Real to Virtual and Back: Matthew Ebel, Virtual Hot Wings, and His Posse – Musicians, Take Note

5 minute read

I’ve been listening to CC Chapman‘s Managing the Gray podcasts for quite a while. CC, who calls himself a “Grounded Futurist & New Media Maven,” is all that and more. He’s a blogger, a podcaster, a video blogger, and a Second Life regular. It is really interesting to see how he weaves these various mediums together as part of his day job, VP at Crayon.

Every Thursday, CC invites his listeners to log in to Second Life at 9 AM EST for a half hour or so of stimulating conversation at Crayonville, his corporate home in-world. I have this event on my Outlook calendar and make it a point to be there whenever I am in a time zone which so allows.

<img id=”image1051” src=”” alt=”virtual_hot_wings_vending_machine.gif” /style=”float:right;margin-left:10px;margin-bottom:10px;border:1px solid black;”/>This past week there was a buzz in the virtual air. CC announced that Virtual Hot Wings, a new album produced by fans of “Piano Rocker” Matthew Ebel, was now available for in-world purchase. I had heard of Matthew but didn’t really know what all of the fuss was about, but bookmarked the site until I had more time to investigate. They mentioned that it was possible to buy the album inside of Second Life (in-world, as they say) which certainly sounded cool.

Saturday evening I was hanging around the house, passing some time before heading to the airport to retrieve my wife Carmen, who had spent a week in Maryland catching up with her family. I pulled up the Virtual Hot Wings bookmark, listened to a sample clip, and realized that I had been hearing bits and pieces of Matthew’s work on various podcasts. From there I headed into Second Life, intent on making the purchase. I could have bought the album from the web site, but I was interested in checking out the purchasing and delivery process. It also seemed only fair, since I had learned about the album in-world, to make the purchase that same way.

I headed over to the specified location on Crayonville but I couldn’t find the vending machine. I went back to the web site and found an email address for one Chel Pixie. I sent her an email and within minutes she logged in, realized that the vending machine had in fact mysteriously disappeared, and asked me to be patient while she created another one! She teleported me to another location, rezzed a fresh vending machine, and I paid my 5000 Lindens (about $19 at the current exchange rate). The vending machine issued a notecard to me, complete with a download URL to a password-protected ZIP file.

You can find that vending machine on the island of Los Arboles, which you can visit here.

Early this morning I downloaded the 387MB file and opened it up. There was quite a bit inside:


  • 3 Ringtones.
  • A 3-page PDF of press clippings about Matthew.
  • A high-resolution promotional photo of Matthew.
  • A 6-page collection of lyrics from his Beer and Coffee album.
  • Cover art in PNG format, which I could print out and insert into a CD jewel case.
  • Audio from 4 of Matthew’s concerts in Second Life.
  • The 16 music tracks which comprise the actual album.
  • I dropped it all into a folder, imported it into iTunes, and then put it on my iPod’s playlist. A quick sync up and I was ready to go. These are all quality, DRM-free recordings – a total of 5 hours of music.

    My family went out to do some shopping today, so I decided to give the album a listen while weeding some badly overgrown flower beds in my yard. Matthew’s snappy lyrics and crisp piano playing made the time pass quickly. I was so fired up that I even pulled out what looked like a weed, only to learn (when my wife returned) that it was actually one of her favorite plants (a Mexican Bleeding Heart, I think she said). Oh well!

    It was really fun to listen to the music in concert form. Matthew was apparently streaming the sound live into Second Life, while watching the audience and even shouting out to them between numbers. He was very, very aware of what was going on in-world and I felt that I had missed out on some fun by not being there! He made sure to say hello to his regulars and he acknowledged contributions to his tip jar in real time.

    Ok, so far so good, but the best is yet to come.

    chel_pixel.gifWhen I was talking to Chel Pixie yesterday (there she is on the right), she told me a little bit about the story behind the album. Other than giving his go-ahead and performing in Second Life, Matthew didn’t need to participate in the production of this amazing work! Instead, Chel and fellow fan Christopher Penn put the whole thing together, and they did it in two weeks! You can read the entire story here. As she notes, “This release has the power to change the way that the music industry works. The record labels and the RIAA have a whole lot of catching up to earn the love and loyalty of the fans the way that Matthew has.”

    As CC notes on his Accident Hash podcast, Matthew’s take from each album is the entire 5000 Lindens or $20, instead of the 45 cents or so that he would get if he had signed up with a major label. Even better, the money flows to him immediately. No manager, no earn-out, no record companies in the way. If you don’t understand what happens when a musician signs with a label, read Steve Albini’s classic piece on this subject.

    If you are a musician and you want to build up a fan base, you had better pay attention to this stuff. Matthew starts out in the real world, then creates Hali Heron as his Second Life persona. He performs and builds up a fan base by appearing in-world and in real life – here is his tour schedule. His real life, his virtual life, are strung together by blog posts, twitterings, mailing lists, and fans.

    Musicians, this is the future, staring you right in the face. You need to appreciate, use, understand, and dominate this technology sooner rather than later if you want to succeed.