idea and I was wasting my time on something that would never come to fruition. It was not until late 2020 that the tide suddenly shifted and overnight I went from being considered a crazy person to a genius for seeing the potential in the technology I started developing six years earlier. It made me realize that the best ideas are not celebrated, they are dismissed. So now I teach entrepreneurs that the best indicator that you are onto something powerful is when the majority tells you it will never work. If everyone is cheering you on, you’re probably too late.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The funniest mistake I made when starting was believing I could do this all myself. For the first 4 years of operations, the company existed entirely as myself. I was the lead developer, creative consultant, CEO, marketing director, social media manager, video producer, sound engineer, tech support, hardware operator, as well as a dozen other roles. While it was great to get so much exposure to a variety of operations, I learned that to execute at the highest levels you need other people to get behind your vision and work together. At the same time, too many people and running by committee are just as challenging on the opposite end of the spectrum. I still wear many hats today as it improves the agility of the company and enables us to execute on ideas in a fraction of the time it takes a company 10x our size.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
The person who taught me how to think, question, and explore my reality was Carl Sagan. I was a scientist before I became interested in VR, and it was Sagan’s thought leadership that taught me to dream big and believe that anything was possible. When the media was polluting my mind and authority figures of the world were trying to teach me what they thought was right and wrong, I looked to the wisdom of the world’s greatest scientist to choose my path. There is so much noise in this world and people out there trying to influence or propagandize you into their vision of what the world should be, it’s more important than ever to find a voice of good with no ulterior motives. Sagan embodies reason, humanity, wonder, and the pure pursuit of knowledge; in a world of politicized science there is no left like him today.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
The next exciting project for Soundscape is going to be taking livestream concerts to the next level. We’ve seen an outpouring of creativity from artists during the early stages of COVID in performing from home, but that only goes so far when you have the limitations of fans experiencing that content on a phone or laptop in an isolated fashion. We can level up any stream so that friends & fans can join together in a shared experience, dancing side by side and experiencing that content in a highly immersive fashion that feels like a real life concert with a presentation that will satisfy even the most discerning audiophiles and videophiles.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The VR, AR and MR industries seem so exciting right now. What are the 3 things in particular that most excite you about the industry? Can you explain or give an example?
The first thing that excites me is the fact that this all is an enormous blank slate of untapped creativity for so many artists. Every other form of entertainment, be it books, film, or music, has a lot of history and many of the good ideas have already been taken. It’s very hard to make a music video that hasn’t been done before, you may set out to create something original only to find someone executed a similar idea decades ago. I love creating in VR knowing everything I produce is wholly original.
The second would be that these technologies are not only in the hands of the biggest companies, the real innovation is happening on a smaller scale with those that are driven by passion. Mark Zuckerberg may want you to think he invented the metaverse, but the reality is he is losing the race to many smaller companies. The last would be that these technologies have the potential to eliminate many of the problems of the real world and be a great equalizer. The music industry as a whole is designed to siphon value away from artists themselves and enrich other middlemen like ticketing companies or vendors selling 20 dollar drinks. We connect artists and fans directly which means the artist takes home more money than ever before, and the fans pay a lower price with a host of other benefits.
What are the 3 things that concern you about the VR, AR and MR industries? Can you explain? What can be done to address those concerns?
My concerns with VR mirror that of other advanced technologies like the internet, social media, or smartphones; that in time the powerful come to control them and warp their creative potential into a massive advertising and data mining tool. We see that already with Facebook/Meta where they buy their way into this industry and poison the well for everyone else, now there is a lot of justified fear around VR because Zuckerberg is in charge of the largest company. He sells his headsets at a loss so no one else can compete, and suddenly we’ve gone from new exciting fun technology to being on the fast track to dystopia and falling back into the same problems that have befallen other industries. As much as many are opposed to this, there are plenty out there that don’t value their data and will happily give away all their information to Zuckerberg to save $100 when they buy their next headset. We really need to see more conscious buying decisions from consumers on who they are choosing to support and recognize the effects of voting with their wallets. I can’t stop anyone from making those choices, all I can do is provide an alternative for people who value freedom and aren’t interested in enabling the Zuckerverse.
I think the entertainment aspects of VR, AR and MR are apparent. Can you share with our readers how these industries can help us at work?
It really depends on the industry, there will be areas where these technologies can make a larger impact than others. Training is a great example of the strength of VR, imagine you are a surgeon or an industrial worker or anyone where there is some level of risk in performing your day to day operations. Being able to lower the stakes and gain proficiency without putting anyone in harm’s way is an enormous benefit. Meetings, conferencing, and in person collaboration will also be huge, the ability to teleport across the world and be face to face with anyone in a real way has enormous benefits for productivity and the environment. And lastly remember, what is entertainment for one person is work for another, so the other side of the equation for musicians or entertainers offers less travel, more family time, and new creative tools.
Are there other ways that VR, AR and MR can improve our lives? Can you explain?
The unique thing about these technologies is that they will offer the greatest benefit to those in lower socioeconomic status. For someone who lives in a 100 sq ft apartment, the ability to teleport to a lakeside mansion is far more powerful than for someone who already lives in one. All of the metaverse technologies are great equalizers that remove the barriers that come with location, distance, and accessibility.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about working in your industry? Can you explain what you mean?
The biggest myth that almost stopped me in my tracks was the idea that I had to go to school for this and pay for a piece of paper from an accredited university. I had been programmed to believe that without the validation of these educational businesses I couldn’t succeed, but the reality is the traditional education system is so far behind these new technologies they end up holding you back. With the power of the internet and the limitless information available, your mind and desire is the only limiting factor. All of my greatest successes in life have been areas in which I am self-taught and relied on my own mind for education rather than looking to validation from others.
What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The VR, AR or MR Industries?”
1) Passion — This industry is full of obsessed people who are either working on this stuff or dreaming about it while they sleep. If you don’t share that level of commitment, you are going to be beat by them.
2) Financial Backing — The latest technologies cost a lot of money and the timeframes are long. 99% of businesses in this space are losing money today due to the heavy competition, you must have a plan to survive until the 2030s.
3) Creativity — The foundation of this industry is creativity and trying new things, just copying an existing product and bringing it to the metaverse isn’t enough to be successful, you must carve out your own niche.
4) Vision — You must understand the intersection of big ideas and what is actually possible today, as well as what future technologies will enable. You should have a 20 year vision for your product and how it will evolve during that time.
5) Dedication — It is going to take decades for these technologies to begin reach their potential, you must have a long time horizon and be willing to stick with it, rather than just try to capitalize on the latest buzzwords.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My dream is for people to flex their critical thinking skills and use their own minds to determine their reality rather than looking to major media outlets and talking head “experts” for answers. Whether it is the New York Times, Fox News, or a tabloid at the grocery store checkout, the media has a 100+ year history of manipulation and lies to propagandize people and turn them against one another to distract from the real problems we all face. The world cannot improve in a meaningful way until these media establishments are recognized as the cancer they are and their influence is removed from society.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
If it wasn’t for Elon I wouldn’t be here today. My investments in Tesla are what has provided the funding for Soundscape for 9 years and counting, and I’ve always looked to him in lessons for how I build my strategies and run my company.
Thank you so much for these excellent stories and insights. We wish you continued success in your great work!
Makers of The Metaverse: Eric Alexander Of Soundscape VR On The Future Of The VR, AR & Mixed… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.