Incubus Guitarist Mike Einziger Is Uniting Tech And Music With MIXhalo – Forbes
If it is indeed true you can tell a lot by the company someone keeps, Incubus guitarist Mike Einziger has developed the coolest app in town with MIXhalo, a new project that is bringing together some of the biggest tastemakers in music and technology, from Elon Musk and Dropbox creator Drew Houston to Pharrell Williams, Hans Zimmer and legendary producer Rick Rubin.
MIXhalo, a concept created by Einziger with family and friends like his wife Ann Marie Simpson (co-founder and COO) allows fans to hear a live concert, and eventually much more, from sporting events to conferences, via the sound board simply using the app and a normal pair of headphones. So if you want to hear the show the way Incubus is hearing it on stage, you can plug into MIXhalo and you will hear the sound board quality.
I had a chance to test it out during a private Incubus rehearsal and I could hear the band’s full conversations between songs with my headphones, even when I stepped out of the rehearsal space.
Given how much fans love to be part of the experience, it should be surprising to no one that Einziger has put together his A-list group of advisers and investors from both music and the tech world. MIXhalo is especially proving to be a hit in the tech world.
“There hasn’t been a new innovation in the tech world in live music outside of amplification in a very long time,” Houston told me of why he was part of the first round of seed money.
“Mikey and I have become great friends. He’s a very curious guy and it reminds me a little bit of when we first started Dropbox,” he added. “It was just an idea that needed to be explored.”
The technology had its first big test this year at TechCrunch. Shortly after Incubus played a private show in Los Angeles to demonstrate the technology for about 50 or so people, TechCrunch’s Chrystine Villarreal announced she was leaving TechCrunch to become president of MIXhalo and work with Einziger, Simpson and the rest of the MIXhalo team.
I spoke with both Einziger and Villarreal about the technology, the expected roll out and how MIXhalo expects to change the game in live music and beyond.
Steve Baltin: When did you come up with the original idea?
Mike Einziger: I’ve talked about it with the guys in my band before and I’ve heard people in other bands talk about it, the idea the audience could have an in-ear mix. I don’t think the idea of audience members having access to the audio that we have access to onstage is new. But every person onstage that is using in-ear monitors has a radio pack. Being able to distribute radio packs to people in the audience is not very practical and the idea of handing these clunky headsets out is an inconvenience. So the idea of being able to run it through someone’s phone and giving them that experience with technology they’ve already got in their pocket was exciting to me. I did a performance in 2016 on the Grammys with Justin Bieber, Skrillex and Diplo. We were in rehearsals for that and one of the guys that works for me came up and the drummer for Queens Of The Stone Age, Jon Theodore, had come to the rehearsal. And Ted, who basically runs production for Incubus, asked me if I wanted John to have a pack and he could listen to what was going on in the rehearsal. When he asked me that I had this realization that it would be awesome, if we could do the same thing, but with someone’s phone.
Baltin: What was it about the project that first interested you?
Chrystine Villarreal: The innovative technology. At TechCrunch we attempt to display innovative technology for the world and when I talked to Mike I, quite frankly, couldn’t believe this was the case until I heard and talked to other people who had experienced the same thing you had. But I did not actually get to hear it in my ears until the rehearsal the night before TechCrunch. So I took a huge gamble and for a couple of months my team put a lot of risk for this to work and they nailed it. It was a pretty incredible experience. But I think currently right now, the thing you said, which is you’re at a concert, conferences, a sporting event…It’s everything. If you can imagine opening up your phone, looking for something to do and MIXhalo identifying five events in your local area that are live broadcasting and you can tune in to them automatically or you can show up and use the broadcasting to engage with them, I think it has a community platform as well as just a musical component. I think the music is just the beginning. Imagine being at an opera. So I think the implications are pretty incredible.
Baltin: You are taking over as President for MIXhalo. What led you to that move?
Villarreal: In my role at TechCrunch, I work on a daily basis searching for innovative and compelling content to bring to our industry famous stages at our global events. In preparing for MIXhalo’s launch at Disrupt NY this past May 2017, I got to know Mike, the MIXhalo team and the technology. It is like nothing I’ve seen before. Additionally, the team is exceptionally capable, experienced, visionary and humble. I chose to make the move to MIXhalo because I want to be part of a team that is going to build something meaningful. As we build our successes, we will completely change the way the world engages with live events and content.
Baltin: Take us through what your role will be initially in terms of what you hope to accomplish as you come on board.
Villarreal: First and foremost, my role will be to work with Mike and Ann Marie as founders to create our strategic vision for MIXhalo and build out our plan to accomplish the vision. It’s an exciting role to be in because that is where reality meets plan and vision. Execution is key. There is always more need than resource, and this is what creativity in execution is all about. My role will be to hire the team and guide the culture.
Baltin: We spoke about the technology for MIXhalo already being place so could pull together a big event in days. Will we see a major unveiling in the coming months?
Villarreal: For the first time in a little over a month, MIXhalo will be available to 5,000 attendees at Disrupt SF in San Francisco. TechCrunch will offer the service to all attendees so they can better engage in the complete experience that Disrupt offers. We are engaging in similar conversations with other event organizers that will allow MIXhalo to be offered at additional events in 2017 and 2018.
Einziger: We’re talking with one of the major concert promoters about a trial run at a prominent L.A. theater and that should be happening very soon, if all goes well. And I’m hoping we can start releasing it commercially in the fall, after we finish testing this summer and get through this trial period in a real concert venue with a real concert promoter and real audiences that are not connected or affiliated with me or Incubus in any way, shape or form. Once we get through that, that will be our opportunity to start getting the technology in people’s hands.
Baltin: Take us through the technology.
Einziger: I collaborated on the app with a guy who used to work for Incubus, his name is Darren LaGroe and I hired him to be the CTO. The way I know him is he was Incubus’ monitor engineer for many years, but he also has a background in computer programming and writing codes. I think anyone who would work on a project like this would have to be able to understand the live concert environment, which is a specific thing. So I was able to find the right people with the right expertise to dive down deep and collaborate to make the technology possible. And we basically achieved what many people told me wouldn’t be possible. We’ve now achieved a wi-fi solution that will allow us to scale up. We don’t know what our limit is yet, we haven’t hit it yet. It’s early in development, but we feel like we’re in a really exciting place right now.
Villarreal: MIXhalo’s technology is unique and innovative. The platform we are building will change everything. As you think about how Netflix disrupted entire industries, MIXhalo will do the same but for live events. Can you imagine being able to experience studio quality sound at the concert of your favorite artist, a political rally or any live event where hearing the cleanest source audio is important. The possibilities are endless but the unknown lies in how the MIXhalo will mold how we as a society engage with live events.
Baltin: Who are the people involved in investing and early testing?
Einziger: I have friends in the technology world, both on the tech side and also on the entrepreneurial side of technology and some of these guys are good friends of mine –Ken Howery, Luke Nosek, Peter Thiel — the guys from the Founders Fund. So hanging out with those guys, for me, you see things differently about solving problems. I never had any aspirations about being a tech entrepreneur or owning a company like that. But when the idea came to me for doing a project like this they became valuable resources for me and a sounding board for the ideas. I put together a demonstration of MIXhalo’s technology about a year ago. I invited Elon Musk, Luke Nosek, Marc Geiger, Drew Houston so it was a really interesting group of people that I put together. At the end of the show everyone got together and talked about how they felt about it and Elon was very excited about it. And he offered to give advice at any point. He described it as a transformative experience cause he had been at an Incubus concert prior to that. I had given him headphones and a pack and he thought it was a much more immersive experience that way. The way he described it was being plugged into the artist. Pharrell said this is gonna change the way people experience live events. His words were, “It allows you to be part of things. As involved as I can be I want to be in it. Please just let me know what you need, I’m here to help.” He became an investor and part of the board of advisers. He’s just been a great resource because he’s a very creative person, extremely interested in technology and has understood the concept.