Apps & Mobile

Music Festivals Are Ripe For Hacking

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Guest post by Chase Farmer (@chase_farmer) for sidewinder.fm, a 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.

Technology

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.

Communication

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)

Chase Farmer (web | twitter) is a software engineer currently based in
Silicon Valley who aspires to change the world with music and code.

Sidewinder.fm is founded and edited by Kyle Bylin of Live Nation Labs. If you would like to contribute a post to be featured on the site, please reach out.

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5 Comments

  1. Great ideas. Festival organizers could even charge a small fee for the app to offset the cost of things like a Wi-Fi network. Attendees who paid hundreds for tickets to events like these would be more than willing to shell out an extra $4.99 for an app that offered time-slot updates and info on bathroom line length. Another thought; “turn-by-turn” directions between stages would be a godsend for less-than-sober festival goers. It sounds silly, but believe me it’d come in handy for some.

  2. Sorry but i’d rather not have a signal and lose my friends… at least for a few hours. That’s half the fun.
    Why get bogged down when bands are playing? Don’t make a schedule. Just float around and discover stuff you’ll never get the chance to again…

  3. I’m with Kes – the best times I’ve ever had at festivals usually come out of precisely that “I’ve lost my mates/festival programme/mind” scenario and come across something extraordinary purely by accident. This kind of nailing-it-all-down idea negates all those interesting possibilities. The only thing I’d agree on is more lavatories. Otherwise, when you go to a festival, turn the damn phone off, for once, or only get it out to take some photos. Be THERE, in real time, it’s a whole lot more fun than peering at that silly little screen.

  4. @tom and @kes I totally agree that turning the phone off and losing yourself is definitely fun and sometimes makes the experience more enjoyable.
    As much as I sometimes hate people shamming the experience, the mobile device is now an integral part to the experience for many. You could also just turn your phone on in between sets when you want to find some food or hit the restroom.

  5. Here in South Africa we could only pray for better security and hope the power does not fail halfway through the main act’s set. The infrastructure required for better cell coverage and wifi hot spots would be rather costly, and the bottom line ends up added to the ticket price.

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