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Experiencing a music festival with tech upgrades

Outside Lands festival in San Francisco, August 2019. Photo: FilmMagic/FilmMagic

Imagine being at a music festival, far enough from the stage that you can’t hear your favorite band well at all — except when you pull out your phone, log into a special WiFi network and instantly get the live music crystal clear into your earphones.

What's happening: Mixhalo, a San Francisco company, is making this possible, and this weekend it was quietly testing its tech at the Outside Lands music festival.

How it works: For a concert or other type of live event, Mixhalo outfits the venue with its proprietary WiFi and plugs directly into the stage’s soundboard, providing access to the same audio the musicians hear in their in-ear monitors.

  • The show’s organizers can offer access to the live audio to attendees through their own app by integrating Mixhalo’s software development kit.
  • Unlike the typical WiFi networks that attendees experience at a conference, for example, Mixhalo’s network is configured to remove density constraints (so no limit to the number of users) and only depend on range (attendees must be within the appropriate distance).
  • While the sound was already great from where I tested Mixhalo’s app in the VIP section of the festival’s main stage (the company provided me with a pass so I could meet the team and try it), I can imagine it would make a huge difference for attendees far away from the stage.

Mixhalo says that its business model is similar to a software subscription.

  • For its current deals with Metallica and Aerosmith, for example, it charges the bands a fee per show, calculated upfront based on the venues, expected number of attendees, and so on. It also charges them a small fee for the hardware it installs in the venues.
  • While Metallica is making the tech available to all attendees on its tour, Aerosmith, which is staying put in one venue for a residency, is using the setup as part of the deal for ultra-VIP seats located on the side of the stage where speakers don't typically project well. According to Mixhalo co-founder and violinist Ann Marie Simpson-Einziger, Aerosmith is making an extra $6 million in revenue from these premium tickets (and spending a fraction of that on the WiFi tech).
  • For “pop-up” events like Outside Lands or TechCrunch’s Disrupt Conference, Mixhalo charges a lump-sum fee based on the same factors.
  • Mixhalo is also working on a deal with a large venue in Los Angeles that hosts both sporting events and entertainment shows, though CEO Marc Ruxin declined to name the venue.

There was other “tech” I was able to experience at the music festival:

  • Apple Pay: Attendees could pay for food, drinks and merchandise using Apple Pay, which I used multiple times.
  • Caviar: The food delivery service was advertised as a way to skip the long food lines by ordering from some of the vendors and picking up from one of the designated tents. This was a case of a great idea with poor execution: Very limited menu items were available, and some vendors only delivered to the VIP Caviar tent, only accessible to VIP ticket holders. I managed to order some fried rice from the limited selection — after having to update the app so it could show me the festival section, failing to use the service via Outside Lands’ app, and struggling with phone reception.
  • Bumble: Outside Lands advertised the app on its website as a way for women to meet other festival-goers. I downloaded it before heading over, made a quick profile and started swiping. I didn’t have much luck, though to be fair, I didn’t try too hard or spend much time on this.
  • Phone charging: The festival provided two options — small portable banks for $25 that can be exchanged throughout the festival, and free charging at the Uber-sponsored booth (I opted for the latter).

Yes, but: By far my biggest struggle was with WiFi — or lack thereof.

  • Outside Lands didn’t provide WiFi at the festival and my phone struggled with reception a number of times, making it hard to check the festival app, use social media apps and even use Caviar to order food.