3. Does pedal power sound any different than traditional grid power?
Although our approach to powering events is iconoclastic, our approach to achieving professional sound quality is traditional. We use only trusted brands that professional audio engineers expect to see: microphones by Shure and Sennheiser, powered speakers by JBL, and mixing consoles from Allen & Heath and Yamaha. When you hire Studio Ecotopia you’ll get the same audio quality you’d expect from any professional sound company, but because of the audience’s engagement and the resulting community vibe, the event will feel different. The sonic difference between pedal powered sound, and grid powered sound is a qualitative, not quantitative difference.
1. How big of a crowd can I reach with a pedal powered sound system?
With 7 bikes in the wheelhouse, Studio Ecotopia can produce enough power to reach up to 750 people for music events, and 3000 people for speech events. On the other end of the spectrum, a single bike powering a single speaker works great for concerts of 100 people, and speaking events of 400.
If you have a larger event that you’d like to pedal-power (Coachella? Possible!), give us a holler for a custom quote. With enough advance notice, and budget, it’s possible to pedal-power an event of any size.
2. How hard is it to pedal one of the generator bikes?
The amount of pedaling effort needed to keep the system running smoothly is the same as one would put into a spirited ride to the grocery store. Though it’s no walk in the park, it’s also not a trip to the gym.
4. Does the volume get louder if people pedal harder?
Neither volume, nor sonic characteristics, are affected in any way by the amount of electricity that’s stored in the system at a given moment, or by the natural ebb and flow of the audience’s pedaling effort. The system has only two operating modes: on, or off - there is no gradation between them. If the power begins to fade out, the equipment doesn’t fade along with it, it simply goes along steadfastly until it abruptly switches off. Our equipment sounds and behaves the same way whether it’s plugged into a conventional wall outlet, or into a pedal-powered outlet.
5. Will the sound system turn off if people don't pedal hard enough?
Although temporary outages are unusual, they become possible if the pedaling effort droops for a long enough time. Of course, if the power drops, people immediately begin to pedal harder and the sound kicks back on. This immediate “energy feedback loop” is part of the magic and vitality of a pedal powered show. People can feel the difference of a show where all the power has been placed in their hands, and an outage makes this power concrete. After all, if people don't have the power to turn the system off - only to keep it on, what kind of power is that?
After a decade of producing pedal powered concerts, on the occasions when outages have occurred, we’ve found that they consistently have the effect of spontaneously galvanizing and super-charging the audience. People erupt into cheers for the volunteer pedalers, and the pedalers feel the energy of the crowd pouring into their legs, which suddenly seem able to pedal twice as hard - as if by some kind of wireless transmission of enthusiasm. Then just as quickly as it all went dark, the power leaps back to life, and audience, pedalers, and performers burst into a triumphant celebration. Almost like fans cheering their team on in a stadium. There’s a playful and almost euphoric sense of “We won! We did it!”
It's been said that another definition for "bad theater" is "predictable theater." Pedal power on the other hand, is a magic antidote for even the dryest of events. It creates a very real and refreshing amount of uncertainty and instability; a challenge for the audience to come together around or else have no functional sound system for the event they're attending. Unfailingly, when the reins of power are placed in their hands, we see people organically self-organize around the challenge, and consequently feel a sincere affection for, and ownership over the event that they just co-powered into existence. In a very real way, they become a co-producer, in the company of co-producers.
6. What about mechanical failures? Is there some kind of back up to keep the show going?
Redundancy and reliability are important to us, especially when dealing with a custom-built, vanguard technology like pedal power. As musicians and performers ourselves, we intrinsically understand the importance of the old adage: “the show must go on!” And to ensure that it does, in the unlikely event of a mechanical failure, we always travel with a battery power generator that has enough juice to provide electricity for your entire event twice over.
Switching between pedal power and battery power sources only takes about three seconds, and in a decade of producing pedal power events, we’ve only had to do it once: at an event back in 2015, when a fuse blew in our “Pedal Power Utility Box” (the main power hub for the system). After we identified the problem and the fuse was replaced, we seamlessly switched back from battery power to pedal power during a moment of applause - about twenty minutes after the original mishap. We’re committed to making sure there are zero reasons why you should sweat at your event, unless of course, you want to jump on a bike and pedal.
On a personal level, it’s also important to us that we present pedal power, and ecotopian culture in general, in a positive and reliable light when we unfurl it out in society. For all of these reasons, we come to every event prepared with the tools we need to make sure that the “show goes on” no matter what.
7. Who else has used Studio Ecotopia's pedal power?
Over the years, we've had the opportunity to provide pedal powered sound to a wide range of organizations. For a complete list, please see our Portfolio page.
Example: For their 30th anniversary, Headlands Center for the Arts (Sausalito, CA) planned a day-long celebration outdoors on their great lawn, centered around an epic mainstage built entirely out of driftwood. For the full lineup of bands they'd booked, they wanted a sound system that would match the organic character of their stage. HCA hired Studio Ecotopia to provide our 7-bike pedal powered sound system, as well as all the equipment that bands typically need (mics, monitors, mixing boards, DI's, snake, etc), in addition to an audio engineer to run the sound board. All equipment was transported to and from the event site by a crew of Studio Ecotopia roadies outfitted with bicycle trailers.
Example: The in-house event planner at San Francisco tech company Autodesk hired Studio Ecotopia to provide a pedal-powered DJ booth on two different occasions. Since Autodesk is most well known for creating the software that designers use to create 3D models of rocket ships, bridges, and other precision machines, the planner made an effort to bring in vendors that had a technologically sophisticated, but creative element to what they did. Surrounded by 3D models of Teslas, and skyscrapers, Studio Ecotopia-owner Gabe Dominguez DJ'd sets that drew people to the dance floor - so that even in suits and high-heels, people were stoked to jump on the bikes and go for it.
Example: Expecting a crowd of 1000 people, the organizers of The March Against Monsanto in Oakland, CA were excited to use pedal power to amplify their message. As a community advocating for transparency in food labeling, organic food, and democratic people power, they knew that a pedal power sound system would have an inherent resonance with the content it was ampliying, helping the messages spoken at the microphone resound at a deeper level. To maximize clarity and coverage, Studio Ecotopia provided a 6-point surround sound system to encompass the audience. Anywhere a person stood in the crowd, they wouldn't be far from a source-point of sound, allowing us to keep the volume levels at a comfortable level, while maintaining presence. Pedalers of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds enjoyed not only "speaking truth to power," but speaking in a form of power that was harmonious with their values.