What are Virtual Bands? Essay on Music

What are Virtual Bands? Essay on Music
📌Category: Entertainment, Music
📌Words: 1001
📌Pages: 4
📌Published: 13 March 2021

Virtual bands came about during the 1950s, but did not catch widespread traction until the 1990s. The definition of a virtual band is any group whose members are not corporal musicians but animated characters. Additionally, the musicians behind the music may not be presented in the same retrospect of what their listeners see. This form of entertainment transpired through technological advancements in animation and virtual representations such as television and music videos. The reasons behind why musicians choose to portray their band in such a way are often controversial. Many believe that it is a creative expression of a fictional narrative, forever changing the entertainment space through technological advancements. However, others believe musicians may choose to be virtual for the protection of their reputation, using their virtual identity as a safety net.  It can be argued that bands and soloists first use virtual performances as a safety net to a large extent. This can be presented through the original virtual bands and soloists such as Gorillaz, Atom Heart, and Alvin and the Chipmunks.  

Technically, the first virtual band was Alvin and the Chipmunks, which came about in 1958. The creator and voice behind the band, Ross Bagdasarian Sr. used a state-of-the-art tape recorder to speed up his vocals to then make his debut hit, Witch Doctor. After that resonated with the public, he began to experiment and started to harmonize the three voices. His next hit, The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late), was a huge hit in children’s music. As the public validation of the chipmunks grew, so did Bagdasarian’s reasons to develop new music. He used the Chipmunks to drive his personal fame and success, and it can be argued that he used the chipmunks as a shield to protect him if he failed, again. This would not be the first time Bagdasarian failed in life, as he was a college drop out and had a previous botched acting and songwriting career. ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks’ was just another experiment, and coincidentally, it became a children’s hit. In fact, Bagdasarian was so absorbed in the fiction, that he even changed his stage name to David Seville. It can be concluded that he used the chipmunks’ cartoon image to portray his music because he was no longer confident that the public would celebrate him alone. 

Another artist that uses virtual means to portray their musical image is German composer Uwe Schmidt. He began with his first alternative persona in 1986, when he co-founded the cassette label “N.G. Medien” under the name of “Lassigue Bendthaus”. With this name, he released his first album, Matter. He performed under this Bendthaus until 1991, when he adopted a new persona, Atom Heart. Because of his lack of success as Bendthaus, he not only switched his persona, but also adapted his music to the rising “pre-techno” movement. As “Atom Heart” gained more popularity, he developed and explored the techno scene to a deeper extent. He had another falling-out, and he took a break from music by living in Costa Rica for a year and a half. There, he composed the idea to create music under a new persona, “Señor Coconut". Schmidt would constantly conform and change to please the world, and his end goal appeared to be fame rather than music expression. Schmidt shows a clear example of how artists will use a virtual band or persona to protect their personal fear of failure to a great extent. Schmidt only produced music under alternate personas, and when they failed, he moved to the next one. It can be concluded that Schmidt used his different personas as a reason to protect his name in that he never failed, it was only the character that was not appealing to the public. 

Lastly, the notorious virtual band, The Gorillaz. The original creators, English musician and comic book artist Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett began to cultivate the idea of The Gorillaz in the late 1990s. Both sought fame, and believed that with new technology innovations, becoming the first big virtual band would get them attention. Their idea was that animated characters drawn by Hewlett would fully represent the image of the band, and who was behind the scenes making the music was irrelevant. The characters of Gorillaz included 2D, Noodle, Russel and Murdoc. 

Throughout the music videos, the characters undergo many absurd adventures by telling one long continuous narrative. Because of this, the actual musicians of the band avoided things like sincere interviews and were allowed the creation of music without the fear of personal scrutiny. However, as Gorillaz blew up after the album, Demon Dayz in 2005, their fans had a higher demand to see Gorillaz perform live. They then began showing 3D holograms for live performances, while still hiding the personal identities of the actual musicians. To please the public, they also would do short films, fake interviews, and interactive tours such as an episode of MTV Cribs, but all done virtually with animated cartoons. This fantasy world of The Gorillaz truly captivated a wide audience. Finally, as the band was at its peak, it released the last big album they would have, Human Dayz. During this album, Albarn ditched the comfort of playing live behind a screen, and became more involved in his performances. Again, this shows an example where musicians may not feel that their personal identity will catch public attention. To avoid the reality of personal failure, they instead create alternate identities to take the fall for them, if they were to fail. As The Gorillaz’ popularity grew, so did the yearn for Albarn’s self recognition in the band’s success. This can explain why Damon Albarn started to perform live himself instead of using holographs like he did in the beginning. 

The phenomenon of virtual bands has been around for less than a century, so the experiments of these musicians forever changed the industry in the integration of technology and musical entertainment. However, their experimentation of alternate personas was a safe method to shoot for the stars as a successful musician. In many cases, artists will begin with an alternate persona or name representing their work, to protect their reputation from failure. If the persona(s) fail, they drop them and move on to the next idea. Reversely, if the persona(s) become popular, the confidence of the artists increases greatly, so they begin to represent the music as themselves. Overall, it can be seen that musicians use virtual identities as a safety net in musical entertainment to a large extent.


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