Musicians Mike Einziger and Ann Marie Calhoun wanted to provide music fans with a better sound experience for years when they were on tour. Sure, fans in the front row had a great experience, but what about the fans sitting behind the speakers or those sitting in the back? Most of the time these people can hear are the people around them.
It was a problem that plagued Calhoun and Lone when they were touring with Hans Zimmer, and one that apparently did not have a good universal solution that could work in any venue in the world. So they did one.
The culmination of Calhoun's and Lone's work is Mixhalo – a software solution that connects directly to a venue's soundboard and broadcasts the mix locally over a private wireless network to anyone with an app at the show. It's a platform that could radically change the way you listen to artists at venues in the US – and when things are going well, around the world.
Music for the masses
The advantages of Mixhalo are obvious to anyone who has ever sat in a crowded arena: With the app you can hear more of the music and less of the crowd.
However, according to the two co-founders and their CEO Marc Ruxin, the goal is not just to balance the scales of the auditoriums and give everyone the opportunity to hear high-quality music, but also to keep fans listening to the music when they need to get up and hear what happens on other stages at a big festival like Coachella, Lollapalooza or Outside Lands.
And so far, people seem to like what they're hearing – the company has already announced a $ 10.7 million Series A financing, led by the Foundry Group, and has partnered with globally acclaimed acts such as Bruno Mars and Metallica, whom Calhoun and Lone have told us, use Mixhalo to present each instrument by creating a separate stream in the app.
The magic behind Mixhalo is the local wireless network that is set up at each venue. Once you're within range of the network, the free downloadable app on your phone will show you the different levels available and you can connect to a live feed from the soundboard. Connect headphones to your phone and you can hear the music in real time off the stage.
The largest public demonstration of the technology took place earlier this year at the Aerosmith live show in Las Vegas, where Mixhalo collaborated with the THX audio brand. However, the team plans to broadcast them at festivals across the US – including the Outside Lands festival in San Francisco last month, which will be able to take the audio app and meet its co-founders.
Front row sound from the back of a festival
How exactly can you use the app? Long before anyone came to the festival, Mixhalo and his core team came to the assembly. They had to install a set of antennas in sections of San Francisco's legendary Golden Gate Park and create the network we would use later to hear the bands on the app on stage.
"Because I knew the challenge of developing a technology platform that could offer any fan this experience in venues of any size, I was skeptical that this was possible," said Ryan McIntyre, managing director of the Foundry Group, the Mixhalo company Fundraising helped.
"When I experienced Mixhalo at the tiny Fox Theater in Boulder and then at the Aerosmith Show in Las Vegas, I was convinced of the technology."
The antennas are located around the main stage of the show and on two side stages. As long as you are in the covered area and have activated the app, you can tune in to one of the stages of the venue. Unfortunately, this means that you can not hear a concert at home. However, according to Mixhalo's team, this is better, since streaming rights must be negotiated for each show.
When we arrived in Outside Lands, everything was set up and fully functional. All we had to do was open the app and see the stages. Once we selected a stage, we plugged in a headphone and heard the music in real-time and apparently in hi-res quality from that stage.
It's a pretty elegant solution to a complex problem … mostly.
It's not all music for our ears
Setting up a wireless network the size of the Golden Gate Park naturally poses a series of challenges for which Mixhalo can help.
One of the biggest issues is that the antennas that send the signal are obviously limited in number and range. This means that the app has sporadic reception in some areas and no reception at all. In this case, the Mixhalo app reports that the connection has been lost and prompts you to move closer to an antenna.
Mixhalo, both the company and the app, also needs to borrow a small amount of bandwidth from the venue where the event takes place. In the case of Outside Lands, the team piggybacked the provider network, which could be a challenge, but with limited connectivity.
Also, you can not ignore that the antennas are a big part of the solution. They have to be present at every show Mixhalo wants to use – which means they have to be transported and set up before the show. This means planning time, coordination and collaboration between Mixhalo's team and the venue.
All this, however, falls on Marc Ruxin's team on the shoulders – apart from the sunken signal, these are not things that you as a concertgoer have to pay attention to. As long as a signal is present, you can hear the sound in the first row anywhere in the hall.
The future of live audio
The Mixhalo demonstration was about live concerts, which makes sense given the founders' backgrounds. Calhoun is a world-renowned violinist and key collaborator with Hans Zimmer for a number of his movie soundtracks, while Lone's main guitarist and co-founder is the band Incubus.
While live concerts are a good opportunity for Mixhalo, both founders are just beginning to see the concert venues as having a future in using Mixhalo as a way to listen to sports games, eSports tournaments, business conferences and other public events. All this could be Mixhalo.
There is also talk of integrating the Mixhalo app into a pair of headphones. However, Calhoun and Lone encourage people to bring their own headphones for the time being. "We do not want to force people to spend a lot of money to make that experience," said Calhoun. "We want everyone to be able to access it with the headphones they already own."
If you see headphones at the next festival, you'll know why.
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