The Making Of A Music Festival Mobile App: Interview With Seed Labs

With each passing concert mobile apps continue to change how we experience live music. But how exactly are some of the most popular mobile concert apps made? Do developers depend on concert fans to improve their apps? Are concert apps becoming more than just a convenient alternative to the usual crumpled paper schedule?

In the update to the Live Fix Summer Music Festival Mobile App Guide, I mentioned that I received an email from Todd Rodgers from Seed Labs. And after his welcomed update, I asked Todd via email to tell us a bit more about how Seed Labs develops the mobile apps for Sasquatch Festival, Lollapalooza, HullabaLOU, ACL and CMA Fest.

Since Seed Labs has learned a lot after developing the first Lollapalooza mobile app last year, Todd also told me how they’ve overcome development barriers, why they depend on live music fans to make their apps better each year and what his dream concert mobile app would be.

I hope you enjoy the chat with Todd and, as always, if you have any questions go ahead and post them in the comments below.

Live Fix: How does Seed Labs create a mobile app for a festival?

Todd: In theory it’s a pretty straightforward process. If a festival signs up we give them a login to a portal site and they put in their band and schedule data, then after they are done with it we pull together artwork for the different platforms, pull the data into the apps and make sure it all looks right. All of the data is stored in the phone so the app will work even if you aren’t on a cell network, that’s why we stick it all in there ahead of time.

Once a festival is happy with the way it looks and works, then we publish it. So far we’ve only had one festival that worked that way though. Most festivals want something different, a feature added here or there, or their data is a little different from how we have things structured. A lot of them already have their data in some other system, so we build into our portal the ability to pull that data in so they don’t have to do any work.

Does Seed Labs do any fan or field testing during development?

We’re all festival-goers ourselves, so we are tuned in to what fans want. Posting a picture to Facebook is a feature we added because I got frustrated at Lollapalooza last year using the Facebook app. You would take a pic, post it, and if the network wasn’t there it was lost forever. So we added the feature in and we save the photo to the camera roll too, in case you can’t connect.

Once we have a feature like that we experiment as best we can, showing it to friends and trying it out at events where we aren’t doing an app. If we get a good response then we know we’re on the right track.

What’s the biggest barrier when creating a mobile app for a concert festival?

The data! It seems like once our clients get their data in and take a look at the app, they realize they need to do more than stick a picture in there. Getting good YouTube links that work on the phone, getting good feeds, all of that stuff is important because people use it. We have a view that lists all of the artists that have video links and you can click them and watch a YouTube video. We had a festival app that went out last week where all of the videos just didn’t work on YouTube, so we stayed up all night finding ones that worked so the feature was actually useful.

How is your approach to concert mobile app development different from other mobile app developers?

I think it helps a lot that we use the same code base for all of our apps, we aren’t writing this thing from scratch every time. We’ve worked out issues at the beginning of the season so each festival that uses it ends up benefiting from that.

We’ve also built in a pretty extensive back end, so if a festival needs to change content in the app after it is in the hands of the users, they can. I got a call from Jazz Fest on the day before Aretha Franklin was supposed to play and she was canceling. They wanted to coordinate updating people’s phones with a press conference they were having that Friday morning, so we set it up and everybody got their schedule updated to show Earth, Wind and Fire were playing instead. We can update the maps, pictures, artist info, stages, whatever the festival wants.

Lastly, we come in pretty cheap compared to how much it would cost to develop from scratch. You can get iPhone, Android and Blackberry for about the cost of writing a basic iPhone schedule app from scratch. Plus, you get a lot of features that would just be too difficult to get into a custom app in the time usually allotted to getting the apps pulled together.

Can you tell us how you created the Lollapalooza, Sasquatch Festival and other apps? What did you guys learn from how fans used last year’s mobile apps?

Lollapalooza 2009 was our first app and it was complete mayhem getting it pulled together in time for the festival. We didn’t have any infrastructure in place to make all of the data management easy so most of the content was put in by hand. From there we took what we built and tried to generalize everything so we could have a repeatable process. We all come from enterprise software backgrounds so we just applied what we had been doing for years in corporate software to this and it worked out.

Learning from last year’s apps, we really dug into the comments people left to figure out what we could have done better and what people wanted that wasn’t there. Our next big release will be the Lollapalooza 2010 app and it will have several features taken from review comments. We’re having to rush rollout for an app store feature, but we will release a cool feature a couple of weeks before Lollapalooza that should be handy to use at the festival.

What do you think is the biggest impact that mobile apps have had on the concert experience?

I really like being able to take pics and push them out there for people to see. I think if we can get our friend finder feature perfect then it will help people coordinate better. But at the end of the day I don’t want to be looking at my phone, I want to be watching!

How do you think mobile apps will continue to change concert culture?

For me at least, festivals are about finding bands that I haven’t heard much of but I like, so maybe apps will evolve to help concert fans discover bands ahead of time or go back and watch what we missed because fans can’t be in two places at one time.

If you could design the perfect or a “dream mobile app” for a concert fan, what features would it have and why?

I’d love for it to be able to record the show, either audio or video so I could go through it again later. I’d love to have it show me the set list after the show so I could remember some of the tunes I heard. And it would also need an ‘unlimited free beer’ coupon built in.

As a fan, what are your top three favorite concert experiences ever?

Lollapalooza last year was tops for me. Jazz Fest this year was a close second. And Austin City Limits festival about 5 or 6 years ago because it got me motivated to go learn guitar.

How would those concerts have changed if you had a mobile app to enhance your experience?

I have pictures from Lollapalooza last year where I still can’t figure out which band it was, so filling captions in automatically with the band name this year is going to be helpful. At Jazz Fest I wish we had more data for the food and crafts areas. I want pictures and descriptions of everything you can eat so you can really plan out your eating schedule. And I don’t think a mobile app would help my guitar playing, unless I could have pulled down the guitar tabs for the songs I heard at the festival.

How can concert fans help make your mobile apps better?

I’d like to let fans know that they comment really help us make the apps better. We always look at the comment fan note in the app reviews; we dig through the comments after each festival to find new ideas for next year. I think my favorite one this year was a comment on the Jazz Fest app asking for the weather forecast in the app so you can know what gear to bring. Cool idea and hopefully we can stick it in next year!

Thanks again to Todd and Seed Labs for taking the time to share their insights and concert experiences.

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