Red Goes to Sonar +D

1st August 2019
Following trips to Wallifornia in Belgium and Midem in Cannes, the final stop on Abbey Road Red’s music tech tour saw Innovation Manager Karim Fanous and Head of Digital Dominika Dronska travel to Barcelona for Sonar +D, mentoring startups, attending conference sessions and meeting with Red alumni, Broomx and Vochlea.

One thing about Barcelona that hits you at conference time is the heat, and then the noise and traffic, mixed with the city’s colourful array of squares, gardens, main streets and side-streets. Gritty, historical, vibrant. All that rushes at you in the ride from the airport to the city centre.

Match it with some cutting-edge programming around AI and music; a startup garden; the contrast of hot and cool between the conference hall and the exhibition halls; DJs and live acts outside and immersive tech exhibits inside; plus the mix of festival goers and industry execs rambling all these areas and you’ve got the rich vibe of Sonar +D.
This was the last stop in Abbey Road Red’s summer conference tour. Me and Dom, our Head of Digital at Abbey Road and an advisory board member at Red, were invited as mentors, doing the same thing we did at Midem with the startups - sitting with them and offering advice and connections.

This time we were a Red trio with our good friend Glenn Cooper, Senior Director of Business Development & Strategic Partnerships at Universal UK and an advisory board member at Red, also out for the trip to Sonar as a mentor.

Glenn discovered the Broomx Technologies team last year in his mentoring session and was immediately impressed, which led us on the highly enjoyable journey of bringing them into Red for incubation. A lovely Sonar + Red success story and a reason to be excited about returning this year.
To day one. After a nice walk to the site, our morning started with the mentoring sessions. I sat down first with a startup creating a spin-off service from their main business called Virtual Sound, an audio production/mastering suite for audio content for sync.

Next, I sat down with Aaron Labbé, the founder and CTO of LUCiD, the adaptive music and wellness startup which had won the Wallifornia start-up contest (read about it, here). LUCiD are taking a scientific approach with music recommendations cued using biosensor data accompanied by binaural beats layered on top during playback in their first product - a wellness chair in partnership with furniture manufacturer Steelcase.

The combination of subtly placed and slightly syncopated beats combined with tailored track choices is designed to reduce stress and relax the listener. The team at LUCiD are positioning themselves smartly to ride the wave of music and mental health products coming this year and next, a good thing for innovation in our industry that crosses the boundaries between music, science and healing (see our blog post summarising our functional music event, here).

Another highlight for us was SWITCH, who Glenn sat down with. They have prototyped a set of Bluetooth headphones with swivelling ear cups that turn the headset into a portable stereo speaker.

Next, we were whisked off to a lunch where we caught up with the conference organisers and friends from other countries to chew the proverbial local paella layered with a sprinkling of industry chat about regional development on top. There is a very interesting cross-section of startup founders, government and private investment bodies, university research and innovation all in and around Barcelona and Sonar is a good melting pot for the music angle in all that.

After lunch we moved to the conference hall to scout the exhibits. First stop in our walk was a hello to Tim Exile, founder of collaborative music platform Endlesss, designed to enable people to jam collaboratively and remotely, with the brilliant tagline that a ‘riff is the new gif’. Other notable stops included the Kickstarter stand where I enjoyed a midi to voltage converter that powered some small beaters.

The Vochlea team was in great form and Founder George Wright demo’d us a brand-new sound module using the Dubler mic which sounded great.
These exhibitors complemented a string of production gear and solutions from online DAWs to modular synths as well as masterclasses from Teenage Engineering, Ableton and electronic music and sound designer Richard Divine. A strong showing for the creator scene.

There was also a strong showing for the immersive scene – from a deep meditation full-dome chill-space to volumetric video capture; three dimensional projections from Nueveojos; spatial audio workshops from Steinberg and Artis Igal Nassima; and an introduction to spatial computing from Unity’s Director of Research, Timoni West, encouraging cross-disciplinary artists to explore working in environments where the digital and real worlds intertwine. Not forgetting our alum Broomx who had a large projection suite to demo their MKplayer360!
The next day was a mix of meetings, an interview with the media team for me, negotiating the heat of the city and separately working our way to the airport for our home flights.

With that and a Sonar +D sunset, our summer conference tour comes to an end. Things will get busy for us now as we roll LifeScore off the incubation programme with its recording session in Studio Three and get ready to announce the next two startups joining the Red programme. More on all that very soon.