Being There

The Open Music Initiative Summer Lab kicked off on June 5th, 2017. This summer, 20 fellows from around the nation have been challenged to tackle questions in the music industry through the lens of design and distributed ledgers. Sallie Xu, Michelle Wu, Mitzi Okou, Jonathan Koh, and myself assemble as Team NotTomatoLovers and we were given the challenge of cataloging, attributing, and distributing live DJ mixes, as well as the challenge of capturing and re-experiencing a unique emotional moment. During kickoff week, we heard from renowned speakers Panos Panay, George Howard, Eric Chan, r. michael hendrix, Joe Paradiso, and many others to help get us into the creative mindset.

Using IDEO’s tried and true Human Centered Design Process, we explored many facets of the challenge we were given and decided to home in on the unique moments of live performances. Here are some questions that came up:

  • How do you attempt to replicate or relive a live emotional experience?
  • How does a performance change with audience participation, and what kinds of information would live performers use to affect their performance?
  • What social structures within an audience allow for, or constrain, the introduction of new types of technology?

This summer, we narrowed down our challenge to one question for us to answer:

How might we adequately redesign and quantify an audience member’s live music experience for reproduction and distribution?

Performance Artist Kanye West | Photo Credit: Karina Carvalho

Research

This past week, our team conducted research through three methods: interviews, online research, and an online survey.

Adam from IDEO Cambridge

We had to opportunity to speak to Adam Moulter from the IDEO Cambridge Studio. Adam is a Masters of Music Industry Leadership with a background in concert and live event booking who joined IDEO’s Business Development team in 2015. He helped us uncover insights crucial towards the development of a live music venture:

  • The business of concert booking is all about telling a story. For example, people want to remember that they were lucky enough to buy a ticket to a certain sold out show.
  • An audience is the x-factor in a performance and can drastically change one from mediocre to something amazing.
  • Live music is the last frontier of the music business and is the great equalizer. Technology has advanced over the past 10–15 years for musicians to easily create market-ready recordings, but all that is irrelevant within the live realm if an artist can’t pull off a captivating performance in front of an audience.

George Howard

Serial entrepreneur and Berklee professor George Howard is involved with this year’s Summer Lab as a human resource for the teams. We consulted with him on the intricacies of attribution and copyright in relation to live performance. He explained to us that when dealing with live performance legalities, public performance licences will cover all aspects of attribution at a venue or live event and copyright only becomes an issue when creating derivative works, which includes uploading recorded sets to platforms such as Soundcloud or Mixcloud.

Online Research

Influential musicologist Christopher Small coined the term “musicking,” in which he describes music as a process, rather than an object, whether it be by performing, by listening, by rehearsing or practicing, by composing, or by dancing. With this ideology in mind, we found various products and academic papers pertaining to “musicking” that help us answer our questions about live performance.

One academic paper we focused on was the DJs’ Perspectives on Interaction and Awareness in Nightclubs. The paper extensively details how artistry is adjudicated in DJing, along with the various techniques DJs use to create a compelling live set. We found that DJs must acknowledge that a club audience is dynamic and constantly changes as the evening progresses, and alongside visual cues, DJs listen to the general “hum” of a crowd to accommodate their audience - conversations, laughter, yelling, cheering, or even silence.

Lightwave is a company dealing in measuring and quantifying biometric data around live events. They measure data using wearables and use that data to draw insights into emotional reactions and engagement.

TheWaveVR is a superfluous startup. They are creating a virtual reality performance space, whether it’s a nightclub or venue, in a bid to “transform the way people connect through music.” They are operating in our target area, as their work is directly about the augmentation of live performances. Their current foray help surface questions about attribution and rights for augmented performances. We’d like to know how synchronous mediums deal with rights, since it is working in conjunction with a licensed work. More to come…

Online Survey

We created a Google survey asking for opinions on various aspects of live performance, and it’s still ongoing (you can find it here). We have some initial responses so far, so here are some preliminary highlights:

  • Live Performance is defined by visceral energy, and acknowledgement of the dynamic moment
  • Audience members expect a either a high production value or a remarkable performance from a DJ act to be interested
  • Audience Participation strengthens the emotions the audience has already been feeling and brings a sense of unity to the performance
  • Having a unique experience is most important in a live performance

Prototypes

Social media is actively used by concertgoers to express their emotions throughout a live musical experience. We decided to jam on this idea for our research and created a script that uses Selenium to scrape the first 1000 tweets on one hashtag, which then applies LDA topic modeling to the tweets to group “similar” keywords into certain number of topics. For prototyping purposes, we chose to group the tweets into 20 topics in decreasing popularity from topic 1 to 20 and focused the script on the hashtag #bostoncalling, the Boston-based music festival which took place just a few weeks ago.

We were pleased to find that the script seemed to work, and also reinforce a point that came up in our interview with Adam, a prominent member of the Boston Calling box office/guest credentialing team. He mentioned that attendees had been dissatisfied with the line to get into the festival on the first day, but seemed much happier the next two days as the issue was resolved. Our script revealed this to be probable through its analysis:

Twitter Script Analysis; topic #18 seems to be about frustrations audience members had at the festival

We also plan on explore a prototype of an intelligent performance space that curates the musical/aesthetic environment based on the audience present. The idea behind this is built upon two assumptions:

  1. Your personal musical taste is stored within the services and platforms that you consume music
  2. Spaces designed to facilitate social functions tend to gather people with similar mindsets

Using these two assumptions, we can begin to create a dynamic performance space that aggregates the data of people within a geofence to automatically curate music to those particular audience members . This prototype will help our team explore some possible solutions to further involve an audience in a live performance. This prototype also helps us contemplate the role of a performer in a space, and just how much influence an audience member should have on the performer.

What happens when AI becomes the performer? | Photo Credit: Michael Benz
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