Music Festivals Are Ripe For Hacking

by chase. 0 Comments

This post was originally published on, music a tech think tank.

Have you been to a music festival in the past 10 years?

If you have, I’m sure that even while you were having a great time with your friends, at some point you likely suffered one of the many pains of the experience. Whether it was shoddy cell signal, the inability to find your friends, long lines, or scheduling mishaps, one of your days at the festival (usually the first), was open for betterment.

That is, of course, if you were even sober enough to notice.

The goal of a music festival is to pack as much music into as small amount of time as possible and make it a life long memory for all who attend. These aspirations can quickly turn into horror stories, however, when organizers fail to live up to the expectations of festival attendees. The everyday affordances and advances that many of us have become accustomed to often fly out the window at festivals.

Several changes could be made that would improve the music festival experience for everyone involved. The central pain points to target are the technology, communication, event updates, and vendor and lavatory demand. A little hacking with some inexpensive equipment could make festivals rock so much more.


Currently, the technological capability afforded at music festivals is very limited. We have very sophisticated networks that allow communication to flow like water yet these conveniences are not afforded at festivals. How do we solve this problem?

Simple: organizers need to place an advanced network layer on top of the festival grounds. If we can communicate with a rover on Mars, it’s certainly possible to build a temporary Wi-Fi network with some hyper intelligence nodes added throughout.

Does this network need to be connected to the Internet? Absolutely not.

In fact, that would inhibit the flow of prominent information. Essentially, it would be a massive real-time LAN that blanketed the entire festival grounds and communicated with a central server that fed data into a proprietary festival app.

There are many different scenarios in which a Wi-Fi network could solve many of the problems associated with the festival experience. Most organizers are making wristbands with RFID embedded in them that you can’t remove until the event is over. This would enable organizers to efficiently track the locations of attendees and supplement the festival experience with interactive technology.


The cellular signal at festivals is usually horrid. Typically, in a city, this is no big deal, but most of the time phones are the only way to keep in touch with your friends. One of them wanders off to get drinks while the other is trying to find that stage where his favorite act of the entire day is playing, and just like that you’ve lost all your friends.

Organizers have recently started to put up mobile cell towers surrounding festival grounds, but a lot of times they aren’t able to handle the load. I have seen some people begin to solve this issue by carrying around ten foot high poles with some sort of beacon on the top of them so their friends can find them easier. While this works great, lugging around the beacon is a chore and it doesn’t really make sense when it’s highly likely your friends have cellphones and connected devices.

Adding a cellular network layer to festival grounds would enable a better flow of information among attendees. In an ideal scenario, your friends could connect their device to the network, which knows that they are in section G2 near the dance stage. You could pull out your smartphone and an app would tell you exactly where they are. It takes less than a few minutes to locate your friends and continue rocking out with them.

Event Updates

At music festivals, bands rarely start on time and there are a lot of people packed into tight areas trying to catch a view of their favorite act. Although organizers do everything in their power to alleviate these kinds of issues, it simply never goes as planned since many different problems can arise when setting up live instrumentation.

Often, just as you find your friends, you realize there is a massive area to explore and there is potentially something more awesome happening at another stage. It’s hard to not have that feeling at a festival if you aren’t grooving to music that very moment. So you pull out a map, find the next stage, and trek to there. You come around the corner and find a sea of 20,000 people packed in like sardines watching the next act. While it looks like a great time, standing at the rear of that crowd is no way to experience an intimate moment with an artist you may have never heard.

If there were real-time crowd data flowing from the network, it could’ve saved you from this painful experience. You could open the app to find out who’s playing next and see that the dance stage only has an estimated 500 people there right now, as well as see that it’s a perfect opportunity for you to get a good spot for the next act. On your walk over, the app would send a notification that your favorite artist or band of the day has delayed its performance an hour due to scheduling errors, which means you’ll have more than enough time to make it back to the main stage later.

Vendor and Lavatory Demand

Festival attendees often walk for 15 minutes only to find out that the spot they wanted to eat at has a line of about 40 people. So instead they just settle for that hot dog on the corner and make a beeline to the next stage. And if they also decided to grab a beer, they can expect 15 more minutes of line waiting for a tasty lager.

Real-time vendor line data and the purchasing power of RFID through the network would have saved you at least 30 minutes of frustration. For instance, before you left the dance stage you could have opened up your app and saw in real time that the taco truck only has three people in line and that it has fresh Corona. So you walk up to the window and order and scan your wristband that’s automatically charged to your festival tab that you started with your credit card in the app. The system is already aware that you are of age, so the taco guy fills up your beer cup to the proper level.

You stood in line for a total of five minutes because transactions were seamless and did not require any currency exchanging hands. If you realize that you better use the restroom before Metallica plays, you can check the app and see that the restrooms near the front left of the stage have the most supply and least current demand. You can locate your friends (again), get a close spot, and see a great show with them.

Hack On

Sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in the chaos of these events. Even though you’ve been at the festival for three hours, you quickly realize that you haven’t even danced to a single song yet. And that is why you’re there in the first place, right?

By adding a highly intelligent network layer, enabling better communication and real-time festival data, suddenly the music festival experience could be top notch.

The lines would be shorter, you’d know where your friends are, you could drink more as its quicker to get beer, and you’d know where to find the shortest lines and least amount of people in all areas. More importantly, you could focus on the music.

Organizers need to realize that eating the costs to fix these types of problems will not only make the music festival experience better for everyone, but it will also keep people coming back year after year. If festivals want to continue to expand and book multiple weekends, these types of innovations must start happening. Otherwise, the only memories that many people will have is that time in 2001 when they spent the entire day at the Warped Tour, buying $6 bottles of water and looking for shade.

(Image Credit: Flickr)

Why I Never Finish Side Projects

by chase. 5 Comments

If you’re anything like me, you’re always trying to get better at the things you love. For me day in and day out that is programming and playing music. In an effort to improve these skills, I try to learn at least a few new things a week that are outside of my knowledge base.

Recently I was looking for some advice on how to ramp up my coding skills. I found this Stack Overflow question that had some great pointers. The tip about studying patterns really stuck out like a sore thumb to me for some reason. I know these patterns but how come I don’t ever actively consider them when I’m writing code? Or is it something that just radiates in my subconscious? I mulled it over for a couple days and tried to figure out why it was bothering me so much. It finally hit me at the coffee shop this afternoon.

I haven’t been properly laying out a strategy to begin my projects. When it comes to programming, I’ll draw a wireframe and then just start banging out the code. Sometimes I’ll layout a skeletal class or two but this is pretty rare.

With music, it’s usually worse. I’ll just find a tone I like and start noodling until I find a melody or riff I can start off with. Then begin to build from there. I always thought the best way to write music was on an impulse and I thought it worked best for me. Clearly I am not a fan of having restricted structure. For some reason I always felt it inhibited my creativity.

After carefully considering both of these points, I realized I’ve been doing it all wrong this whole time. This is one of the biggest reasons I think why I never end up finishing my side projects. I can finish songs and I can write a 500 line class no problem but I’ve never built a finished product that I was proud to present to the public. This realization was very demoralizing.

So how am I going to fix it? My number one goal for this year is to focus. When I make music, I’m going to lay out a plan for achieving the sound/emotion I want to portray and I’m going to stick to that path. If I have an idea I want to program, not only am I going to wireframe it but I’m going to write skeletal code and develop a schematic for the whole build. Of course these plans will be changed and adapted along the way but they will help me focus on achieving my goals instead of always half assing it.

I will release an EP this year and I will finish at least one open source project. I’m not a believer in talking about it ruins it. I will achieve these goals.

To accomplish great thingswe must not only act but also dream, not only plan but also believe.” – Anatole France



Music Animation Shows Off The Future of Music Experiences In The Browser

by chase. 0 Comments

Wildlife Control - HTML5 Music Animation

Wildlife Control have created an incredible music animation using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and the SoundCloud API. The JavaScript and math required to put this thing together are quite impressive. The whole experience definitely made the song more enjoyable for me. I urge you to go look at the main script file, beautify it and enjoy. At first I thought they were probably using Popcorn.js but after reviewing the source, definitely not. They provide a great explanation over on their blog of how things work that I have pasted below. Check it out here.

We were tinkering around with the SoundCloud API late one night several weeks ago and realized we could use the timing events and track comments to make something cool. At the time, we were thinking it would be a quick little animated ASCII thing. After digging in a little more, we decided to go way bigger.

You can think of this video as a scripted visualization. Although the story is linear, certain elements are random, making each viewing unique. The scenes are rendered on a “pixel” grid of HTML divs. Every time we get a playback timing event from SoundCloud, we check if a new sixteenth note has passed, and if so, the JavaScript renders the appropriate sprites on the video frame. This keeps the action precisely timed with the audio. The sprites are JavaScript objects that specify which colors to use and how to arrange them. Since we need to keep things lightweight and efficient, the general strategy is to break the scenes down into reusable pieces and animate them on the fly using math.

To make it a little more interactive, we display the SoundCloud comments right on the video on the same pixel grid. You can connect your SoundCloud or Facebook account and post your own comments and see them on the video while it’s playing. We are very excited that this is possible. Gotta love SoundCloud. And math.

So yeah… this is what happens when drummers write JavaScript.




SoundCloud Labs Launches Experimental Apps

by chase. 0 Comments

Over the past couple years, SoundCloud has steadily become the go to tool for sharing audio on the web. Today SoundCloud launched a new venture entitled SoundCloud Labs, which allows users to become more acquainted with the platform via various applications that have been developed internally with the SoundCloud API. SoundCloud Labs currently contains access to 4 different applications including Social Unlock, TakesQuestions, Importer and a Gmail plugin with many more to follow. Although these apps are very minimal in what they do, it is a great way for SoundCloud to showcase their platform and spread ideas to help grow their community of developers and musicians.


As you can imagine, the importer and Gmail plugin are relatively straight forward. The importer allows you to upload songs to SoundCloud via a URL, email, or by calling a private line to record. The latter is extremely nifty. No longer will artists be calling their own voicemails to record song ideas. You could also easily replicate something like this using the Twilio API. The Gmail plugin simply takes SoundCloud links and converts them into audio players directly in your inbox similar to the way YouTube videos are automatically embedded. Only downside is you need a Google Apps account instead of just solely a Gmail account.

TakesQuestions is a simple Q&A app that allows you to ask someone a question with an audio recording and they answer back. You record your question right in the the browser and then it combines the audio of the recipients response into a nice module for showcasing on the page.

Social Unlock is pretty much exactly as described. You share to unlock a download. So far Twitter is the only platform integrated though. Let’s walk through a simple setup of this to show you how easy it is.

First we go to the site and connect our SoundCloud account.

After we connect we’re ready to create our first promotion. Our tracks are already available and now all we have to do is fill in a few details and create our theme.

Now we just hit create promotion, change the theme to our liking, we’re provided a URL and its ready to go. This app could help you spread your tracks quickly if executed properly. The only downside is that any SoundCloud player shared on Facebook is automatically unlocked and you can download the track if its available. Another example of this would be the new Manchester Orchestra album stream in which you have to build a puzzle to unlock. Simply embed the link on Facebook and you’re no longer facing any sort of challenge to listen.

Another recent tool created by SoundCloud developer Lee Martin, is the premiere app. You will not find it on the labs but this open source tool has been making its rounds for several albums over the past couple months with bands like the Beastie Boys and the Foo Fighters using it to debut new music.

These apps seem to be just a little teaser of what’s to come in the future. Definitely looking forward to see what SoundCloud comes up with next.

How To Build A Music Recommendation Application With Your Facebook Friends

by chase. 0 Comments

If you’re a music geek like me, every day you’re looking for new ways to find tunes. Checking Twitter, scanning Tumblr, RSS Feeds, Last.FM scrobbles and inevitably hitting play on that YouTube video you’re not so sure of in your Facebook news. All of this produces so much noise though and its hard to really filter down to the stuff you actually want.

I have found that I discover most of my favorite music from some of my closest friends in every day conversation. Unfortunately over time your friends always grow apart from each other and you find yourself trading new finds less and less. Luckily we now have these massive social hang outs online that allow us to engage in ways with our friends that we couldn’t even do when they lived close to us. I love Last.FM for music discovery but the main problem is that not all of my friends use it and they won’t for some reason. Out of all the networks that have popped up in the past few years the only one that I can reliably find the majority of my friends on is Facebook. Unfortunately Facebook is still highly lacking in the awesome music applications category right now that allows sharing with your friends.

So how do you take the features Facebook already has and make it into something useful that your friends can share music with each other through. On top of that how do I get the best music recommendations from my friends and their friends I don’t even know. I decided to start a secret Facebook group on the premise that most people don’t want to share what they’re listening to on their stream but if its a private group geared towards music then they have no shame. I then encouraged the 10 or so friends I added that I knew had similar tastes to add other friends who love music. 30 days and 125 interspersed friends later we got a pretty sweet thing going here. About 5-10 posts a day with some sort of link to music. Needless to say I’ve discovered quite a few awesome tracks that are right up my alley that I had no clue about and probably would have never found otherwise.

About 4 months pass and everything is going great. I asked people to only post 1-2 links a day max and we were trekking along having some great conversations, sharing past show stories, and building a tightly knit community of music lovers. Then came the problem, too many links and no way to listen to them all in a given day. Especially as the group started to expand I could see this becoming a problem. Once again too much noise that inevitably I needed to be able to sort through to get what I wanted. I spend enough time doing that already through out the day. I knew though that this time around though the noise was a lot more refined and worth fine tuning. So naturally having a bit of understanding of the Facebook API I decided to take advantage of all this great data.

I decided to build a mini application that allows you to simply up vote or down vote a post that somebody made in the group and also tallies likes/comments to add to the posts score. In part 2 I’ll show you how to build something like this on your own using PHP, Javascript, and the Facebook Open Graph. In the meantime go start your group, add some friends who like the same music as you, and then encourage them to invite friends with similar tastes. Below I have shared what I posted as the rules for the group and it seems to be working relatively well.

A place to share/discuss music we love among friends.
Since not everyone on facebook likes good music. Thought it would be a cool idea to start this group of friends and share shit that we don’t care for our whole stream to see or just share some new hot shit you found but don’t feel like posting to your stream.
A couple things to clarify that I have been asked ..
1. Invite whoever, all I ask is they like good music and want to share with friends or people they have never met. I believe groups of friends share the best unknown bands. Genres don’t matter, if you think its good then post it.
2. If you post something, try and add at least a link for people to listen to
3. Try not to spam the board, 1-2 links a day is enough from an individual. (would like this to last not for you to share all your favorite bands in 2 days)
Enjoy and start conversation!
NOTE: Its probably a good idea to edit settings of the group and turn off notifications and emails when you join.

Follow Up: Remix Web 2.0 Style

by chase. 0 Comments

NPR has released a very engaging series on the future of music and technology that explores a lot of the ideas that I had been considering as of late. Live music collaboration over the web was one of the topics they recently touched on. They describe how two artists that live on separate coasts of the United States have been able to collaborate due to new technology that has surfaced in the past couple years. Recently an online service similar to the one that I had in mind has launched in beta but the services sound very promising.

Dan Zaccagnino is co-founder and co-CEO of Indaba Music, an online community that allows musicians to meet and collaborate with fellow musicians. He says there are about 100,000 people who have joined the service.

Once registered, a musician can look for others to collaborate with asynchronously. For example, a bassist may upload a bass track and search for people who can fill out his rock song with guitar, drums and vocals. Those musicians can then record their own tracks for the bassist and upload them to the same recording “session.”

“It’s really supposed to be a flexible platform for people to collaborate however they want to,” Zaccagnino says.

Zaccagnino demonstrated one session started by a synthesizer player in New York. The keyboardist found a drummer online — both lived in New York, but the two had never met before — to lay down a beat. Other players then joined the session: a guitarist from the U.K. and vocalists from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Now all they need to do is figure out how these artists can release their music together and reap the benefits of their collaboration. I have taken a gander at the site myself and plan to start using it although I currently have a project going on locally, exploring all music avenues in life has been something I have been very keen on for some time. Its very easy for one to get engaged into their current band but I think without exploring other avenues of music that do not fit the band, one can become very frustrated creatively. Sometimes some of my ideas just don’t fit within the confines of the current group I am collaborating with. This service will hopefully provide a way for more musicians to explore these creative avenues that otherwise fall into the abyss. I’ll follow up with my thoughts on the service in a few weeks after I have collaborated in a couple sessions.

Bringing Back the Remix, Web 2.0 Style

by chase. 0 Comments

I can listen to music all day and have various creative thoughts but its not until I actually play myself that my ideas come together.  Tonight I picked up my guitar while feeling uninspired and 10 minutes later I had a new riff and a solid idea for a web service for musicians.

Too often musicians find themselves stuck at a point where they either don’t have time to play with other people or simply can’t find the right people to adhere to their style.  With the availability of inexpensive recording equipment for computers and the simplicity of recording programs, musicians can post a track online they recorded minutes after it’s finished being rendered into an mp3. Where as 10 years ago, 6 months after an artist went into the studio you would finally hear their tracks.  Why not create a service where people can collaborate their music in the “cloud”?

For example, I lay down a 30 second guitar riff that I enjoy but I have lost all creative energy to continue the riff that I started.  I go to this online music service, upload my riff and await for submissions of people adding on to it.  I have the ability to accept the addition, add it as a maybe, or just flat deny it.  As the first uploader, you act as the decision maker as to what you add to the original piece.  Then you leave the maybes accessible to other artists to see if they can add something to make the maybes come to fruition.  After this process goes on for a period of time, you have a full song.  Once the song is done, all of the registered users who added on to the song are credited for the piece.  Then the song is then served up for download on the site which the song writers then receive royalties from each song they participate in.

With bands like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead releasing their material in separate tracks which allows other people to remix the tracks however they wish, this could also evolve into a remix service for established artists.  A lot of new technology has surfaced recently that allows for mixing of tracks through web interfaces which will eventually allow users to manipulate tracks solely through the web.  Although the power of software such as Pro Tools is a long way away from approaching the web,  I could see people getting highly interested in recreating others tracks simply by adjusting timing, volume, pitch, and tempo.   Once the tracks are remixed, if people enjoy the remix and download it, then the user gets a small piece of royalties and the rest will go to the artist.

In the next 10 years, it would be amazing if musicians could collaborate live over the internet but until then this would be a step in the right direction.  One of the best indie releases in the past 10 years was done through a collaboration of sending tracks back and forth online, The Postal Service.  Programmers do it, people remote in to the office everyday, why shouldn’t artists be next?  I’m surprised adobe hasn’t released an interactive feature of their software suite that allows for live collaboration.  With all of the recent online music infused start ups, I haven’t seen one that is trying to cater to tapping into all of these social networks of musicians and their friends that play music as well but live in different areas of the world.  This would be a perfect way to break out into this area.