In May last year, I went to an event called Music Tech Fest to talk about the work that I do as ‘Professor of Music Industry Innovation’ at Birmingham City University… and I pretty much never went home.
Today, I’m the festival director, and we’re taking it around the world.
Music Tech Fest is not a conference. It’s worth pointing that out up front. It’s a festival of music ideas. People come and demonstrate or perform with their new musical inventions, their new research, their new startup company or their new way of creating music – and those ideas are shared, celebrated, discussed and so on.
While that’s going on, we run an overnight hack camp at which music technologists, DIY electronics enthusiasts, software programmers and makers respond to challenges – to create new types of musical instruments, invent new ways of engaging with music, producing sounds, sharing music or interacting with it. There are prizes.
What’s really exciting is the diversity of music and technology on show. The London festival in September is at the home of the London Symphony Orchestra – and will include everything from Geek Punk (“gunk”) to dance music to pop to contemporary classical composition. We’re going to have live music, the whole thing will be streamed online, and it’ll be both fascinating and a whole lot of fun.
We’ve already been to Wellington and Boston so far this year and are also going to host Music Tech Fest in Berlin in October, Paris in November and New York in December. Next year is even busier. It’s simultaneously immensely exciting and entirely terrifying.
To be clear – I’m still Professor of Music Industry Innovation. Festival Director is my other full time job. And of course it’s full-on. But I very rarely do things that are not related to that intersection of music and technology these days.
Every piece of leisure time I have is more or less connected to that theme of music and technology. Of course, there is so much overlap between my two roles, it’s sometimes difficult to tell where one stops and the other starts. Which is probably just as well.
For instance, the festival has an academic symposium component to it – what we call the ‘afterparty’ – a one day seminar that brings together the best academic brains on music tech to discuss and plan research projects. When we did the festival in Boston, Nancy Baym and Jonathan Sterne led a mission to create a Manifesto for the Future of Music Technology Research.
And one of the great things about that was the fact that the academics in the room had just spent the weekend at the festival being inspired by a non-stop showcase of new ideas, inventions and performances. The London ‘after party’ will be a symposium at Queen Mary University London at which we will discuss possible interdisciplinary and collaborative research projects (and potential sources of funds to run those projects) that might arise out of that manifesto.
The festival itself is hands-on, performance-based, experimental, improvisational and kind of messy – but never dull. It’s a lot of work pulling all of the threads together that make it all happen. I do everything from securing sponsorship to booking acts, negotiating with venues to arranging food for the hackers.
But the thing that makes it all work is the fact that I am part of an incredible team of people. Don’t for a moment assume that I’m doing all the work here. Far from it. I get to do the fun and interesting stuff: meeting with incredible people, finding out what they do and inviting them to be part of the excitement. I do some of the logistics, of course – and I don’t want to downplay how utterly involving the whole thing is – but I am far from alone in this.
And the interesting thing about this is that the entire team is made up of people who, like me, went to the festival and pretty much never went home.
The reason I bring this up is the fact that I’m going to be talking a lot more about Music Tech Fest in blog posts to come. It’s a strange beast, and it takes a while to get your head around it – unless you come to one. Then it immediately makes sense in all its crazy, creative and surprising aspects.
But if you haven’t really encountered it before – consider this a brief introduction. There’s a lot more to it – and I’ll be talking about that here – as well as on the Music Tech Fest site itself.