CrowdFire Launches: The Creation Myth

(This is cross posted from the launch of CrowdFire) Back in June of 2007 I had the pleasure of attending my first Bonnaroo, one of the most mind-bending music festivals on the planet. Anytime you get nearly 100,000 rabid fans together with scores of the best bands in the…

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(This is cross posted from the launch of CrowdFire)

Back in June of 2007 I had the pleasure of attending my first Bonnaroo, one of the most mind-bending music festivals on the planet. Anytime you get nearly 100,000 rabid fans together with scores of the best bands in the world, there’s bound to be magic. And for me, a lapsed fan just re-engaging with the world of live music, it was a revelation.

I don’t want to age myself here, but I’m not exactly in Bonnaroo’s core demographic, if you know what I mean. But so many bands I loved were playing there – the Flaming Lips, Ziggy Marley, Spoon, Bob Weir, Fountains of Wayne – and so many bands I’d heard of but never really heard – Kings of Leon, Lily Allen, Mavis Staples, Paolo Nutini, Brazilian Girls, Mute Math, Ween – the list went on and on and on. And oh, yes, I’ll admit, the band I loved when I was in the demo was also playing: The Police.

And I was fortunate enough to not only see most of these bands, but to also see how a festival like Bonnaroo gets created – from the backstage load ins to the incredible ballet of literally hundreds of staff and volunteers who create, in three days, a mid-sized city in the center of a 700-acre farm in the middle of Tennessee.

The reason I had such access? A good friend (thanks, Martin) had hooked me up with the festivals’ producers, an outfit called SuperFly. As I got to know them and watch the fruits of their work, I came to realize I was watching something far larger than a music festival. In short, I was watching a new culture emerge, a culture fueled in equal parts by the timeless connection between musician and audience, on the one hand, and the breakdown of the traditional music business thanks to new technologies of personal media, on the other.

It’s not like I wasn’t familiar with these trends, in theory, anyway. After all, there’s a reason I named my company “FM” – it was clear that on the web, “musicians” (talented folks who were creating independent websites) were connecting with their audiences in new ways outside traditional “top 50” distribution models (ie, outside the old school models of major media companies like Time Inc., Yahoo, Viacom, etc.). This mirrored the rise of the counter cultural music movement of the 60s and 70s, a movement that leveraged another new technology – the FM radio band. The rise of the album and the explosion of creative freedom which resulted – well, that resonated with me when I saw talent like Dooce, or Boing Boing, or Digg start to redefine the Web.

But as I was building FM (and even before, while I was working on a book and a new conference), I managed to lose touch with the visceral, emotional connection that live music represents. And live music, it turns out, was undergoing its own incredible evolution.

Then I spent those three days at Bonnaroo.

And there, well, BAM, it hit me. Everyone says the music business is in collapse, but that’s not true at all. The old industry may be dying, but the connection between fans and bands is stronger than ever. Thanks to the web, more and more acts can find their audiences, more and more fans can find music they love, and together they are changing the world of entertainment forever. It’s nearly impossible to make money as a musician using the old system of record labels and Top 50 hits. But if you tour, if you are smart about what festivals you play, and if you use the web to connect directly with your base, well, there’s clearly a great living to be made, doing what you love to do. And new companies like SuperFly and Red Light and Another Planet were springing up to help artists do exactly that. It felt a lot like what I was trying to do with FM, the only difference being the medium. One was live music, the other was the conversational web.

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Over the past year I began a conversation with the folks at SuperFly about their business and ours, and we kept an eye out for a way to connect the two. Then Rick Farman, one of the partners at SuperFly, called me and told me about Outside Lands, which they were doing in partnership with Another Planet. He said he wanted to figure out something cool to do there that had to do with technology and Bay area culture, and he thought FM might have some ideas. We agreed it could be some kind of digital campfire in the center of the festival, one informed by the same vibe that informs social/conversational media – something of and about the audience’s experience of the festival. In essence, we wanted to create a place where folks could mix their love of music with all the potential of personal and cultural technology.

Now those of you reading this already know what an incredible event Outside Lands is going to be – basically, it’s Bonnaroo west, with the first ever nighttime concert in Golden Gate Park (and it’s Radiohead, for goodness sakes) and three days of incredible music (Wilco, Jack Johnson, Tom Petty, Widespread, Beck, Broken Social Scene, Ben Harper, Jackie Greene, and about 40 others? ARE YOU KIDDING ME???!)

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Over the course of several brainstorming sessions, including with Marc Ruxin at McCaan and folks at Microsoft, an idea began to take shape based on a single insight: personal media is changing how we all experience music. Remember, it had been a while since I had been to a concert. A lot had changed. Everyone there had a cel phone with a camera, for one. Or a Flip. Or a digital camera. And when an amazing moment occurred, more folks held up their digital devices than they did lighters. At Bonnaroo this past June, I took a picture that nails it for me – the image at left. A woman capturing an incredible personal memory of an incredible shared experience (in this case, it was Metallica literally blowing people’s minds), the three screens reflecting the integration of physical, personal, and shared experiences. That image informed our logo, as you can see.

So – where did all those experiences go (Searchblog readers, of course, know I’ve been thinking about this for a while)? What could be done with them if they were all put together in one place, at one time, turned into a great big feed by a smart platform that everyone could access? In short, what might happen if someone built a platform to let the crowd – the audience – upload their experiences of the music to a great big database, then mix, mash, and meld them into something utterly new?

Well, we’re about to find out. Thanks to some pretty visionary folks at Microsoft, our presenting sponsor, and Intel, a Platinum sponsor, today marks the launch of that idea realized: CrowdFire. The idea is pretty simple, really: Live music has always been a major production from the stage out to the audience: one to many, in essence. But with CrowdFire, we hope to provide all of us music fans a platform for doing with the experience of music what we’re already doing with the experience of the web: a place where all of us can share and produce our experiences: a many to many celebration of live music, in real time, as well as as an ongoing, living archive of what has happened, and what might happen next.

Sound a bit…out there? It is. Today marks the launch of our beta, and I am sure there will be bugs, blips, and general screw ups. But that’s how the web – and music – works. You get out there and you play (link to main site). The more you play, the better you get. And the more folks you play with, the faster you get better. So join us today (link again). Set up an account (link), upload some of your favorite memories around music (images, blog posts, Twitter or flickr streams, video, we’re ready for pretty much anything (link).) Take a tour around, and help us (link to suggestion box) make this thing really sing.

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You might have noticed we’ve already got some pretty cool “kindling” in the CrowdFire, including photos from Jeff Kravitz, an amazing talent who recently joined the blogging world (that’s one of his many incredible images at left), as well as leading voices from the music, technology, and culture worlds.

But we need your input to really light this thing up. Browse and rate the stuff that’s already up. Add your own (there’ll be some pretty cool contests and prizes for stuff that the crowd rates as the coolest). And coming up very soon, in the next rev of CrowdFire, you’ll be able to remix all the content in the CrowdFire database, creating your own feeds, videos, and mashups.

When the festival starts, the CrowdFire really gets going. We’ll all be able to send SMS, email, and uploads of our media directly into the CrowdFire database, and we’ll have media jockeys creating streams of CrowdFire imagery in real time, which we’ll send back out into the festival grounds through a network of LED screens. We’ll also send them out into the ether of the Web, for anyone to experience. And anyone can do the same – which is pretty cool.

Big thanks to the folks who helped realize this vision – Marc Ruxin and Matt Nessier of Universal McCaan, Bill Capadanno, Laura User and Aaron Lilly of Team Microsoft, the teams at Superfly Productions, Another Planet and Starr Hill, Martin Shore and the tireless FM Team.

Thanks for coming to check out our first version of CrowdFire. Now let’s go make something cool together!

10 thoughts on “CrowdFire Launches: The Creation Myth”

  1. John, my first reaction to this was: oh, cool: now Microsoft will be able to create landscape-style videos of such concert events. Then I thought: hmm, maybe there should be some indication of the “data quality” (e.g. camera resolution, etc.). I thought a little further and lo and behold, I came to the conclusion that this should not be about the focus on the stage (because there are already enough cameras doing that anyway (after all, that’s what gets projected onto the big screens, that’s what gets turned into the professional video.

    On the contrary, I expect what this may become is a “media backchannel” similar to what twitter has become on the conference scene. As such, this may become an important avenue for those “Supergroups” to have a view into the lives of their innumerable fans (kind of like tearing down Pink Floyd’s wall ;)…

    I live for jazz — jazz is one of the most intimate music experiences there is. I will never forget listening to Wynton Marsalis at the Village Vanguard (something that is now “available” as a box-set recording), I remember the eye contact, being in one small room, seeing every hand clapping, every face smiling, every single one (“alone, or in pairs…”). This is the world of jazz.

    I can’t tell you how many times I have experienced such intimacy — and it’s like a drug, really. It’s something “rock supergroups” have lost (it kind of “went” with the “long, strange trip” down the path to fabricated music.

    It’s fitting that Tom Petty is appearing — I hope he plays “A Face in the Crowd”… and let’s hope that is only the beginning a wonderful multiplicity of screens showing a multiplicity of views into a multiplicity of experiences of one world… (and of, of course: “one world is enough for all of us” 😉

    🙂 nmw

  2. Is there no way to submit photos or videos via SMS? The likelihood of my contributing concert imagery/audio is greatly diminished if I can’t do it right then and there, from the event itself.

    For example, I have a photo on my phone right now from a concert Tuesday night. I was going to upload it until I realized I’d have to email it to myself, download it, then reupload it to CrowdFire. Ain’t gonna happen.

    Looking forward to seeing what emerges from Outside Lands.

  3. we hope to provide all of us music fans a platform for doing with the experience of music what we’re already doing with the experience of the web: a place where all of us can share and produce our experiences: a many to many celebration of live music, in real time, as well as as an ongoing, living archive of what has happened, and what might happen next.

    Though it’s not quite live music, I am reminded of an interactive exhibit I saw a few years ago at Centre Pompidou in Paris, in association with IRCAM. Someone had recorded / synchronized a 16-track bossa nova piece.. horns, percussion, etc. and then wired each piece to pressure sensitive pads on the floor, in a 4×4 grid. Each pad was about a square foot in size. As you stepped on each pad, it turned that 1 of the 16 tracks on or off.

    So you would get on this thing, and literally dance your way around. And as you danced and moved and hit various pads, it would change the music, by turning on and off the various tracks. The interactivity, the mixing, the real-time nature of it really made the experience of the song your own. Even though each track was prerecorded, every time the song played it was different, because your own movement was itself an interpretation, a mix, a mashup of the original song.

    To me, dance and music go hand in hand. I can’t listen to music and not want to move, in some form or other.

    Anyway, this all looks interesting. I’ll check it out!

  4. I really enjoyed this one – I have been working in the festival industry for some time – and mostly focusing on how we can use the platforms of festival and large collaborative social gatherings to not only have a great party, but to really change peoples consciousness on important issues of our time. From a production stand-point, I see festivals as an opportunity to provide an experience for people – people are really looking to be experienced upon – and if we can take this opportunity to creatively educate people about how they can live more sustainably on this planet – than we are evolving the festival and music scene from an unconscious party vibration to one of collaborative experiences and mind-altering edu-tainment. I would really like to talk to you about how to use this technology on our tour – and potentially create this same sharing sensation of festival and music experience, but rather focus the same idea and intention for people to share about what they learned or how their perceptions of our planet, community and lifestyles have changes through certain events. Please contact me asap as we leave for tour in 3 week and launch at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions — Here is a link to our promo video – hope to hear back from you soon –

  5. I visited festivals in my country as often as I can. I think there is always a typical mood everywhere. I really like it and will never miss the feelings to join these meetings with my friends. There is a lot of work to do, I can imagine. Keep on blooging and Cheers.

  6. Recording a show is quite a challenging thing to do, I know that for sure cause I used to work as a video operator for a couple of years. Lighting and sound conditions leave much to be desired on the concerts, so you have to challenge your equipment and then spend hours on editing the pics and videos. You might need to convert mov to avi of use some specific soft to correct the sound etc etc. Nice to know there are steps undertaken to ease the process!

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