Incubus Guitarist Michael Einziger Explains New Startup MIXhalo
If you’ve ever been to a concert, you know the feeling of witnessing your favorite band live. The adrenaline rush and emotion of seeing an electric performance with thousands of strangers, all best friends for two hours while everyone forgets the world for a while and enjoying the moment in singularity. There is nothing like it. On occasion, however, we’ve all been to a show where the actual sound emitting from the PA system just didn’t cut it. Be it from equipment or the internal structure of any given venue that impedes acoustic quality, there are those times where sound quality and clarity are definitely issues.
With that in mind, it’s the summer, and that means it’s time to catch your favorite band, artist, or festival at a town near you. While there are certainly a number of tours this summer that will undoubtedly be amazing, there is one in particular that is going to be more interesting. That band is Incubus, and they will be headlining a summer tour this year in support of their brand new album, 8. What sets them apart from the other concerts this summer? The sound.
Taking The Live Experience To A Different Dimension With MIXhalo
In an effort to improve the sound quality that concertgoers hear, Incubus guitarist Michael Einziger created MIXhalo. Founded with his wife and violinist, Ann Marie Simpson, MIXhalo is a platform that will transform the future of concerts and live events forever. Einziger unveiled the startup during this year’s TechCrunch Disrupt NY event, flanked by friend and investor Pharrell Williams, complete with a live demonstration with Incubus.
Being a longtime fan of Incubus, a tech junkie, and a live music performer, I had to learn more about this concept and the tech behind MIXhalo.
In a phone interview for PopWrapped, Einziger and I talked a little about his past musical achievements and collaborations with artists like Coheed And Cambria. Einziger is an unassuming man, so when the conversation turned to MIXhalo, his passion was evident and contagious. After our introductions, we got right down to brass tax. What is MIXhalo and what will it be like to experience something so different than what we are all used to? Learn from the creator himself:
Michael Einziger Explains MIXhalo
PopWrapped: What is MIXhalo and what set this in motion for you?
Michael Einziger: Well, I've been playing concerts all over the world for many, many years. The vast majority of artists that are touring and playing concerts use in-ear monitors while we are performing. I've been wearing in-ear monitors for the last 17 years. For years, I've been getting these great sounding mixes in my headphones while playing live and wishing that I could offer that same experience to the people that are out there watching. I know that they aren't out there hearing what I'm hearing and I wanted to offer the audience a way to let them listen to what I'm listening to, if they wanted to.
PW: What made you want to pursue this idea of yours?
ME: I saw this as an opportunity to provide a different experience to people going to see a band play, or an artist perform. Because it is a different experience, the way that we're hearing on-stage than hearing sound echoing around a large venue. It allows the concertgoer to experience something they think they've experienced many times before in a totally new way. Today, especially, there are all of these new technologies being developed, like AR and VR. Immersive experiences are becoming a desirable thing. In all different areas of entertainment, immersive experiences are really interesting and thriving right now. So, I thought this would be a great time to introduce something like this to the world. There were some technological challenges that needed to be overcome in order to make that experience available to large groups of people. On stage, we use these radio packs, RF -radio- technology. You can't really pass out radio packs to a large group of people. You can do it for a small amount of people, but not an arena full of people. We had to figure out a way to deliver this experience to people in a way that is accessible. That was one of the challenges, and I think we've figured it out. We are in an interesting position now. There are still some developments and more testing to do, but we think that we are going to be able to offer this to a very large amount of people.
PW: That's awesome! I can imagine a bunch of people at a festival. Thousands tapped into MIXhalo.
ME: An ocean of people! It's a really different experience than what people are used to hearing. Like, for example, you just said at a festival. There's a lot of noise pollution at festivals. A lot of different artists performing at the same time on different stages, so with MIXhalo's technology now, you can choose which stage you want to listen to, put in a pair of earbuds, and cut out all of the external sounds so you're definitely listening to what you want to be listening to. You should be able to log into a different network and listen to what's going on at another performance. As long you are in proximity of a network, it doesn't matter how far away from the stage you are, you'll hear everything as if you're on the stage.
PW: So, you'd just buy a ticket to a show like any other event, and if that particular artist is making the show available through MIXhalo, then the concertgoer just patches in with an app?
ME: It is an app, but it's also a WiFi technology that allows for very large amounts of people, all being able to listen at the same time, in real time.
PW: Oh, wow! Very cool, so no latency issues?
ME: Yeah, exactly. MIXhalo does not work with standard WiFi. It's not like a really robust WiFi network needs to be set up at the venue during a tour in order to use MIXhalo. It has its own WiFi technology that works differently than standard WiFi networks. We have our own access point that needs to be set up, with a closed network that you can join after downloading the app on your phone. That's it. Download the app, get on the network, and use whatever headphones you use regularly. The headphones do need to be wired. We are in the middle of developing a way to use wireless bluetooth headphones, but as of right now it adds a lot of latency. This is a solvable problem, but it will take a little bit of time. We want people to become accustomed to the experience and being able to use it now, so in order to do that, we have to use wired headphones, which a lot of people still use. It's not a problem from that perspective. Our WiFi technology is like, well if you want to play a video game, you buy an Xbox. It's part of a platform, which contains our own patented WiFi technology. What MIXhalo does is provides the platform and the app. Most people have a phone and they've already got a pair of headphones. It's a very low-friction situation. It doesn't ask a whole lot from the user.
PW: Right! In order to serve something brand new and appealing to the public, it should be easy to navigate. Everything these days, especially in the digital world, is so quick. Functionality in apps and hardware is as easy as putting on a pair of shoes, or a pair of headphones. Which brings me to my next thought about this idea of MIXhalo. Putting on a pair of headphones at a concert will be something that people would have to get used to doing after going to concerts with bare ears since the beginning of time.
ME: Well, it's funny you should say that because when I was first approached about the idea of wearing in-ear headphones, I thought it was a ridiculous idea and I didn't like it at all. People say that all the time, too. Believe me, I understand the reaction that people will have to wearing headphones at a concert. Most people wonder about how it will affect the communal experience of being at a concert. A lot of people will say that they go to concerts for the communal experience, and that's fine. They can still have that experience. No one is taking anything away from anyone. This is new, and MIXhalo offers an experience that they've probably never had before. A lot of people try it and they don't want to go back. And if people choose not to, then that's okay. It's just really interesting, really. It's just a new layer of experiencing something people thought they've experienced before.
PW: It certainly sounds like a lot goes into it and you've worked hard to make this dream a reality. Can you describe what someone can expect when they use MIXhalo?
ME: It's hard to put into words what it's actually like to be listening and watching a performer when you're plugged directly into them. The singer is singing into a microphone that is literally going directly into your ears. It's pretty incredible. Also, and this is something that's really important. MIXhalo does, for the very first time every in the history of concerts, it actually allows somebody at a concert to turn the music down, if they want. As a concertgoer, I can't tell you how many times I've left a show with my ears ringing. You do that enough and it results in hearing damage. With MIXhalo, you'll be able to control the volume. In the beginning, we will be providing audiences with a high quality mix. In future versions, we will offer the opportunity to listen to different mixes. The drummer's mix, the guitarist's mix, singer, and so on. It will be at the artist's discretion, but the option will be there.
PW: That's definitely a cool feature. I'm sure that a lot of people out there are curious and would love to take a listen through other perspectives and hear nuances that may be hidden in the layers of the music.
ME: It's kind of like Instagram, where there are preset filters for photographs. If you gave people full control over all of the different things you could do with filters and photographs, people would actually probably just mess up their photographs real badly. But because they're preset filters, you can really just press one button and get a different look. We'll be offering a similar concept. We'll give you the drummer's look, or the guitarist's look. It will be a mix with the featured instrument turned up and more front and center in the mix. Hopefully, people will love it!
PW: Absolutely! When I first saw an article that you shared in Forbes highlighting MIXhalo, I was completely enthralled by the concept and the logistics behind the sheer scale of this thing.
ME: Yeah, it's really cool! It will actually add to some people's experiences because you can be anywhere at a concert and always have the same sound. You can be on a lawn, or in the nosebleed section and what they're listening to is going to be like being on stage. It takes the best sounding place in the venue and brings it to wherever you happen to be.
PW: With this technology, I can imagine that MIXhalo could be used during other events, correct?
ME: Yes! It's not just music. You could be watching someone giving a speech. Any type of live media where someone's talking. A political rally. Musical theatre. Any school or where someone is giving a presentation. Take the TechCrunch event, where we introduced MIXhalo. I was sitting in the back of the room and you can't really hear the speakers very well, so that's where MIXhalo would have been able to offer anyone in the audience to hear everything being said.
PW: So, this could also help hearing-impaired individuals, as well?
ME: Absolutely! It will definitely help people who are hard of hearing or other issues and will help people who are really sensitive. They will be able to control what they're hearing a lot more.
PW: My thoughts echoed your friend and MIXhalo investor, Pharrell Williams, when he touched on something: in all of this time of live events, how come no one thought of this before?
ME: I think it's because bringing this to life is really hard to do, from a technological point of view. Overcoming latency within a WiFi network is very difficult and also developing a platform that is able to withstand thousands of people is a difficult obstacle to overcome. And we did it. We figured it out and it's really exciting!
PW: It's really good that you were able to develop a way past the hurdles. There's always something you face when creating something new, or treading somewhere that no one has done before. The good thing is that you're doing something no one has ever done before and you set the bar.
ME: The key to overcoming that problem is really the key to solving any problem, which is to try and look at it from a different perspective. We basically came up with our own solution. A lot of people in the tech world, and in general, told me that this wasn't possible. Of course, that just makes me want to do it more! I've had people tell me my whole life that I couldn't do things and I just did them anyway. There's nothing more fun than proving people wrong.
PW: I agree. It's a good thing to be that way because I believe this will change a lot of people's lives. Not just in the recreational sense, but with helping those with hearing impairment, and a tool to aid in hearing loss prevention. I'm looking forward to trying it out! When can we expect to see the release of MIXhalo?
ME: Yes. We have a bunch of things lining up, which I can't unveil at this time. What I can say is that we will be bringing MIXhalo with us on the Incubus tour this summer. We're not going to charge people to try it. We are going to select people interested in trying it out and that will help us with testing MIXhalo, with a launch looking to happen in the Fall.
PW: With all of the advancements in technology, like the smartphone and more ways to connect than anyone ever thought possible, how do you think MIXhalo, and the tech behind it, will be used to benefit people?
ME: I think that this technology is a global technology that can help people in so many different ways, apart from just within the live event market. I'm still working out the details with everything outside of this use, but I really believe that it is going to change things beyond this scope. With all of the advancements we've made in other areas of technology, there hasn't been any real advancement in the live concert market in a very long time, especially the audio portion. PA systems have been improved to overcome the sounds from audiences, so there's that. My mom went to go see The Beatles when she was a kid and she couldn't hear the band because the audience was so loud, and all of the girls screaming. You couldn't hear the band. So, they built PA systems to fix that. The sound has gotten better, but the experience hasn't really changed. It's my goal to change that, and to give an option to people who want to try something new.
PW: It is very exciting and I'm looking forward to testing it out with you! So, we will see you on tour this summer with Incubus and Jimmy Eat World. You guys have an incredible record out now, 8. You guys have been making music for a long time and it's just exciting to see you on tour again!
ME: Yes, thank you so much! It's amazing for us, 26 years into our career. This is going to be one of the biggest tours we have ever done. I'm really excited about it and the whole band is, too! We're excited about touring with Jimmy Eat World. Touring with great musicians always makes the experience better for us. We are all feeling very fortunate and appreciative of the fact that we've been around for this long and that we're about to have one of the biggest tours of our career. Attendance-wise, it's the biggest tour we've done since the Morning View tour. I think something happens when you've been around for a long time. Luckily, we've made music that has somehow found its way into people's lives. As time goes by, that music grows in importance to the people who love it. I know that to be true for the music that I love. It's just an honor to make this great music that people connect with, and as time goes on, people want to connect with it even more.
PW: Well, thank you for joining us and we'll see you on the road this summer!
ME: Thank you so much for having me!
MIXhalo Is Live Sound, Redefined
So, there you have it! As explained by Einziger, MIXhalo will be available sometime in the Fall on iOS, with an Android version following shortly thereafter. The technology behind MIXhalo is incredibly powerful and the concept itself is something that will benefit a lot of people. I'll be catching up with Einziger and Incubus at their stop in Camden, New Jersey to try MIXhalo for the first time next month. It's hard to quantify pioneering technology, but Einziger wholeheartedly believes in MIXhalo. He and his team have overcome the odds and are about to deliver something truly amazing! To learn more about MIXhalo, follow the company on Twitter and keep up with the latest developments here at PopWrapped! See Incubus with Jimmy Eat World on tour this summer!