This week, I had a chat with metalcore band Schemata Theory about their recently released album and their unique promotion strategy through the virtual reality (VR) world of Beat Saber.
Teddy: Is this album the biggest release you at Schemata Theory have had so far?
Myles: We’ve only done one album before, which was almost ten years ago, and the thing about that album was we released that on Day Zero, so the day we released that album was the day we announced ourselves as a band. It was pretty much a digital marketing thing, thinking: “Let’s go big from the start as an independent band.” This is the second album we’ve done, and it’s definitely our most important album; it’s kind of our introduction to the masses. We’re just more comfortable in our own skins now and who we are as artists. This album is very special because it feels like the end of product of ten years of Schemata Theory, but it’s also a starting point of us really going for it.
Teddy: If you’ve been together for that long, you’ll definitely have had time to hone your direction as a band.
Myles: That’s exactly right! We really are a brotherhood in the sense that people always regard bands as a family, because it is a very personal thing. To write music requires vulnerability and trying new things. I’ve been in bands growing up where sometimes it is just friends playing music, but we’ve got a very deep connection with each other, and we’re very lucky to have that connection. It’s just exciting. We’re really excited to get it out there for everyone and hear what people’s experiences of it are, not just in the music but in the thematic content.
Teddy: You’ve been promoting it in a pretty unique way, through Beat Saber—on emails you mentioned the Beat Saber creators noticing what you’ve done, so obviously that’d be amazing, you getting to play your own creation.
Myles: Well, I’m a bit of a networker in gaming spaces; I speak with a lot of developers, and I’ve spoken to some of the people at Beat Games, but they’re owned by Facebook, and they work with DLCs like Linkin Park…as much as I want to big up Schemata Theory, we’re not quite there yet! This project was foremost about the community, about engaging with it. Would we want to be added to the game officially? Absolutely! I don’t think there’s going to be the Schemata Theory DLC, but on Beat Saber they have an extras playlist, and that’s where they tend to incorporate singles by independent artists. It’d be great to be put in there that way. I reached out to them when we were starting the project, but it was very much “Here’s an idea.” Now we’ve got hundreds of people who’ve played our track around the world, and we’re going to be using footage of people from Japan to Brazil slicing along to the song.
Teddy: So you did get people answering the call for videos?
Myles: Yeah, I’ve already had like 40 videos emailed to me, and there’s more uploaded to YouTube! The community’s just so vibrant. I think even on the hardest mode, Expert+, around 200-250 players have already ranked on the highest score, which means they’ve got to the end and they’ve actively decided to share it. I’ve seen some of the best players in the world play it—not that I always knew they were the best players in the world at the time! I’d request the song on Twitch streams and see people 100% it without breaking a sweat and be told “Oh yeah, by the way, they’re #3 in the world.” I’d be lying if I said we weren’t surprised by how well it’s done. It’s been absolutely phenomenal.
Teddy: How much potential do you think there is for platforms like Beat Saber to be a place for people to discover new music? I know a lot of my friends and I discovered some of our favourite bands through things like Guitar Hero growing up—do you think there’s a similar potential in Beat Saber?
Myles: I think music is arguably one of the most important characters in any computer game. Even in the early days, before there was voiceover and it was just text onscreen, we remember the music of those classic childhood games. There was a massive surge of bands getting posters into every kid’s bedroom around the world via Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, you know, the likes of Papa Roach and The Offspring—it was a real gamechanger, if you’ll excuse the pun! Now we live in a time where people can do modding.
I knew there was a modding community for Beat Saber—I haven’t engaged with it myself, because I have a Playstation and that doesn’t allow modding—but I didn’t realise how vibrant the community was until I reached out to them. Obviously I can’t speak for Beat Games, but I’m gonna give you my interpretation of it. Beat Games, I would assume, absolutely love the modding community, but they can’t publicly endorse it because it is a black market community. Every time someone does a custom map and plays it, it is piracy. Is that to say the artists would be against it? Probably not. They probably love that fans are being so creative with their music. But understandably, Beat can’t endorse something that’s such a vibrant part of their game.
One of the segments of this project was not just “Wouldn’t it be cool if we were in Beat Saber?” but “What if we went to one of these mappers and commissioned them to map one of our songs? And not only that, what if we went to the community and said “Hey, we’re Schemata Theory, this is our new single, and we’ve commissioned this. We’ve got permission from our distributor, you’re totally welcome to engage with it; upload videos to YouTube, there won’t be any copyright strikes.” So when I was going into Twitch streams while I was unwell at home, what a perfect way to do a world tour by going from Twitch stream to Twitch stream?
Teddy: Was there anything about “New Vision” that made it ideal for Beat Saber—aside from it being your most recent, single, of course?
Myles: I chose it for Beat Saber because it has a breakdown, it has a solo, it’s fast tempo, it’s got a fun rhythm to it. Some of the livestreamers have their heart monitors visible onscreen, and I’m watching them like “This is gonna kill ‘em…if this kills them, it’ll be the worst PR stunt we’ve EVER done.”
When they get through the breakdown and I scream “new vision”, there’s this tunnel where they’re not having to hit anything, and some of them are leaning over going “My god, this is brutal!” and I say: this is what the song was about. It’s about when you feel you’re never gonna get through adversity, but in the end you do, and you look back with pride that you made it. Straight away, some of them felt that. They didn’t just feel it in what they heard, they actually endured this four minute track, this massive workout. And that just made me realise it’s a whole new level of immersion, because people aren’t just hearing it, they’re living it. They’re living this vibrant experience where the physicality is there. I mean I’d love to say that was all my intention! I knew I wanted that physicality in the map, but I didn’t really appreciate that part of the empathy and the connection and the immersion.
Teddy: I think that physical link to the song’s really interesting, because we only really associate that with hearing a song live and being able to dance or mosh to it in some cathartic way. But that’s a way to get that experience that’s kinda COVID-safe!
Myles: Some of the shared experience you can get on VR is just amazing. VR is still very much in its infancy—every time I have people over who’ve not played it before, I always put it on, because you can try and tell people what VR is, but until you’re in it you don’t really get that sense of immersion. But I do think it’s gonna take off, and another thing we wanted to get out of this project was to be a bit of a torch that other artists can see this. Instead of just waiting for their fans to make a map for free, work with the community! Commission people! These people are brilliant, talented custom map designers who don’t just make the maps, they play ‘em. The guys that were working on ours would message us like, “Here’s my first draft on Expert+ mode,” and getting it near perfect, because to be able to make these maps they need to test them to know how they feel.
Teddy: You’re in a pretty unique position to bring both these communities together. Has there been much of an overlap between them?
When we started engaging with the VR community, that’s really when the project started getting traction. To jump into VR is such a big jump—even as it becomes more common, it’s still a big investment. Schemata Theory fans were really into it, and still enjoyed watching other people play it, but this was an exercise in getting VR fans to get involved with us and become part of our tribe. But it’d be such a disservice to the Schemata Theory fans if we just said, “It was a one off and that’s it.”
In a dream, I would like us now to get the entire album mapped into Beat Saber, because the community’s so on board with it. I just can’t explain how inclusive it is. The diversity of gamers, it’s one of the most inclusive spaces I’ve ever seen. When you look at these streamers, they’re all about positivity. As a band, we’re all about unity, the album’s called Unity In Time, and it’s all about connection, so what better way to showcase that than with this community that really transcends geographical location? That’s real unity.
Find Schemata Theory’s music and videos at https://schematatheory.com/