Latest news and views from inside Bring & Byte

Boomstand in Workington

Posted on October 22, 2015

Boomstand is a sound system for public space. We install pop-up sound systems in public spaces for anyone to play music through and for musicians, poets, and artists to perform without lugging around a PA system, lowering the barrier to public performance. We create a happy medium between people who want to perform in public space and the obligations of local councils. It’s still in the early stages but is evolving at a pace, improving the system with every deployment. The rough and ready team (Adrian McEwen, Brett Lampereur, Craig Pennington, Joey Baxter, myself) who gravitated towards solving the issue of improving public music sharing beyond mere teenagers on buses listening to techno on tinny speakers. We worked over the Bring & Byte weekend to prototype a micro-controller that would make it possible to stream music over bluetooth to more suitable sound systems.

The first outing was during the Full of Noises 2015 festival in Barrow-in-Furness. Octopus Collective – who run FON and are based in a park in Barrow – have access to a bandstand.Engaging park visitors, we had a fully operational hardware and software stack, but encouraging people to share their music was a little bit more challenging than we expected. Friend of Boomstand Ross Dalziel wrote an in-depth review of that day.

Boomstand was unveiled for the second time in Workington through The Hub, a UFO-like sound system hovering over the crossroads where the shopping malls converge. We were the warmup act for sound artist Brona Martin and Jenn Mattinson + Mark Vernon. Brona was the first one to try Boomstand, kicking off with some James Brown. Thought it was apt, as he is the hardest Workington man in show business… Again the technology performed flawlessly but finding participants who

  1. were not phased by strangers accosting them
  2. had smartphones
  3. had music on their smartphones
  4. had music on their smartphones they wanted to share

was tricky. While Brett acted as the mediator between the Boomstand box and punters, using raffle tickets to pair to the Boomstand bluetooth, I went up to people under the sound canopy to ask if they would be interested in playing their tunes through the 5.1 surround sound system. Despite the clear day guaranteeing us favourable footfall, most people were busy shopping, talking with friends, drinking coffee or going about their normal routines. A quick unscientific analysis of the people I engaged with led me to conclude that there was a very high proportion of people in Workington who had recently upgraded phones and haven’t migrated their music yet OR didn’t think other people would share their taste in music. This was often conveyed with a certain smugness.

However, when it worked – it was joyous. I couldn’t help but groove along to the little girl who started jumping up and down and dancing when her mum streamed her favourite song. There was the Czech man who really wanted try it but didn’t have any music, so played the default Samsung theme from his phone. He later came back with a request so I lent him a phone to stream Oasis. The space under The Hub is ideal for engaging with the public, and the thought that in only 5 minutes (the slots we allocated per person) it was possible to reclaim ownership of public commercial space came through with the few people who were brave enough to give it a go.

Hwa Young Jung

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Boomstand at Full Of Noises

Posted on August 19, 2015

Spent a great weekend at Full Of Noises with the Boomstand crew connecting the Barrow-in-Furness Park bandstand to local passersby’s Bluetooth devices. Everything from 10cc, Sonic Youth and a mini festival of Donk was connected up despite dodgy weather. It was the first public test for the winning idea from Bring & Byte.

It showed the public enthusiasm for playing their own music in a place they thought they knew well and I think for a festival like Full Of Noises who put on high quality intrnational, challenging sound and music based art that’s accessible to all it was a valuable public test. The idea of a self-managing online calendar and system to negotiate the use of a traditional public space for music is a great one and we had many interesting chats with locals and Ken the park keeper about managing and using the park and the tensions that can arise. It also has great potential for festival artists experimentation with audiences and the public.

The young people who passed by were incredibly excited to play their own music but you could see that the bangin’ hard house of Donk was not everyones cup of tea and immeadiately would set off the tensions often played out in public parks; older people sharing space with the very young and often very bored getting into trouble. Talking to them they were well up for using it but less keen on the control element or limited sessions obviously but were happy to drift off at the end of their session and come back later.

It looked like people more into music could potentially dominate everything but the whole idea is that the more people who use it the more its self curated. If we were in the park under normal circumstances we’d be pretty unlikely to talk to the group of ‘Donkers’: there is always an inescapable us and them at play; but because we had to take turns playing our music and theirs we were forced to engage to a degree; but the system meant that nobody was fully in control and I think that sort of ‘flattening’ of the us and them dynamic can only be a good thing and help people talk to each other about using their public spaces.

Clearly it could all devolve into a free form rave and possibly suddenly ended rave sessions with people in party mode could well set off potential problems for Ken and his team, but given enough diversity of users and ownership it could well be one of the most interesting public music engagement initiatives around.

The folks behind FON Festival Octopus Collective have always been keen to place music and sound not just to specialist audiences but to the public in both Barrow and Cumbria and engage with their local context through really successful public events in Barrow Park. They commissioned my own Crazy Golf Hack for SoundNetwork and in many ways their support still has an impact and legacy for my work today. Be interesting to see who else is up for hosting a Boomstand and maybe Barrow should be the first place to have a permanent install which could mean Octopus projects like FON Air could be playing in the park remotely at any time…

Ross Dalziel

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Here’s some they made earlier

Posted on May 24, 2015

A couple of week’s ago we brought together 30 or so curious and generous folk from across the music and tech sectors to explore new ideas for the music industry during our Bring&Byte hack weekend. You can get a flavour of what happened in this short film we made over the weekend.

The whole thing was as much about catalysing new relationships that will have a lasting impact on those in them and the music sector more widely, as it was about ‘in the moment’ results. However, if the films has whetted your appetite, here’s a quick round up of the ideas that our B&B-ers ‘hacked’ over their 2 days together. Having filled a whole wall with their ideas (eagle eyed readers will note these have been pre grouped into silly/serious, hard and easy), and after much head scratching these were boiled down into five working groups. Here’s what they came up with...

#1 The Gig Card Group

st century solution to theon-the-night clipboard-ness of the biro-fuelled mailing list.The team think it’s bang on for emerging artists , to help them grow their following quicker and more easily. Think of it as a way for an audience member (regardless of whether they are the ticket buyer or not) to high five an artist and say ‘I like your music’, with just a simple ‘swipe’ or ‘tap’. The new button badge maybe? Ok, maybe not, but you know what I mean.

#2 Yann’s crazy hacks

Yann made three fun apps (the man is superhuman!). The first was a webcam-based sensor system which detected when people held up camera phones in a gig, and downdraded the quality of stage sound and lighting in inverse proportion to the number of phones being held in the air (so the more phones there are the worse the sound gets!). hen degraded the music quality as a result. The second was a fun musical system for calling into a live dj set using skype, so that you could add to and interact to the set, and the final one allowed you to release an album which would electronically deteriorate every time someone listened to it, until there was nothing left. Like we said, he’s superhuman, or as near as damn it.

#3 The Digital Book / Album

Our third group worked on a digital book which documents the artist making an album over say a ten month period, and which ‘super fans’ can buy to support their favourite musicians. Fans who’ve bought (into) the book would then be invited to create content for the book, alongside the artists, right up until the album is finished. Bringing in elements of crowd-sourcing and crowdfunding, the book’s final iteration is as a real, physical product. Nice, huh?

#4 Ticket Masala

Ticket Masala – apart from having absolutely the best name of the weekend – channels people’s nostalgia for beautiful, highly prized tickets, but in a very 2015 way. Using digital technologies to create a new engagement between an artist and their ticket buying public, before, during and after the gig, Ticket Masala means that your gig-going experience starts the moment you purchase your online ticket, giving ticket buyers the chance to interact with artists in advance, and on the night via technology embedded within or connected to their online ticket. Not quite sure about the Masala reference is, but it is laugh out loud funny! (And a lot cleaner than some other working titles that came up over the weekend…)

The winner is…

But there could be only one winner of our £1,000 prize – and after a very close (and sometimes controversial vote), and a very loud drum roll, Team Boomstand just edged it.

#5 Boomstand

So what are Team BoomStand going to do? If they get their way, they’re going to turn public gathering points – bandstands, beach hut-lined promenades etc – into publicly owned sound systems, curated by local artists and residents. The idea? That artists and DJs – professional and amateur - can play live at these community meeting spaces, using BoomStand’s technology. Working with guest artist Charlotte, Team Boomstand demoed their idea from a very pop up bandstand (which looked more than a little like a pulpit (note: we were in a renovated chapel!), creating a somewhat adhoc Sunday morning service. But no, there was no communal singing…

We’re really excited that some of our teams are continuing to develop their prototypes, and we’ll be inviting them to share where they’ve got to at our upcoming One Dayer on 1 July (find out more about that event, and to book tickets see here). Team BoomStand are planning on using their prize money to build a prototype and rock the Cecil Sharp House maypole (well, the café, maybe the garden) to its foundations. It’s going to be great. You should come…(details here).

And if you like the cut of our gib, please do follow us on twitter or join our Community of the Curious and the Generous .

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Functional Funk

Posted on May 24, 2015

Now we're back into the day to day I've started to reflect personally on what we came up with at Bring and Byte.

It's definitely made me consider some applications of tech I've been looking at over the past few years.

The winning hack, 'Boomstand' still resonates and makes sense (Joey Baxter, Adrian McEwen, Craig Pennington, Brett Lempereur, Hwa Young). This internet connected Bandstand came out of a common theme about alternative venues and in true bootstrapping style the group thought of existing performance spaces that are often no longer used, the Bandstand.

They've just pitched the idea at Liverpool Sound City this weekend gone, and on twitter Boomstand looks like a prototype service already 'Connecting artists and communities through flexible, open performance spaces' and the concept of a mobile friendly calendar where local residents, local authorities, buskers, bands and kids doing nothing in the park could potentially self-organise and come together sharing and playing diverse music and really making people do music together in a new (and old) way. After the recent divisive political carnage we've been watching playout since that weekend it's little wonder something like this won the group vote at the time

To see the progress of our winners keep track here

Culture hackathons are meant to be a way of accessing innovation. But sometimes I think 'innovation' itself is in danger of becoming an increasingly banal term and tagline that can be applied to both the most ground breaking of life's work and research to a zeitgeist surfing re-branded iphone app.

Maybe forget the term and think about getting ideas we really want. After getting some early advice from Hwa Young she suggested the key is knowing what you might want to happen; not predicting ideas but have a clear idea of how you want things to work. So rather than advertise a hack day open to all we aimed instead to borrow from hackathon cultures but with some carefully curated contextual co-design for Bring and Byte: I'm a firm believer in oblique angles on problem solving; so the key 'concerns' we outlined in the industry although pretty daunting, we felt could be approached by pushing them to the background and setting up a creative environment and a diverse but curated mix of people.

Early on many of our tech group where pitched an elaborate metaphor of a tech farmers market: we wanted participants to feel it was a bit more thought through than just an 'invite everyone technical we know' give them wifi and pizza and let them get on with it: but also not a straight laced business card swap-meet.

Reflecting we've clearly not 'fixed' the independent music industry but I think our pitched prototypes will make people approach these ever present problems anew.

Dr Kate Stone and her enchanted paper: electronic circuits and tiny chips printed on paper made it's inevitable way into the mix; truly a no-brainer of an exciting innovative idea realised and just looking for application. Kate's introduction to herself by DJ'ing with a double gatefold vinyl sleeve with embedded electronics was hard to forget and impossible to top. Her teams presentation of a book of a band that was playable and connected by the internet to constantly and seemed to capture the thing many of us are trying to get; making music special again.

It's the pop spectre around all music and tech post everything shared to everything; re-capturing the magic and 'rarity' of music; or mindfulness in a space where everything is available everywhere forever. Its like we are all looking for re-creating the experience of the mythical teenager playing a Little Richard 45 for the first time. Maybe that's whats driving us all; if people are excited and drawn to a way of 'doing' music then it builds like any musical explosion from Rock and roll onwards.

Dan Hett made a hilarious app to help hipsters tweet their wilfully obscure math rock K pop hybrid jazz bands that possibly barely exist; and even though its called 'Wankr' its also about the serious joy of getting into stuff and sharing it; it's also acknowledging that music is still about identity; it says something about your attitude or how you see the world and your difference as much as your sharing. It also reminds me of James Medd's interest in visualising obscure musical data; the statistical analysis of use of the word funk in funkadelic lyrics for example via API data services like the echonest or musicbrainz Both these hacks point to revenue generating ideas; visualising data and celebrating wilful obscurity on social media appeals to the hip and not so hip muso & obsessive collector in all of us: that's a lot of customers.

Playful stuff like this could really help drive and sustain audiences for the most specialist music. Like the best hacks these take the piss but they show underlying trends in how the big data buzz word is affecting music tech to "power smarter music". Smarter music and understanding of your audience are essential tools to survive and thrive in the industry now. You could do small things but by being smart have massive impact.

For Bring & Byte we wanted this smarter music to not just be in playlist science but see that science realised & applied physically and be as much about hacking audience behaviour as audience data: so Kate's paper generating mindfulness naturally fits: and Boomstand pushes behaviour into public parks again.

Yann Seznec no stranger to the creative pitch (he famously managed to get the most cynical dragons DJing with Wiimotes on Dragon's Den) made 3 solo hacks (wow!) over the weekend picking up on almost throw away ideas on post it notes and making it happen. One of the biggest music behaviours must be the habit of an audiences smartphones raised aloft recording bad quality gig footage; many gigs feature a sea of tiny screens that may once have been cigarette lighters: you can do cool stuff like Tom Armitage & Richard Birkin (who couldn't make it) for Rubato but Yann made a system that if a certain amount of tiny screens are held up the sound quality degrades; equally a band that thrives on this kind of sharing could trigger better visuals or better music!

Hilarious but actually that system makes audiences interact in a whole different way. Then the simplest idea: how you could make digital music special by destroying it: Imagine the first person to download a single gets the full quality track but then the next one to download it finds its quality reduced : each time the file is accessed it changes the file until eventually its unlistenable; although sounding like financial suicide it could ramp up demand in the most crazy way; it's the kind of thing that could drive the obsessive fans to distraction and generate a ridiculous buzz that is only comparable to the complete sell out of tickets 10 minutes after they go on sale.

And finally for the emerging DJ's on the make who need a special guest but cant afford them they can skype into their live set and get auto-tuned into the mix live; they could just get Kanye's mobile and catch him between private jets. Even if he screams obscenities at them to speak to his agent no worries! Its all in tune and quantised into your set!

Ticket Masala took the online ticket to similar hacked extremes; each time you look at our check your online ticket it changes. It was the most buzzword and acronym generating pitch perhaps of all time; regardless it seemed to point at the crazy distribution of 'tickets' in a world that doesn't print anything anymore: we need a ticket experience that works in the digital world.

Then back to the physical with the Gigcard: Bluetooth low energy and RFID contactless payment; they are all things steadily inhabiting the world but it's how we really get it to work for us and will make people want to use it and persuade the venues and promoters to have the space for it. Gigcard concentrated on a kind of musical high five so bands and promoters can follow audiences who tap their love for the music. Howard Monk in the gigcard group introduced himself with a stamp for stamping the audience: referring to that experience of waking up the following morning after a gig to see a stamp on your wrist reminding you of the noisy night out; how can we make the digital version of this?

And thats it, the blogs below, the ideas in our heads and a Storified Twitter stream are the equivalent of that sweaty beer-smudged stamp. Look out for Boomstand at a bandstand near you and be careful next time you try selfie that gig footage and don't be surprised when your book starts to sing...

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Bring & Byte - the Storify Report

Posted on May 15, 2015

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We have been working on producing an implementation plan for a music project The idea is to produce a novel music format whereby an interactive book will be used to build an artist’s career (Charlotte Brimner) the intention is to use crowd funding to create the capital with which to fund the project.

The novel music format is one where the album will be offered via an interactive book which will be marketed primarily as a physical, beautiful object , containing a scrapbook of images, it will contain buttons with which you can connect to exclusive content including blogs, tour diaries, videos which are not featured through Google. The idea is to create a physical Facebook

Charlotte’s album will be created in real time over a ten month period

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Bring & Byte Day 2 - Tell Me More

Posted on May 09, 2015

Initial idea.... we want to create a new easy way of getting further contact details from a happy gig attendee, a tech solution to the problem of a pleased attendee quickly being able to say 'Tell Me More', 'I Like You', 'Forget Me Not'...

This method, whatever it is (app? fob?) would get the audience-member some benefits if they 'like' the artist they are watching, maybe a free track, or some money off the merch...

The artist would own the data and be responsible for harvesting, protecting and processing it. The artist could then anonymise that data and share with promotors, venues, and anyone else for benefits.

The user can set the item to do as little or as much as they like....

At festivals this method could act as mediator to create a personalised shopping service for the festival-goer... It fills the merch bag as the attendee progresses; at the end the attendee can survey his/her shopping bag, discard what s/he doesn't want, and purchase what s/he wants to, which can be posted home...

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We're at a hostel in Hebden Bridge for #BringandByte music hack weekend and it's a bit like being back at Scout camp, but with better food, and alcohol. And we have these great laser cut rosette badges.

The day after the Election, being holed up in a venue like this to get creative about the future of alternative music is a welcome distraction although we're still a bit frazzled from being up all night watching the swingometer...

This being Hebden Bridge it's strictly vegetarian and no shoes - luckily our chef Martin Clarke is a master at dishing up vats of curry on a rather primitive stove.

Monica Ferguson, Chief Exec of the Stables, and Adrian McEwan from DoeS Liverpool got our brains going on Friday with a fireside chat - giving their perspectives from the music and tech worlds of the things that excite, interest and exercise them.

So far the atmosphere feels very buzzy, with lots of conversation over dinner and breakfast about music. Everyone here is a music fan and we all make things, whether that's songs, gigs, wearable tech or 3D printed objects. There are lots of common points. I'm looking forward to seeing what emerges when we all start prototyping ideas today.

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Bring & Byte - our manifesto

Posted on May 05, 2015

We are curious. We are generous. We will share what we have with each other - our experience, our knowledge, our opinions, even ideas that we think might be mad or bad.

Everyone here is different. That’s the whole point. We learn from each other’s ‘normals’, listen to different opinions and perspectives and give each other space to speak and think.

We are co-creators, in it together. As team members, we jointly ‘own’ the idea(s) we develop over the weekend. We play fair, and decide together if/how we’ll take our ideas further.

We trade our ideas, ask ‘what if’ and are curious about the answers we get back. We’ll reject some answers, go down some blind alleys, but that’s part of arriving at a new answer or idea.

We try stuff. We take forward what’s working, but don’t forget what isn’t; it might come in handy later or again in in the future.

We want others to learn from what we’re exploring, so as teams we’ll commit to capturing our questions, answers and ideas along the way, and to sharing them during and after the weekend.

We respect privacy, use responsibly data we have access to.

We’re here to think, do, learn and share. And have fun.

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The Bring & Byte Ethos

Posted on April 23, 2015

It's getting pretty close to kicking things off at Bring & Byte in the middle of the maker belt next month and my desk at the co-working space at DoESLiverpool is surrounded by more than usual creative chaos.

It's the annual UK maker event MakerFaire 2015 on the weekend where makers and hackerspaces share their stuff and some of the DoESLiverpool community are running a stall showcasing the communities products, demos and services and an event: the Maker Faire UK Lasercut Challenge (MFUKLC) . In the background in the co-working space people are working in teams across the internet doing their jobs as usual, but diving in and out of the workshop is Julian building a CNC mill and a sensor system for his hang glider, I'm 3D printing a cover for a wearable device with developer and educator Matt Venn, open source engineer @DefProc is teaching people to laser cut imbetween building and testing the MFUKLC nerf gun rifle range while Adrian McEwen is fixing Bubblino a twitter watching bubble bot who I first met at Maker Faire way back in 2009.

DoESLiverpool is a co-working space and open community that I think really represents a generous hackerspace and DIY-ethos that is often talked about; and it is connected to a 'hacker' sensibility I suppose that's prevalent at hackdays and hackathons. You can find more about DoES and this DIY feeling in business in a lovely articulated piece by Zarino Zappa and hear from the horses mouth through founder Adrian talking with me at our event.

I think many of us coming along to Bring & Byte could be often thought of as 'DIY' even if you're not a tech person or relate to hacker culture: you all make things happen with what's there, and if it's not there, you make it. Whether its a tour, a new instrument, a library, a record, a webstream, a startup, a gig or interactive posters.

I blame the internet: the growth of network culture, although yes, its made big behemoths that transform how we experience the world in big sometimes generic sweeps like Facebook and Spotify, it's also made it easier for interesting curious and generous people to share and then do stuff: and I think everyone we've invited here are interested in that.

Just looking at places like DoESLiverpool and services like github where space, knowledge, tools, libraries and systems are made social I think shows how technology can change how we work together. There's such a rich generous technology culture just outside the mainstream and I want to expose it and bootstrap it: It's my favourite startup term: Don't make something from scratch necessarily but strap some shared existing things together in a new way and test it out with people then build on it if it makes sense.

Zarino sums up nicely what I'd like Bring & Byte to do:

"How can we take that (DIY/hacker) ethos, and help it permeate into standard business practice? I can’t help feeling that this movement has to start at home."

What Bring& Byte is really is a temporary home from home (hence the nice healthy food and booze) where we can share our versions of this ethos and think up some new ways of making music happen. Its space to get out of the everyday practice and meet some challenges and reflect on stuff through doing; then take it home.

It's not a conventional hackathon; it's small and close and with a curated mix of people and its partly an ideas lab or field trip. There will be some co-design and out-there thinking I hope and some people already have ideas and work that they will be bringing along to prototype and some late nights. It's hard to say what we will be like at the end of the weekend. Really it's going to be a reflection of the people there; what happens when people from quite diverse areas collide in the middle of the maker belt thinking creatively about the music experience and the music business.

In some ways before the internet, music was the most (and possibly first) pervasive media technology and now all kinds of media and knowledge are potentially everywhere so where music sits now and what really is the music business in the future is worth thinking about in a speculative way.

I had a brief exchange with Bring & Byte guest Kate Stone of Novalia about her interest in how people are making music with tech in mind rather than using tech to recreate existing music. This could sum up two starting points which we will be thinking on over the weekend but really Bring & Byte is going to mix all of this up: a mixtape of networks and shared references. Whether we work promoting music, fostering it, sharing it, making it: the bottom line is we all want to make exciting music happen and share it with the world.

Look forward to meeting you all!

Ross Dalziel

PS If there was a mixtape format for the internet then I'd put this on it on the way to Hebden Bridge :)

  • Tinder meets ticketing
  • Shiply meets touring
  • Text adventures meet fan clubs
  • Near Field Communication meets public address systems
  • Pop up moshpits
  • Sherlock holmes style detective apps to work out who really listens to Taylor Swift.

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Imagine the scene – 30 of the most curious and generous individuals from the worlds of music and tech, gathered together in a converted chapel for 3 days of plotting and conspiring, eating and drinking, thinking and doing. All in the name of finding new models for the independent music sector…new ways we can do business with each other, harnessing tech for the greater good and building new audiences for the music we all love.

Well that’s pretty much the plan for Bring & Byte, the IdeasLab the hub is producing as part of our Joining the Dots project, between 8-10 May. Joining the Dots is all about testing and sharing know how around new ideas for the independent music. Part of what we want to do is help those who want to ‘go first’ or ‘be the first’ to imagine and try out the new ideas that keep them awake at night. Bring & Byte is one of the ways we’re doing that.

Like all good R&D projects do, it’s developed iteratively, and has come about off the back of learning from an earlier stage of Joining the Dots; when we ran an Open Call for potentially game changing ideas, the prize on offer including up to £10k to test and develop those ideas. Whilst we had loads of really interesting applications amongst the 168 we received in total, what became clear pretty soon was that lots would have been stronger for there having been more dialogue and shared thinking between people in the music and tech sectors during the pre-application stage. It’s obvious really, and something in hindsight I’m surprised we didn’t build in to the process at the time; one of the things I know to be true is that when you bring together people whose ‘normals’ and starting points are different from each other’s, you get ‘atomic collisions’, thinking that just wouldn’t have come about in other circumstance.

So that’s what Bring & Byte is all about…atomic collisions…bringing together artists, promoters, managers, agents and creative technologists, developers, data scientists, coders, all curious about the future of live independent music, and keen to explore new ways of doing things. So what are we going to be getting up to? Without giving too much away, and spoiling it for our B&B-ers, the whole point of B&B is to explore what those gathered there think are the most pressing challenges and exciting opportunities for independent music, and together – very practically - co-design and prototype some potential responses.

By close of play on Sunday we hope to have prototyped 5 or 6 new potential ‘game changers’, with the ‘Best in Show’ team receiving £1000 to take their idea further. We also expect to have consumed a good deal of cake and local ale, chewed over the post-election reality… and seen some relationships develop that will sustain for decades to come. Having read this, it perhaps won’t surprise you that my favourite question is ‘what if’, and that the phrase I most overuse is ‘that’s a good idea’. Small wonder I can’t wait to get there…

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