Asad J. Malik, the Hologram-Loving Virtual-Reality Entrepreneur — Future 25 – Rolling Stone

This story appears in Rolling Stone‘s 2021 Future of Music issue, a special project delving into the next era of the multibillion-dollar hitmaking business. Read the other stories here.

Holograms aren’t a pipe dream anymore. If you ask Asad J. Malik, they’ll be soon one of the most important marketing opportunities in the music business.

“We aren’t far at all. People are ready for more at scale,” says Malik, who at 25 is the founder and CEO of an augmented-reality company. “On one hand, you have Instagram and Snapchat with the augmented reality they enable, which is getting more and more rich every day. But we are really pushing the boundaries of what is possible.”

Malik’s latest venture is an interactive hologram app called Jadu, a marriage of music and technology that allows fans to interact with their favorite artists to make clips that can be shared on short-form video apps like TikTok. Malik’s company has made dancing holograms for Pussy Riot, Vic Mensa, and TikToker Josh Richards; most notably, he recently created a nonchalantly speaking, bright red, satanic-themed Lil Nas X in a viral teaser for the rapper’s hit “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” and its much-discussed music video.

Born in Pakistan, Malik came to the U.S. in 2016 and gained attention by making clever, creative video and augmented-reality projects. His latest venture with Jadu is an interactive hologram app — a marriage of music and technology that allows fans to interact with their favorite artists to make clips that can be shared on short-form video apps like TikTok. Malik has made custom hologram videos for Pussy Riot, Vic Mensa, and TikToker Josh Richards; most notably, he recently created a nonchalantly speaking, bright-red, satanic-themed Lil Nas X in a teaser for the rapper’s runaway hit “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” and its much-discussed music video.

Looking to the future, Malik is even more excited to talk about his company’s potential to tell longer-form stories. Earlier this year he developed “Curse of Calypso,” a 10-minute experience for the Canadian-American rock band Palaye Royale, featuring some of the most ambitious AR tech that Jadu has employed to date. The tech placed hologram versions of the band directly in the rooms where viewers were: Guitarist Sebastian Danzig could smash through your wall, while singer Remington Leith could climb up a rafter in your living room. Jadu even made a fully playable holographic piano from scratch. And while some in the industry may assume that longer AR experiences will drive users away, Malik says that Palaye Royale fans who purchased “Curse of Calypso” are averaging three complete run-throughs of the experience.

Others are taking note of Malik’s innovation: In a vote of confidence from investors including Verizon, he raised $2 million to make more augmented-reality experiences, set to be released later this year. Still, one of the larger challenges he faces is evangelizing to media executives who have had poor experiences with inferior, lower-tech augmented reality in the past, or who see AR in general as a gimmicky concept. He says that the past year-plus under lockdown has helped him make his case, as digital marketing opportunities like Fortnite concerts by Travis Scott, Marshmello, and J Balvin have proven popular for both fan interaction and promoting new music.

“Those definitely help,” Malik says. “They come up a lot right now, people bringing them up as reference points for what artists want to do. But when you have artists like Lil Nas X and Travis Scott doing these virtual concerts, it allows us to go to artists and tell them they’ll be the first of their kind to do these [even] more immersive experiences with us, which is really another step further.”