The Best in Festivals & Conferences: Burning Man

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Final Chapter – Burning Man

I had to keep Burning Man for the last post…I haven’t been YET but I must. I’ll try to summarize it as best as I can but as the organizers say themselves: “Trying to explain what Burning Man is to someone who has never been to the event is a bit like trying to explain what a particular color looks like to someone who is blind”

The event started as a bonfire ritual on the summer solstice in the 80s in San Francisco where a few people burned a giant wooden structure in the form of a man. Therefore Burning Man…From 1986 to 1994, it was a free gathering promoting arts mostly. In 1995 they began charging for the event and it went from 35$ (4000 participants) to $420 with 52000 participants (in 2012).

Burning Man is music festival yes, but as I’ve been explaining in other posts, this one is another clear example of how some of the most popular music festivals are branding themselves as an experience, a vacation, or a unique community. I hate to say branding ‘cause it sounds so fake but it is in some way, even if their roots, history and traditions are legitimate.

On the artist side, Burning Man is an amazing opportunity for artists to get exposure and grow their fan base. Mostly electronic music is played and it is a great opportunity for up-and-coming DJs to get heard. In fact Burning Man helped a couple DJs such as BassNectar to kickstart their career.

On the festival experience side, Burning Man nails it. The conditions are harsh but all the traditions, the people and the music create a unique experience for festival goers. Each and everyone attending Burning Man is encouraged to participate in the festival and has an important value in the community. Burning Man also developed a strong culture based on 10 core values: inclusion & respect of everyone, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy. In fact, no cash transactions are permitted between attendees. Cash can only be used for a select few charity, fuel and sanitation vendors.

So to conclude, as I been describing in my posts, music festivals are now becoming more of an excuse to detach yourself from reality and join a fantastic, utopian world, based on different values and rules. But isn’t the main focus supposed to be on the artists? Are artists and music simply becoming an excuse to gather like-minded individuals and create communities? And even if it is the case, does it really matter?

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The Best in Festivals & Conferences: Kazantip

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CH. IX – Kazantip

Kazantip looks f**d up. Really. I wanted to write about it because I still don’t really understand if it’s a music festival, a country or a giant sex party. Whatever it is I want to go, but first let me do a bit of research.

Ok so either their branding is amazing, or the organizers are slightly crazy (both probably). Kazantip seems like an electronic & dance music festival, Eastern European style. The festival is held yearly in Crimean peninsula in Ukraine and goes on for about a month non-stop, 21 hours a day. It starts in July until the end of August and welcomes around 100 000 people.

They probably smoked some good stuff but their project looks pretty well established. Kazantip is presented as a Republic where the festival passes are called visas and where the festivalgoers are proclaimed citizens. Kind of like Shambhala, which I wrote about earlier, the festival is an excuse for a giant reunion of like-minded individuals in a utopian society with its own laws and rules in opposition with the outside (normal) world. This is the perfect example of festival (or event) focused on the experience primarily rather than on the music. Hundreds of DJs perform there alongside dancers, musicians, and other performers spread over 6 dance floors by the ocean. There are also loads of bars and restaurants, open-air cinemas, and kite-surfing stations. Kazantip is governed by the President of the Republic, the founder of the festival, and has its own foreign ministry, which takes care of all communication with the “imperfect world outside.” There you will also find ministers of happiness, dance and rave, intellect, visuals and illusions, etc. Visit (http://kazantip-republic.com/#/about/) for more info.

International Festival? Kazantip is looking to expand overseas such as other electronic music festivals like Mutek and Sonar have been doing. They are openly inviting people to propose partnerships with them on their website at http://kazantip.com/participate.html

Finally, Kazantip citizens are encouraged to be free and walk around naked if they wish too. Actually in all the videos I’ve seen, there is a lot of nakedness. I would love to post here all the videos I found but I’ll let you find them yourself. But check this one out, it’s the initial speech of the President, simply amazing.

The Best in Festivals & Conferences: Lowlands

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CH. VIII – Lowlands Festival

My wonderful couchsurfing host in Amsterdam told me about this music festival that takes place in the Netherlands every August. It looks like one of those amazingly huge party that I would definitely put on my bucket list. The festival has been going steady since the new millenium and now attracts around 55 000 people ( = to the population of Qila Didar Singh, in Pakistan) and over 200 acts, spread over 10 stages. That’s a lot of stages. You would need one of those wheely things the “security guards” have at the Palau to get around.

The main sponsor of the festival is Grolsch, who have a stage to their name. Converse is also present, of course. Most of the stages are inside huge tents to provide shelter from rain, which is something you definitely want to consider if you are thinking of organizing your own music festival. Burning Man and other big festivals sometimes neglect this aspect and the conditions become so harsh that it affects negatively the festival experience for the normal festivalgoer, as opposed to the one that loves dancing in the mud and the rain and having a tent full of dirt and sleeping in shit for a couple days and being sick for weeks after the festival. These guys don’t care if you set up tents or not, but they’re usually Australian.

Genius marketing: I read that in 1997, a band called Life of Agony (?) released a CD of their unplugged set at the festival, obviously entitled Unplugged at the Lowlands Festival ’97. This is a brilliant way, for an emerging music festival to get promotion and free advertising. It doesn’t say to what extent the festival actually contributed in the making / production of the album but this is definitely an idea that I am keeping in mind, since it’s a win-win for both the artist and the festival in terms of exposure.

Lowlands features music of course but also theater, comedy, literature & films. It’s basically a cultural festival. There line-up is very big and varied (http://lowlands.nl/programma/) but the usual festival bands are playing (2doorcinemaclub, hot chip, bloc party, feist, black keys, boy & bear, of monsters & men, etc.) with a lot of bands that I’ve never heard of. Their website is a bit too funky for me, but then again, they grow the best grass in the world.

The regular festival ticket costs 185 euros and includes a pass to the 3 days of festival and the camping spot.

By the way…I just found this site, if you are interested in knowing more about festivals: http://www.wikifestivals.com/

I didn’t find any recap or official after-festival video like most festivals do (and what Tomorrowland masters). Personally I think it would be crucial nowadays but they put up a lot of video of entire shows. But since putting a full-show of one only would probably not have pleased everybody, here is a video that sums it up pretty well:

The Best in Festivals & Conferences: Splendour in The Grass

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CH. VII – Splendour in the Grass

Splendour in the Grass is one of the most amazing, if not the best, music festival in Australia. The festival began in 2001 as a one-day music event co-promoted by Village Sounds and Secret Service music companies. It now lasts 3 days and welcomes around 20 000 festivalgoers every year. I attended the 2010 edition, as I was driving up the east coast of the land down under in the beat-up van I had bought over there. Personally, I had never seen anything quite like it. The festival was set-up in a small town in the middle of nowhere and from the parking/camping lot, all you could see were tents and campers. 20 000 of them.

One of the best aspects of this festival is the line-up. Every year, they book a good chunk of the most popular and up-and-coming bands. When I went I saw The Strokes, Empire of the Sun, Florence & The Machine, Mumford & Sons, Passion Pit, Hot Chip, K-Os, Wolfmother, Angus & Julia Stone, LCD Soundsystem, Ben Harper, and the list goes on with more incredible artists. Actually, there are so many bands that you possibly can’t see them all. I was lucky to have the energy to watch about the third of the line-up play. Shows are spread out over about 6 stages, each allocated to a specific sponsor. And of course, because of the crazy band line-up, ticket prices are pretty ridiculously high. A festival and camping pass costs about 450AUD$. I was lucky to get a discounted ticket from a friend that worked at Converse. And I realized that lots of brands want to be associated with this festival because of its reputation. I think there was even more brand promo kiosks than food trucks.

However those high tickets price don’t scare the fans as the festival usually sells out within a day. 20 000 x 450$, you do the math. But I mean, it’s legitimate when you know how much these bands cost for the promoters. So I particularly wanted to talk about this festival to give an example of festival who’s main problem is its popularity. Each year, the demand exceeds the supply of tickets available and that creates a major issue for selling tickets. I mean this year, the festival SOLD-OUT IN 43 *$& MINUTES. Brand value eh, ya. In 2008, 70 000 people were trying to buy 18 000 tickets at the same time. So year after year, Splendour had to refine its ticket selling strategy to avoid ticket scalping, ticket sites crashing down, etc.

Finally, obviously due to the popularity of the festival and the great line-up every year, the smaller bands that play there benefit from Splendour’s brand value and get exposure to a very targeted market of fans. Here’s a little video of how the artists perceive the festival.

The Best in Festivals & Conferences: Mutek

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CH. VI – Mutek

Mutek is Sonar’s main competitor. It is an international music festival that promotes electronic music and digital arts. This event, based around music, sound and new technologies, was founded in 2000 in Montreal. During 5 days and 5 nights or early June, more than 100 artists, panelists and industry professionals participate in this festival, which has become one of the most popular underground/niche festival of its kind in North America.

Not long after its debut in Montreal, Mutek got a lot of international attention and the organizers seized the opportunity to export the festival in other countries such as Mexico, Chile, Spain, Argentina and Brazil. Everywhere it went, Mutek tried to keep the same branding and culture, only slightly adapting their concept to foreign markets. While expanding it always kept a balance between experimental and more accessible projects/acts/music, between new, emerging and more established artists, between local and international content and between music and digital art, etc. (1).

Since this festival caters to a niche market of mostly minimal electronic music fans, it has to attract an dispersed audience from all over the continent to make it profitable. It also has to make sure its clients are loyal and return year after year to discover new artists and technology. For artists (DJs & producers mostly) and their managers, Mutek is an incredible platform for international exposure. Over the past decade, the festival has presented electronic music’s superstars such as Nicolas Jaar, Junior Boys, etc. while always keeping numerous spots for fresh new talent. Many of those new talents, such as Akufen, Deadbeat, Guillaume Coutu Dumont have gone to build career due to showcasing at Mutek. The exposure for local artists alongside established DJs is therefore always at the center of this music festival.

Another interesting aspect of Mutek is that it is a non-profit festival that is supported by public founding from different art councils, which support and encourage taking risks (content wise) and from the office of tourism, which encourages a more attractive festival to the eyes of foreigners, with renown names included in the line-up.

Here’s an interesting interview with Mutek’s founder that sums it up pretty well:

(1). http://reviews.headphonecommute.com/2010/05/27/conversations-with-alain-mongeau/

The Best in Festivals & Conferences: Ibiza International Music Summit

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CH. V – IBIZA INTERNATIONAL MUSIC SUMMIT

The Ibiza International Music Summit (IMS) is a hub for the world’s leading professionals in dance and electronic music. It is held annually in Ibiza at the end of May and lasts 3 days. It is really an electronic music festival combined with a serious music summit/conference offering the opportunity for all businessmen and artists to listen and be apart of vital conversations with the world’s leading figures across music, business and digital strategy. Most of the artists, DJs and keynote speakers from the music industry partake in forward-thinking discussions, interviews, panels, case studies and conferences about the latest trends and strategies in the music (dance & electronic) industry on topics such as Twitter, Spotify, Touring models, Foursquare, etc.

The IMS obviously features networking events and a bunch of parties & shows such as the IMS Grand Finale Festival, a spectacular open-air celebration of the very best in modern electronic music with DJs such as Pete Tong, Carl Cox, E.A.S.E. from Nightmares On Wax, Calvin Harris, Bob Sinclair, etc.

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Ibiza being such the important platform it is for electronic and dance music; it just seems logical that the EDM summit was set-up there. It’s been running since 2008 and has grown since to welcome, yearly, about 425 paying delegates (285 euros registration fee) 100 artists, 250 media person, 200 sponsors attendees and 25 000 PARTY PEOPLE (clubbers) attending IMS related events and parties.

This seems like one of the most important place for Managers of DJs to create contacts and partnerships. It also gives a great exposure to DJs who are participating in the event or in related events in clubs around Ibiza.

The Best in Festivals & Conferences: Shambhala

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CH. IV – SHAMBHALA

Shambhala is most unique music festival I’ve ever been to. Born in 1998, it has grown to become one of the largest and most longest running electronic music festival in Canada.

It began as big party held on a huge private farm in the West Kootenays, in British Columbia. The promoters of the festival used to rent that land from the family that owned the farm, but as it became more successful, the farmers themselves decided to actually “buy” the festival and operate it themselves. The festival now lasts 5 days and 4 nights, hosts 10 000 people in the middle of the nature, and offers a mix of electronic music, from hard trance to really weird and trippy techno.

I wanted to write about this festival because there are a lot of weird and wonderful things about it. The main thing is the sense of community it has developed. Everyone in BC knows about Shambhala, has been there at least once and still talks about it like the best experience of their lives. As if everyone was part of the experience, of the loving community of Shambhala.

I got a job there in the summer of 2012 and road-tripped from Montreal to get there. I was eager to see why exactly people were so enthused about it and how it could be so different than other electronic festivals. I now understand why it was so hard to understand…Because it is so hard to explain. The special thing about Shambhala is the VIBE created by that sense of community, freedom and love. Entering the site, you are warned that you are entering a utopian world with its own rules where no judging is permitted and where everyone must love everyone. Sounds like a hippy, happy, druggy, fantastic festival. It is. So everyone says hi to everyone, everybody is on a few different drugs, and no one sleeps.

Similarly to Tomorrowland, a LOT of attention is paid to the theatrics, décor, audiovisuals and atmosphere at Shambhala. The difference is that everything is “homemade” or built by members of the community. Most of the DJs (except for some of the headliners) are from British Columbia and also part of the “family”. Most of the festivalgoers are from BC and 95% of the volunteers as well. I could write about that festival for pages so here is quickly what I thought was most important:

–       the sound. PK stereo systems sponsor a few of the stages. I’ve never hear something so loud in my entire life. They literally install WALLs of sound in front of the stages. I still don’t get why people like to listen to music so loud.

–       the 6 stages. Every stage is UNBELIEVABLE and managed & operated by its head DJ. I think that was a clever way to involve your “employees” and make them feel special and important (they actually are). Therefore, each stage manager books his line-up of artists and is responsible for every concert held at his stage during the entire festival.

–       The costumes. At Shambhala, everybody is whoever he/she wants to be because no ones cares. So everyone is costumed, and some take that WAY more seriously than others.

–       A “Sober” Festival. Shambhala prohibits alcohol on the festival site because (and it’s true) it would completely change the atmosphere of the festival. So intense security muscle guys search every single car that gets it the festival and take everything (alcohol and drug they can find). We all wonder what they do with it after. Result: everyone is on drugs. There are a couple of overdoses everyday and a community built hospital on-site.

–       Sponsorship-free festival. I realized after a day that I hadn’t seen any advertising and it hit me. Shambhala is a sponsorship-free festival. The community supports everything and they make their money on tickets entry only. THAT is spectacular for an event of that size…

http://www.shambhalamusicfestival.com

The Best in Festivals & Conferences: Sónar

CH. III – Sónar

Sonar International Festival of Advanced Music and New Media Art (let’s just call it Sonar) will host its 20th edition in June of 2013. The festival started in 1994 in Barcelona and since then expanded its operations to Brazil, Asia, South Africa and North America. About 15 employees work in the organization year-round and that number increases to about 500 employees, as the festival gets closer. I asked the COO of Sonar, Ventura Barba, if any of those 500 workers were volunteers and he responded that he doesn’t believe in people working for free. Props.

The festival lasts three days and two nights and attracts about 80 000 people annually from all parts of the globe. It has become, according to Barba, an international destination for festival goers because of the great reputation it has built over the past two decades. It focuses on avant-garde and experimentation. That’s why, year after year, the festival includes a good combination of underground, up-and-coming electronic artists along with more popular artists (LCD Soundsystem, M.I.A., Cut Copy, Boys Noize, Deadmaus) in its line-up. They structured their artistic programme in a way that up-and-coming artists play during the day at Sonar by Day where there are concerts, showcases, a professional zone and an exhibition area. The focus of Sonar by Day is the discovery of new talent while Sonar by Night presents the leading international names and major shows. This is why Sonar is an amazing platform and emerging artists. They get exposure and play in front of curious, attentive people eager to discover new artists and bands.

An interesting part of the organization I found was their partnership with RedBull Music Academy, which has its own stage and brings its own talent, picked out directly from their Academy. That’s a good use of a sponsor and a brilliant way to involve them directly in the organization of the festival.

The festival also attracts professionals of the industry with SonarPro, a place for the industry guys to create contacts and do business. In their words, it’s a meeting point for an audience eager for new ideas and specifically for professionals from around the world from various sectors in the creative industries.

I find the branding of Sonar really reflects their product. Creative, a bit underground, weirdly original and different. Instead of videos with the artists, the crowd and all that shazam, they present a new video each year, introducing the festival. They’ve even turned some of these videos into award-winning films. Here’s their 2012 video.

The Best in Festivals & Conferences: SXSW

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CH. II – South by South West

Established in 1987, South by Southwest Music & Media Conference and Festival (SXSW) is one of the biggest music conference in the US. “By day, thousands of conference registrants network in the halls of the Austin Convention Center on their way to do business in the SXSW Trade Show, sit in on informative panel discussions featuring some of the industry’s key players, gain insight from legendary keynote speakers or plan out their abundant party schedules. At night, SXSW showcases hundreds upon hundreds of musical acts from around the globe on over one hundred stages in downtown Austin” (sxsw.com)

SXSW is held yearly in Austin Texas, in March and lasts 10 days. Like all music festivals, it’s a big party. In 2012, more than 2000 performers were playing in about 90 venues. This year, headliners included Talib Kweli, Lil’ Wayne and Kanye. But it’s also one of the most important showcase events for artists that want exposure. While lots of established artists perform at SXSW, up-and-coming bands can also apply online, through Sonicbids to get the chance to be selected to showcase in front of the most important players of the music industry, from artist managers to producer, publishers, and so on. If they are selected, they usually have 30 minutes to perform their set and give it all they got. Unlike bigger names, most of these rising artists showcasing do not get paid. The exposure is the main purpose here.

There is also a bunch of established artists from other countries that play at SXSW to gain exposure in the United States. A good example is the talented British singer/songwriter Michael Kiwanuka (watch video here). His performance at SXSW 2012 helped increase awareness for the release of his album Home Again in the US a couple months later. Therefore SXSW is a good first step for non-US rising artist to export their music and penetrate the US market.

To finish, here’s a little video by Forbes about how rising artists end up playing at SXSW, sorry about the first 20 seconds…

The Best in Festivals & Conferences: Tomorrowland

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Introduction

My blog will go over and review the best music festivals and music conferences around the world. I feel the last 10 years have been festival decade. Is it because I stopped playing Nintendo 10 years ago or have music & arts festivals been spreading like HPV around the world? Anyways, I’m interested in learning more about the different strategies event promoters use to market their festival and keep it attractive year after year for the consumers and for artists. Additionally, festival and music conferences are always a good place for managers to showcase and/or discover new talent. Nowadays, some of the biggest music festivals are actually part of a music conference or showcase. Feel free to comment about your personal experiences.

CH.1 – Tomorrowland

Tomorrowland is quite possibly the biggest electronic and dance music festival in the world. It started in 2005 and is held every summer in Belgium. In 2012, 180 000 people from 75 different countries attended the festival. 400 DJs spread across 15 different stages. The 400 biggest EDM DJs.

One thing about Tomorrowland is that they put SO MUCH MONEY, effort and time into the settings, decor and general atmosphere. The main stage is just unbelievable. Actually this is part of what constitutes their most important competitive advantage: the amazing experience they offer. Every year, they reinvest a lot of money into the “show” itself. Not only are DJs of top quality, but the theatrics, décor, lights and props are all considered as essential parts of the consumer’s experience. All your senses are in awe at Tomorrowland. They even have a helicopter flying around the crowd who’s main task is to drop confetti on people.

For the DJs and their managers, Tomorrowland is one the biggest and most important show to play. Not only are they probably getting paid tremendous amounts of money to play but it is a unique chance for amazing international exposure.

One thing I noticed also is that they put a lot of importance in the people attending the show, the crowd is important for them and it shows. 60% of their footage in their promotional video is of the crowd. Gives a chance for people to be in the video, see themselves in it and feel special and that’s another genius marketing trick. Involve the crowd as much as possible.

So that you get a better idea of what it Tomorrow Land is like, here is their official post-festival video of the 2012 edition. A 20 min recap is a little long I think, but hey why not? What else to do with all this cash? But really this video is awesome, 20min of goose bumps. It’s like watching Karate Kid before a fight at 9 years old. Like watching The Mighty Ducks before your hockey finals. But this time it’s about partying.

It’s also a good opportunity to play “pick the hottest girl in the movie” game (my vote goes to 4:45 – 6:58 2nd spot). Yep, sex sales. In fact last year it sold 180 000 tickets (within a day). While the rest of the 2 million people on the waiting list had to watch it from their couch. 2 MILLION. “Hey what’s up? I threw a party in July, 2 million people wanted to come.” Props.

or Click here to watch the video.