The internet's next breakout star may be part iguana.
DJ Dragoon, as the up-and-coming artist with lizard DNA is called, did a few gigs on Twitch late last year. Now, he is getting ready to turn up the volume and go live again, accompanied by a gang of equally surreal friends that include a female DJ with a cyborg eye and a pint-sized bunny who likes to spin trap beats.
This crew of unlikely characters was conceived by Authentic Artists, a startup that came out of stealth Wednesday with an intriguing proposition: Authentic Artists develops virtual beings that can perform live and interactive music sets online. In the coming weeks, the company wants to unleash Dragoon and his friends onto audiences on Twitch, with plans to eventually bring them to metaverse platforms like Roblox and Fortnite as well.
"Virtual entertainment is the new cultural center of gravity," Authentic Artists founder and CEO Chris McGarry told Protocol.
Authentic Artists has developed a dozen such virtual DJs thus far, and is powering their performances with a custom-built AI music engine that uses a catalog of 130,000 MIDI files to generate performances in real time. The resulting music is being fed into the company's animation pipeline, and there's a feedback mechanism for Twitch audiences to change the course of a set. "Our AI-driven artists have musical superpowers," McGarry said.
Each of the performances is completely unique, and McGarry said that he is discouraging his team from taking too much inspiration from real-life artists. "Our mandate is to imagine a new frontier in music," he said. "We are not trying to create a digital facsimile of what already exists."
Authentic Artists has been able to attract a number of high-profile backers, including James Murdoch and his investment arm Lupa Systems, Roblox Chief Business Officer Craig Donato and hip-hop producer Young Guru. McGarry didn't want to talk about business models just yet, but suggested that there were a range of opportunities to monetize virtual artists down the line.
The company is coming out of stealth just as musical performances on platforms traditionally thought of as online games are getting increasingly popular. When Lil Nas X took to Roblox in November, his performance was watched by 30 million users from all around the world, prompting Donato to tell Protocol that Roblox was planning to host a lot more concerts.
"They see the power of music in those environments," McGarry said. And to audiences who are already comfortable with esports and metaverse environments, it may not matter all that much whether those artists are real or AI-powered.
And who is to say a half-lizard isn't as compelling as any other public persona? Authentic Artists is already planning to launch Instagram and SoundCloud profiles for Dragoon and his friends. "They do have backstories, origin stories," McGarry said. "We are creating fully three-dimensional artists."