Audio tags are looking more and more like the new QR code — not only are they way less ugly than those jagged black-on-white squares, but you don’t need to take a picture of anything in order for them to work. (See also: Shazam and the Super Bowl.)
A startup called SonicNotify embeds inaudibly high-pitched audio signals within music or any other audio track. When a compatible app hears that signal, it triggers any available smartphone function to link you to websites, display text, bring up map locations, display a photo, let you vote on which song a performer plays next, and so on.
SonicNotify was developed with help from Cantora Records + Labs, which made its name by funding (for $400, initially) and releasing the band MGMT‘s massively-popular records. As part of its newly-minted technology division, Cantora, which is also a record label and publishing company, is offering $25,000 to $100,000 to promising startups, among the first of which is SonicNotify.
Lady Gaga could have used its technology on her Monster Ball tour [Updated: Cantora's Jesse Israel specifically mentioned the Monster Ball tour (see below), but was using the example hypothetically. Evolver.fm regrets the error], and Coachella 2013 and other events are next in line. To interact via SonicNotify, fans can use any SonicNotify-enabled app. If you want to see it in action now, you can do so with the official Sonic Experiences app.
“[SonicNotify] transmits a high-frequency sound wave through speakers — we can’t hear the frequency but smartphones can hear it, so we’re able to unlock content at live events, TV shows, and through the web,” said Jesse Israel, co-founder of Cantora Records + Labs, a record label at NYC Music Tech Meetup. “We’ve closed deals [the deal is not done; Israel now says the company is "working with"] with Lady Gaga for The Monster Ball Tour [which ran from 2009 to 2011], we’re doing Coachella, we’re doing stuff for Fashion Week next week powering 32 stages, college sports, partnerships with Twitter and Spotify — so it’s kind of a cool example of how we’re able to put pieces together and help a technology get off the ground.”
Buyers and journalists with the app installed at Fashion Week will be zapped an image of each model, the instant they step onto the catwalk so they can examine the outfits up-close, in real time. Similarly impressive capabilities exist within the music realm. Best of all, the audience doesn’t even need to be actively running the app in order for it to pick up on those inaudible signals.
“With Sonic, we can unlock anything that your iPhone or Android can do, as long as the SonicNotify SDK is built into an app that’s running in the background on your phone,” explained Israel. “For example, some of the stuff we’re doing with Gaga is when she is performing, mid-set, everyone in the arena gets a notification which lets them choose which song she plays for her encore.”
Location is also a part of this, because each speaker in a venue can transmit a different tone, opening up new possibilities for live concert participation along the lines of what we saw with inConcertApp.
“We can also target sections through radius with frequencies, so we can have Section C’s phones turn into purple hearts, while Section F on the other side of the arena has red squares,” added Israel.
According to Israel, Cantora’s basic idea is that app developers are not unlike bands, in that they might have all the skills in the world, but those skills don’t amount to much unless they are properly deployed. The company is currently working with SonicNotify and two other startups, and it plans to fund 8 to 10 in total over the next two years.