Next Lab team works on Battle of the Bands livestream

ASU’s Next Lab, Zoom and Verizon connect Battle of the Bands audiences

For the first time in Arizona State University’s (ASU) Battle of the Bands history, the final round of performances on March 20 were live-streamed, with the help of ASU’s Enterprise Technology Next Lab and the university’s partnerships with Zoom and Verizon.

The final round of this year’s Battle of the Bands returned to Mountain America Stadium in Tempe as a culmination of ASU’s Educational Outreach and Student Services’ Change the World Day

Competing bands who performed at the stadium included Denko, Right Rosemary and Practically People. Additionally, Phoenix-based band South Bend Drive offered up — for the first time in Battle of the Bands history — a remote performance, live-streamed via Zoom from the state-of-the-art studio at the Fusion on First

“It felt like a dream come true to be able to perform my songs for the concert goers at a grand scale event like this one,” said Oscar Martinez, guitarist, singer and frontman for South Bend Drive. “ASU did a great job providing such great state-of-the-art technology, venue and event for us, and I hope a lot of people were able to enjoy all the performances live and via Zoom. We were so happy to be part of this.”

Solving the latency gap

To stream live performances via Zoom, latency needs to be overcome. For live music performances, latency can represent the delay between a musician playing a note and the audience hearing it. This time lag encumbers the interplay and rhythm that can make live music so captivating

While resolving latency problems is common for technicians working with broadcasting live performances, the ASU Next Lab team brainstormed and collaborated to uncover a novel approach. Zoom’s “Live Performance” setting was able to help the team with audio and visual latency issues for live-streaming the on-stage performances, but there were still pending obstacles, according to Lakshya Darwhal, a member of the Next Lab team. 

“In the beginning, we faced a lot of challenges trying to connect a physical mixer to other equipment known as an i-Rig, and then to a portable laptop to mix the Zoom audio,” said Darwhal. “We went through four to five weeks of just testing to figure out which would be the best configuration for reducing latency.”

The team eventually found an optimal configuration using a portable tech kit Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) they developed using hardware provided by Verizon–they refer to it as an "Espresso kit.” These custom-designed tech kits utilize an interactive display monitor manufactured by an Australian-based hardware startup known as Espresso Displays. The Next Lab team collaborated with Espresso Displays’ tech team as well as with the Verizon team to fine tune the DAW’s configuration in order to integrate the technology kit’s display monitor and a mini Mac computer, powering the Zoom live-streaming component via Verizon 5G technology to overcome latency. 

Unlike the tangled mess of wires sound technicians are accustomed to grappling with each one contributing to increased audio latency the tech kit offers a simple, user-friendly setup with clear instructions (schematics) for performers to optimally set up their equipment. The result is a low latency, real-time experience in which musicians can have a touch-screen digital mixer for performing, wherever they may be, and live-stream via Zoom for live and virtual audiences. Multiple tech kits were built, so each of the bands performing in the event would have a kit with its own schematics for optimized equipment set-up and configuration. 

Innovating to design meaningful tech for the future

“We have basically made everything concise, more practical, accessible and workable in real time,” noted Darwhal. “No more traditional analog mixers.” 

By getting creative and hacking existing technologies to achieve user-friendly solutions, the Next Lab team is bringing about a new era of virtual collaboration for musicians and artists worldwide. The future of live performances is about to get a whole lot more interactive and accessible.

For more information on the Next Lab’s offerings, visit the website. Follow Next Lab on LinkedIn.