Welcome to the beginning of my Founder Interview series. Over the years I’ve had the pleasure to work with some of the best entrepreneurs in the world across a variety of industries. As the Co-Founder and Chief Labs Officer of Wearable World Labs, I get to take work, invest and help entrepreneurs building in the IoT, Wearables, and EmTech spaces.

The first interview in this series focuses how we engage with each other and the experiences we encounter. To kickthings off here is my short interview with Joanna Alpe, Founder/CEO of Makelight (Spring ’15 Class) about music, entertainment, and crowds becoming pixels.

What it’s like creating a product for the music and entertainment industries?

Someone smart once quipped “my love is like a roller coaster, baby baby, I wanna ride…”. (Spot the 90s teen)

I think that’s probably a very apt way to frame it! Developing a product that you know is going to be adopted on mass for a live audience is a real thrill — and a huge responsibility. The team behind Makelight was born and bred for live events industry — so the last thing we want to do is bring some distraction posing as disruption. This is a hits driven business, especially when dealing with a live audience. Making sure that you are serving up something genuinely entertaining is a non-negotiable. So we have spent an awful lot of time, heartache, trial and error to ensure we are hitting that ‘genuinely entertaining’ KPI.

There are truckloads of ups and downs as you are perfecting that product within a live event. Testing technology in ‘the lab’ is one thing — proving it in the juggernaut that is the live event is something completely else. Anyone involved in live events can testify that they are high pitched, high intensity, high energy — with unique challenges, risks and jeopardy — but so incredibly rewarding. Specifically for our mobile special effects products —

seeing the audience embrace our “People As Pixels” concept and all light up on their devices — uniting as one light show effect — still makes my hair stand on end. It’s electric — and that type of unification of a live audience is why we do it.

Watching the music industry over the years refocus towards live events has been interesting. I believe we are only scratching the surface of what’s possible in terms of really unlocking live audience participation, data and engagement analytics and the value creation opportunities that are much needed to keep the music / entertainment industry a sustainable and rewarding industry for all involved. By keeping it sustainable we ensure that its culture and creativity can continue to flourish. Everyone wins.

You have a goal to turn ever human into a pixel, how does that change an experience for someone?

Yes, we talk about People As Pixels. I LOVE that way of looking at it. I think conceptually it’s a brilliant metaphor for people coming together on mass to form meaning and communication. Like the individual pixels of a screen, each person has a part of play and is a meaningful part of the overall whole. I like that symbolism. There is something so fundamentally human about uniting around an experience, and idea, a moment in time. Makelight strives to power moments in time within live audiences that remind us “hey it’s not just me, there are a bunch of us thinking, doing, responding together at the same time to a central idea”. This gives the audience a feeling of strength and significance.

“We are not just here to be broadcast to, but we can participate, have a say, be a crucial part of the overall event.” Power to the people.

What’s the future of how we’ll experience music?

With as many senses as possible! I really do believe that the original music business was full-sensory in it’s product delivery. Consider the days of making money from your music craft, pre the technology to make recordings of your music. It was all live. It was a full sensory experience. The dusty tavern, beer sloshing, scent of roasted meats wafting, candles flickering, traveling minstrels playing something lively either for tips or at the bequest of the Tavern Proprietor. Kinda not far away from some music festivals today actually! To get invited back (i.e. continue surviving as a career musician) you needed to deliver a knock out performance, relate to the audience, cut through the drunken rabble and really captivate the crowd.

Music then was a visual experience as well as an aural experience — seeing the musicians perform, and the reaction of the audience had an impact. Same rules apply today — we just have some nifty tech in the toolkit to magnify the amount of people we can reach at a live musical performance at any one time. I see a future where music continues to embrace developing a full-sensory experience — definitely by getting more visual. Also, I can see a future where our music preferences marry with and inspire our social network connections. Where our music streaming experience gets closer to our live gig attending experience. Where you expect that your mobile phone will unlock a world of participation and interactivity while you are attending a live event — infinitely heightening the full-sensory experience for you and your friends.

Calvin Harris — Image Source: http://bit.ly/1K9yVOa

How will the Internet of Things and Wearable technology enhance a concert experience?

More and more, people with smartphones have an expectation that “my phone will unlock my world.” I think comes into play here. It’s a supercomputer sitting in our back pocket. The latent potential is mind-burstingly there — and now is certainly the time for innovators and entrepreneurs in the IoT and Wearables space to capitalize on this — especially within the concert going experience. I am so encouraged to see projects and companies spring up who are looking to address this opportunity — and crucially the investment community beginning to champion this also.

Our friends at Lightwave are doing some amazing work with capturing real-time biometric data within live audiences which then informs aspects of the event. I am super excited about the future collaboration potential we could have there. Equally the team at PixMob consistently develop exciting wearables that enable the audience to participate. It’s all about inputs and outputs — as the amount of sensors grows, we have more inputs to learn from, to form new and exciting outputs — most that we can’t even imagine right now.

For this reason, I see IoT and Wearables making concerts more audience-aware and therefore more customizable, responsive, dynamic in real-time — ultimately more immersive. Bring it on!

What effect does Pandora’s purchase of Ticketfly have on the concert goers?

Pandora and TicketFly — Image Source: http://bit.ly/1LMKtrD

What a smart move. Removing any friction in the user journey from “I’m totally loving this track right now” to “I’ve bought the ticket to see them live in 3 days time” has got to be good for both sides of the transaction. With Live Nation reporting that only 20% of the American public attending live music events there has got to be room to move the needle on this. The reason cited is not necessarily an unwillingness to go, but a lack of awareness of the music event happening in the first place.

This move I should think is designed to make it easier to act on the impulse and the emotionally charged moment you get when listening to a song that you just love. Being sent a trigger message “this band playing near you” at that exact moment of music enjoyment suddenly has you imagining yourself transported out of your bedroom/office/walk home, and into a live audience with hundreds of other fans. That makes so much sense. It is that kind of symbiotic trigger sent at moments of real enjoyment that Makelight app looks to deliver within live events also. In the best case scenario, you have a brand that is actively trying to get you what you want, in the most frictionless and relevantly-timed way possible. I mean, there is no point sending me a prompt to eat In and Out Burger when I have just finished eating 2 x protein style burgers with animal style fries right?

I see this bringing more concert visibility to more potential concert goers, resulting in more concert goers, more regularly. This means more concerts, demanding a higher level of event quality and production — which ultimately is all part of getting us closer to a more immersive live event overall.

Disclaimer: Makelight is an alum of the Wearable World Labs. I serve as Board Advisor to the company.