Monday, October 4, 2010

An Interview with Claus Uriza the CEO of Pop Art Lab

It's early on a Saturday afternoon and I'm in-world for a special event. A major exhibition has opened and I port over shortly after my avatar rezzes. Upon arrival, I quickly realized that while I'm close, I'd missed the location of the event by several hundred meters. Fortunately, one of the Pop Art Lab's staff saw my arrival and ported me over to join in the festivities. The mini map was awash with green and yellow dots when I did finally arrive. As I found a spot to park my virtual self to watch and listen, while I exchanged pleasantries with several friends in the crowd. On stage and speaking in voice was good friend Persia Bravin, the MC for the daylong festivities. She thanked the assembled crowd and then introduced Claus Uriza (Flickr Photo), the CEO of Pop Art Lab, who delivered the welcome address to the assembled avatars.

The event that day not only marked the opening of the exhibit, but also the anniversary of the company that Mr. Uriza had founded in 2008. Pop Art Lab provides support to musicians and singers who wish to break into the virtual world of Second Life. Besides organizing concerts, Pop Art Lab, "regularly hosts in-world concerts, inviting performers to play in front of a virtual audience". Pop Art Lab also hosts TV shows that have included artists like Greg Hawkes of "The Cars" and Max Morgan.

Shortly after he'd delivered his address, I left an instant message for him to both introduce myself and ask if he would be interested in an interview. He replied that he was and we met several days later in-world at the Pop Art Lab site. He sent me a TP and when I arrived, my virtual self was suspended in midair, flailing madly just outside of the facility.

"Oh shit sorry. I have to TP you out here." He said and when his offered TP request arrived, I clicked on it and soon stood next to him inside the lounge area of the main performance venues. While I rezzed, he added with a chuckle. "Hiya sorry."

"No problem, I'm used to the vagaries of a virtual existence." I paused and pulled back the camera view to take in the location before I asked. "How's it going?"

"Fine thank you … Where do you want us to be?" He asked.

I suggested here was good as I had spotted several comfy looking sofas nearby to where we stood. We both maneuvered our avatars and I waited for him to point click and sit before I sat across from him on an adjoining black leather chair. As I did he commented that our mutual friend Persia had given him some of my back ground as a journalist and that he'd also visited my blog.

"I just had a quick overview ... but you find cool spots all over Second Life right?" He asked

"A nice lady, Persia … she's been both a good friend and a good source for me. I said and then answered his question with; "I try … I'm looking to expand to other virtual worlds as well."

"Nice, any cool ones you like?" He asked.

"They're pretty much the same really. Second Life is where most of the people are right now. But others I think will grow. Inworldz seems to be drawing a decent crowd and there are a fair number of artists out there now." I replied.

"Ah yes, I've heard about it but have not tried yet. I might try new worlds to but now I want to be where the people are."

"What was it that brought you into Second Life?" I asked him.

"It was just curiosity. People at the office told me … and then I've been here 3½ years." He replied with a grin.

"Are you in the entertainment field in real life?" I asked.

"Kind of, I help public libraries ... well I select the best music albums and work as music editor where I recommend albums each week." He replied and then added; "I can find you a video a guy did recently … he interviewed me. It will tell you lot about the history and thoughts behind what I do in here."

"So what you do in real life then carried over easily into Second Life?"

"It wasn't easy at the beginning ... but I tried to find out how I could develop music offerings in here … but yes it is and it was kind of a transfer of what I do real life into Second Life, partly sponsored by the real life company where I work."

"So some early challenges ... what was the most difficult one to overcome?"

"Beside all the technical knowhow to get stable streams, it was and has been ... to face that avatars and people in general act a whole other way than they do real life. I mean designing builds in here ain't like real life. So it's interesting to see and experiment with immersive designs and see what works. For instance I had a restaurant here once. I realized it was fabulous for meetings. People relaxed more in there … felt close but that I think is one of the hardest tasks in here. It's a balance … some explore others TP away if there are no people." He replied.

"It can be a challenge to hold attention spans here." I commented.

"Well I've studied communication … to communicate in here is another issue to. People don't read group messages ... well not all do. Also, just to keep a tight organization differs from real life. Marketing differs a lot."

"How so?" I asked

"If you have an event in real life, you can do your PR one to three weeks upfront. In here it's like more fragile. You have to post many times and it's like people only remember or have the next 24 hours in their head. So often it's actually the PR that goes out in the last 24 hours that matters … it's a much faster medium. So for instance, on communication I've started to update my staff by email instead of notecards. I usually post updates to my staff one or two times a month, this way all are informed and I save time tell all in IMs."
"Instant communications … that's been the case in other social media as well, twitter comes to mind with mostly trending topics rapidly changing hour by hour." I commented.

"Yes exactly. I spend a lot time finding out what music to stream … what people like. I'm in Europe. So it kind of reflects my selections, but also its nice then people from the USA or anywhere can come here broaden their taste and vice versa ... I do stream lots of US artists to … so lots to be learned!"
"Have you worked with Second Life musical talent as well, to stream them?" I asked.

"Not specifically ... I've done it a few times upon events where the artists would then do a live set. So it's mostly live that I do. I do like to stream real life artists most … it's hard to find great talent in here. Maybe I'm just spoiled from real life work I don't know." He replied.

"Have any real life bands or performers crossed over to give Second Life a try?"

"Yes sure that's what our Pop Vox Music Show is all about. We have had like five pretty established real life artists in our shows."

"What has been their reaction to performing 'virtually'?" I asked.

"Good question. Generally I think the younger generation finds it much cooler. They're more familiar with this … all have been very excited … a few actually got hooked and stayed in Second Life. Most of them have never been in a virtual world before we helped them in." He replied.

"Going back to what you had mentioned earlier about people's attention span, have you had a high turnover of staff?"

"Nope it's pretty much the same guys in my team as when we opened except we've expanded. I think only a few have left our team … primarily due to real life and lack of time."

"What would you attribute then to those staying as part of the team?" I asked.

"I'm not sure i understand ... how I'll keep them?"

"Yes, basically … what has kept them as part of the team?"

"I think they like the whole spirit here ... they see we grow they don't get pushed they get freedom they feel ownership. It's hard for me to say." He replied and then added; "I'm pretty open … new guys feel its anarchy here … no management. They soon find out it's all is organized chaos. It's all about they must feel it's fun. I'm very organized and we are here … but before you get to know our guidelines, it might feel like chaos and a boss … me … who rarely bosses or creates any drama at all. We have zero drama … you cause drama and you are out of here. It's like creativity is header, no one can be creative in their participation if they don't get freedom."

"Creativity in serving your clients?" I asked.

"No it's more targeted into my way of leading all this. It's a bit hard to explain … it's about each of us has a talent. It's about making the best surroundings to get that talent out. Let's take builders as an example. They are individuals … have egos and all want their own stuff but you have to say … hey you are best at making real life replicas or hey you are best at making designs out of your own fantasy … and most important you have to be very careful in leaving feedback to the work. People are very sensitive to their creations. But you can't just say to three designers do this and that ... it's a creative process."

"I think it all could be a result of your recognizing the fluidity and dynamics of how to operate here in a virtual world. What motivates people ... to shape the desired results."

"Yes exactly, everyone needs to be happy."

"You'd mentioned earlier wanting to explore other virtual worlds, what other kinds of things do you see Pop Art Lab wanting to do here in SL or other worlds?" I asked.

"Our target is to create top quality events that are stable and in a way of doing that through our experience we are better set for the masses when they enter coming years. We operate in many directions create magic designs that we can open in other worlds too if they go big. Also we want sell commercial mp3s."

"Sell within Second Life?"

"Yes, help more real life artists in … grow community, we have a ton of ideas … somehow we just await the markets to grow and meanwhile we tweak all the details."

"Is that the way you see Pop Art Lab, as more of a community then a traditional business?"

"It's both ... I see it as a great marketing tool to reach out broadly. It's hard to tell … the community is max important to … we have lot to do on that and it hasn't been our main target. But we are a brand so it's easy for companies to benefit." He replied

"I know it's getting late for you. Are there any closing thoughts or comments you'd like to share with my readers?

"I think people must keep in mind ... we are some people in here who put lots of effort into making it a good experience to be here … and innovation doesn't just come out of making money. So a closing comment could be treat people with respect and behave just like real world." He replied.

1 comment:

Miso Susanowa said...

Very good interview with Claus! Thank you for covering PAL and their work there, it is extraordinary and wonderful.

ps - sorry about blabbing about you and Persia ^_^