Graham Tull, co-founder and CTO of Peex, a new app platform that allows users to mix audio from live concerts in real-time via headphones and a handheld device, has told PSNEurope that the technology does not undermine the role of professional sound engineers, but actually “enhances” their importance.
Peex, which is making its debut outing on Elton John’s farewell tour, claims to make live music more interactive and personalised through its two-part offering, which enables music fans to create their own five-channel mix of the live concert sound via wearable and an app.
From September 2018, Peex will be powering select dates of Elton John’s tour, which kicks off in North America on September 8, with the Peex Live experience.
Sir Elton John said: “Throughout my 50-year career, playing live has always been so important to me. I am passionate about giving my fans my best possible performance and making sure they get the best possible experience. Over the past three years I’ve been working with the talented team at Peex, who have developed an incredible new technology that will revolutionise the way fans listen to live music.”
However, despite the company’s claims that Peex will enhance the live gig-going experience for many, there is also the potential that it could detract from the show taking place and, by allowing fans to alter the mix, undermine the role of the FOH engineer working the show.
Here, Tull tells PSNEurope why he believes the app will open up new dimensions in live sound and further emphasises the role of professional audio engineers…
How exactly does PEEX work?
The PEEX system takes the audio inputs directly from the stage and mixes them to 5 focussed channels for broadcast to the audience using a proprietary radio solution. Audience members with a PEEX rX can then receive these channels and using a companion App, adjust their own mix to suit their personal preferences. So, if you want to boost a blistering guitar solo or focus on the vocals, you can!!
How will users be able to hear their mix whilst at a loud concert?
The PEEX rX powers a set of attached earphones, which although designed to let ambient sound from the room reach the user, also provides sufficient volume to let the ‘digital’ audio perfectly blend with the ‘analogue’ audio from the PA. The system, by design, augments the natural sound rather than replaces it. We don’t want users to feel isolated from the visceral energy of show and crowd.
One vital feature of the PEEX system is the patented way it automatically synchronises the two audio sources; wherever you are in the venue. Without this capability, the combined sound would be virtually unusable.
How was the product conceived?
The idea came from a number of perspectives. Firstly, as a musician I have always loved watching great players live, but sometimes a combination of the room physics, the live mix and my own ears have left me missing some of the fine detail I love to hear. I wanted to be able to make easy adjustments to my own sound experience without losing any of the energy or excitement of being at the show.
Secondly, as a fan I know how exciting and memorable seeing favourite artists live can be. The anticipation from the time you buy the ticket to the moment the lights go down and the show begins, is something many music fans will understand, and for some these occasions produce life-defining memories. I wanted to find a way to better connect fans with artists and capture those memories for the longer term. Being able to buy a recording of the show you were actually at was for me the obvious missing piece. Add to that, the unique PEEX audio format and you can not only relive the experience after the show, but also re-mix as often as you like.
Finally, we have seen technology disrupt many industries and no more so than the music industry over the last few decades. I believe we should cherish the creative talent that ends up producing amazing music for millions of people to enjoy and experience in concert halls across the world. The PEEX vision is to make sure that fans get better experiences and connections with the artists they love; the artists get properly paid for their art and are able to provide new and exciting ways to connect with their fans; and that all the talented people that work in the industry to put on these spectacular shows can see a more expansive industry. Actually, if in the long term more kids nag their parents for guitars and drum kits and go on to terrorise the neighbours from the garage, we may yet find the next.
How did get Elton John to sign on as a launch partner?
One of my co-founders and lifelong friends has worked for Elton for nearly 30 years. Elton and Rocket have supported our efforts from the beginning and made it possible to work out the many technical details during testing at any number of his live shows. As the PEEX proposition has developed he and Rocket have provide invaluable guidance and support to make sure we deliver something really special. The Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour will be the first major tour using PEEX technology.
What are the biggest challenges in bringing this to market?
As with any new product idea, you need a clear vision of what you want to achieve. This we have had from the beginning and we believe it comes from a good place, with enhanced value for fans and artists central to our proposition.
However, there are still big challenges in establishing a new product in such a well-established and emotionally driven market as live music. Changing fan behaviour, to consider using earphones at concerts, is one example of a challenge ahead. Initial fears of feeling isolated from the show are soon dispelled when in use, and most of our many testers report that they soon forget they have them in and are reluctant to remove them after comparing the ‘with and without’ experience.
We also need to grow our stable of artists and downloadable live shows. This is something that will take some time, but already the levels of interest and support are very encouraging. Our proposition is very much designed with artists and fans in mind, rather than as yet another marginal way for a technology company to slice the music industry salami even thinner.
Finally, we are actively working with a number of major live music venues to permanently fit with the PEEX technology. This has opened many possibilities for enhancement of the venue offer to music fans and will hopefully lead to a more flexible way for artists to engage with the system.
Does PEEX undermine the role of the audio professional mixing the show on the night?
Absolutely not. In fact, it further highlights the importance of professional sound engineers controlling the audio mix and defining the sub-mixes used for the PEEX 5-channel broadcast. The PEEX system integrates directly with the front-of-house mix and is all the more impactful in environments where the room sound is well delivered. That said, any sound engineer will likely confirm, that there is no possibility of ensuring perfect sound at every location in venues with widely varying natural acoustics. The best that can be managed is a good compromise.
Will it detract from the authentic live experience?
We see more and more people at shows using their phones to record videos and take pictures, which is sometimes to the detriment of their own experience and others around them. The PEEX proposition intends to give the user a great and discrete audio experience, wherever they are in the venue, with their eyes focused on the action on stage rather than their phones. Knowing that a high fidelity recording of the show can be purchased through the PEEX App after the show should also help remove the desire to film poor quality audio and video just to preserve a shaky memory.
Is this something you plan on rolling out with other artists and/or venues anytime soon?
Yes. There are lots of discussions afoot, watch out for further announcements on our social media feeds.
Are personalisation tools like this the future of live events?
They certainly add to the fan experience and can provide new ways for artists to enhance their live shows. The PEEX proposition considers the pre-show, at-show and after-show elements to make sure the connection between fans and artists is deeper and more rewarding for both parties. We do not believe everyone wants to be a sound engineer, so the design has been carefully focused on creating an intuitive and graphically interesting user experience, where it is very easy to have some fun with the sound without destroying it.
And what are the biggest opportunities?
Obviously, we hope to successfully roll this technology out to a wider and wider group of fans, artists and venues; something, which naturally takes some time to ensure consistent quality, is delivered. In the longer term we would like to find ways in which our technology could help support the grassroots of the live music scene. Perhaps a PEEX system suited to smaller clubs and smaller acts would help improve the viability of live music venues and increase the number of bands wanting to play them. It might be all about social media, ‘likes’ and YouTube these days, but there is no substitute for learning your craft in front of an audience and it is from here that the great acts of the future will emerge. PEEX would like to be there to support them at each step.