It’s almost a given that musicians gain popularity online before making a name for themselves in the real world – but what if one didn’t necessarily have to follow the other? What if the internet was the only domain that an artist ever had any desire for not only their music to exist in, but to give live performances?
One man following precisely that path is POL Arida, a singer-songwriter based in Edinburgh, where opportunities to play gigs have dwindled due to a spate of recent venue closures.
Since 2008, he has been performing in Second Life, a 3D digital world created by its registered users (of which there are more than 21 million), who interact with each other through avatars.
Second Life’s popularity in the United States far outstrips any other territory, yet the Scot claims to be its most popular original artist (although some major acts such as Green Day and Suzanne Vega have come in to do one-off concerts). To date, POL Arida has attracted more than 200,000 avatars to his gigs. In November 2010, a special POL Arida tribute event was organised during which eight SL musicians covered his songs before the man himself rounded it off with a 20-minute set.
In this world there are virtual venues where SL users watch avatars with animated instruments giving live performances. In POL Arida’s case, this is done by playing in his home studio in Lasswade and streaming the feed online. He can view and interact with his audience – for example, thanking them after playing a song or taking requests, much as a musician would in real life. The audience can also see POL Arida in human form as he has webcams set up in the studio.
“It’s just like touring without leaving a huge carbon footprint,” he says. “If you have a reasonably good computer and a small mixer, you can be playing in a club in Sydney or New York tomorrow and it won’t cost you a penny. One great advantage is that you can play gigs with other people thousands of miles away accompanying you. With a band it takes a little more effort, but easily doable.”
POL Arida has developed a unique style of playing some of his songs, which he calls ‘hammer guitar’. The guitar is hit up to 300 times per minute, effectively turning it into a percussive instrument. While simple, the technique is physically punishing and it took POL Arida nearly seven months to master.
Although he has introduced fellow Edinburgh musicians to Second Life such as Cloudland Blue Quartet (known as CBQ Coba in the virtual world) and an Ayrshire-based acquaintance called Marky Helestien also plays regularly, POL Arida does not feel part of any scene in his native land.
“I am in a strange position, being kind of unknown in Scotland yet having a large global following,” he says. “I have done some limited gigging around Edinburgh – the Out of the Bedroom open mic night is a good songwriters’ haunt and I’ve also played The Ark three times plus a few other venues. One of the reasons I enjoy online playing is because it is difficult for the audience to hear lyrics in the ‘live club’ environment and much of my appeal seems to be in the words. Also, as you know, there are not that many places to play around Edinburgh.
“I tend to get vacant looks when I tell other artists what I am up to. The first thing they tend to say is, ‘Well, anyone can make it online’ but that is bollocks. If their website content is not good enough then people will not come back. That is refreshing after years of people telling music lovers what to like and not like. If, in the future, there are less big record companies to act as publicity and distribution machines then a band website will become their shop window. The great thing about playing live online is that the song becomes the important factor. Fashion, looks and hipness gets thrown out the window and people simply focus on the words and music.”
POL Arida – Winning
POL Arida – Welcome To Winter