5G Festival: A glimpse into the future of remote productions

At the tail end of 2021, live events specialists gathered in separate locations across England for the third test of the 5G Festival project. The goal; to have band members performing in remote locations online, mixed in real-time at Metropolis Studios and sent 60 miles to Brighton Dome, producing a seamless live performance with an in-person audience.

The 5G Festival project is arguably one of the most quintessential post-lockdown stories covered in TPi since March 2020. A band performing together, online in real time, and then mixed in a custom built Dolby Atmos studio, with the intention of streaming to an in-person audience, and viewers at home. Along with showing how far networking has come, this project challenged the general conventions of a live concert as it offered a solution to allowing greater access for audiences to enjoy music in multiple locations.

The concept has been led by Digital Catapult, one of the UK’s leading advanced digital technology centres and 5G specialists, pulling in several supporters such as Audiotonix, Sonosphere and Mativision to work in collaboration with Brighton Dome and Brighton Festival, along with telecommunications service provider and sponsor, Virgin Media O2. 

Digital Catapult CEO, Jeremy Silver outlined the goals of the project: “As live performers have been totally prevented from working because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of bright minds have been focused on how to create exciting alternative experiences for a virtual world,” he tweeted. “The result of this work was an exciting bid into the 5GCreate competition to produce a virtual festival that could offer 5G enabled experiences in which performers could reach audiences in a new way. We’re thrilled now to be able to bring the 5G Festival to life, working with leading venues, organisations and artists to push forward with the next evolution of entertainment.”

With two other successful trials, the 5G Festival team joined forces at the end of November in advance of next year’s main event. For this final test, experienced session musicians J. Appiah, Mitch Jones, Henty Guy and Smiley Wade were set up in two different locations, each with Nreal AR glasses and a screen to view other musicians. With no click track, it was imperative that the band could play in time with one another as if they were in the same room, a feat that the 5G team seem to have remarkably achieved. 

As TPi sat in the control room and drummer Smiley Wade smashed through the set list, it was hard to believe that he was watching and listening in real time to a number of other musicians playing miles away. Audiotonix’s Dan Page demystified some of the audio wizardry. At each stage of the audio chain there were a number of products from the Audiotonix Group with each player using a KLANG:kontroller to monitor their own IEM mix, a DiGiCo S21 that took the musicians feed and sending it to a Calrec Audio box via the AES67 network. 

Each of the musicians’ feeds were then sent to the mixing room in Metropolis Studios where engineer Phil Wright created a fully immersive Dolby Atmos mix of the performance. “There were several different workflows at play here,” explained Page. “We’re sending audio from each site to every musician so they can hear one another. Then we have the overall mix which is being put together at Metropolis and then streamed back to Brighton for an in-person crowd to hear the performance.”  

Page was excited to report that in this latest test the team made significant strides forward in preparation for next year. “We are pushing the audio via the 5G network into some of the venues with the goal being in the final event we’ll be able to transmit audio into a number of venues simultaneously.” 

He also reported that the feedback for all the musicians involved had been very positive. “It opens a lot of doors for artists who, with this technology, may not even have to travel to a studio to play with one another which would certainly lead to less logistical issues.” 

Similarly enthused about what the project could mean for the music industry moving forward was Sonosphere Creative Director, Jamie Gosney. “The ground we are breaking here could really change the way people can enjoy live music,” he commented. “For example, rather than an artist going to multiple stadiums on a world tour, they could do one show that is then streamed to local pubs or village greens. And with the added element of the immersive Dolby Atmos mix of the show you are really improving the audience experience.” 

As a fellow supporter of the 5G Festival, Anthony Karydis of Mativision, shared these thoughts. “When you start talking about streaming events, the immediate question promoters often worry about is how it will affect ticket sales,” he mused. 

“I always point to examples such as Coachella and Lollapalooza who have embraced streaming their events for years and have only gone to increase the publicity and hype of the event.” 

Mativision has been at the forefront of capturing live shows since 2012. Specialising in 360° shoots, the company has created visual immersive content for American Idol through to bands like Muse and Biffy Clyro, among others. 

“I think more people are coming around to the idea that there is an alternative solution to a gruelling three-year tour around stadiums. You can reduce tour lengths but maintain high attendance levels by distributing content to other sites such as pubs or other incredible visual and audio venue experiences or audiences at home,” Karydis explained. 

The shared ideals of Sonosphere and Mativision have led them to lay the groundwork for a brand new company called Live Revolution – that the two hope will become the “ultimate live events streaming company.” 

“It’s all about bringing communities together,” Gosney elaborated. “There is going to be a shift in the events industry and a change in the way people want to tour, not to mention the issue with being more environmentally conscious,” he furthered. “With a streaming model with high quality audio like we are achieving at the 5G festival, suddenly 20 stadium gigs could be turned into 200 venues with the artist only having to play one show.” It was certainly an interesting take on what the future of live shows might look like.

Before leaving Metropolis Studios, Virgin Media O2 Head of Technical Trials, David Owens, shared his key takeaways from the project: “The idea of streaming shows into other venues very much fits into the O2 Academy model, so we could stream music events in these venues on nights when there is no live music for example. 

“Obviously, we believe people should still go to live shows as much as possible, but that shouldn’t stop others from being involved and enjoying the show somewhere else or at home. The lessons we have learned during the 5G Festival will ensure that those enjoying the hybrid version of shows get the same experience as those that attend in person.” 

And the key to this lies in the name “5G”, Owens said in closing. “We see 5G as giving us the options to do all these local events and streaming shows into remote locations.” 

With another successful trial the 5G Festival team eagerly looks forward to next year and the main showcase event in March.

This article originally appeared in issue #267 of TPi, which you can read here.