The Music Festivals are Booming, Thank Technology

By Michael Lucas

raymond-roker-200x300Technology forever changed how the music industry does business. Remember Napster? Argue good or bad—the end results are today’s thriving, ever evolving tours of live music.

Festivals promoters, bands, and marketers are reaching their growing audiences in ways we never imagined—even just a decade ago. This year we will see more music festivals than ever before—and with good reason. Music is to be experienced live and with others. But that’s not to say the festival experience is limited to attendees. Today’s festivals stream live, trend in all social media outlets, and dominate the music, fashion and pop culture media. “Thank you, technology.”

“Technology affects every component of the festival experience, says Raymond Roker, Goldenvoice’s Director of Content Strategy and CEO of Roker, a champion in today’s festival technology, is also first to say “nothing brought about by technology has replaced the communal vibe of a sunset performance in a big field.”

We sat down with Roker to talk all things music fest, finding out among other things that his festival roots date back to his first concert experience—Black Sabbath in ’83. Now that’s style.


Why are festivals so popular right now?

In some ways, the popularity of music festivals is a result of the success of the Internet, a technology that too often replaces human physical interaction. The proliferation of music across all genres and geographies via the Web encouraged people to explore more than ever before. And festivals are the perfect petri dish.

How are music fans consuming music today at festivals? And how is that different than before?

Festivals are a relatively new thing for America, at least in the modern context. Yes, classics like Monterey Pop, Woodstock, the US Festival and even the New Orleans Jazz Fest—still one of the largest in the world—came long before things like Bonnaroo and Coachella. But the modern American festival is essentially about as old as the iPod. Which says a lot about how music fans consume these days sans boundaries.

So how is technology enhancing the experience of a festival?

Technology affects every component of the festival experience. From the obvious like social media, live streams and ticketing. To the less so like RFID, sound technology and aerial drone footage. But nothing brought about by technology has replaced the communal vibe of a sunset performance in a big field.

coachella social media

Do you see things trending toward the smaller “local” festivals or are the big Coachellas and Bonaroos still king?

Fragmentation is upon us. Just the same as mass is. Small markets, scenes and tribes are establishing their beachheads, which is great. The ability for smaller creators to amplify and promote via the Internet allows micro festivals to establish themselves too.

Does that make festival producers change the way they market to their audiences?

Yes. Like everybody with something to sell, promoters are in the business of reaching customers and taking good care of them. Nothing replaces a quality show, but being a good marketer and knowing the effective use of the toolkits available today is essential.

Who out there in the festival world is doing it right?

Well I’m biased because I work for a great festival company. But I’ll say that what Insomniac does is special in the sense that Pasquale Rotella (founder/CEO) decided to make his fans and attendees the “headliners.” And while that may at first maybe seem trite, it’s really ingenious. It is part of giving back and acknowledging the real fuel of your events and putting things in perspective for your artists too.

Events like Tomorrowland have done great in the world of videos. So does Ultra. Check their YouTube views—incredible. But I’ll say that within every festival organization, there is a lot of discussion around how to harness all the new tools of marketing, from social to digital content to RFID to branded integrations. It’s a very new world for everybody.

instagram: @edc_lasvegas

instagram: @edc_lasvegas

Do you think the corporate sponsorship of today’s festivals will reach limits in what is palatable by today’s concert goer? Any media backlash? SXSW for example? iTunes Festival?

Every show or festival is different. iTunes Festival never once hid where its sponsorship agenda was. So you get what you signed up for. Hopefully the overall remit of the show is worth the bombardment of advertising. Different audiences are going to expect different things. I don’t think there’s a tipping point that fans en masse will stop showing up because you brought in too much sponsorship. But I do think that if you take your eyes off doing a great event and innovating, and sponsorship has blunted some of that slowing momentum with an influx of dollars, you could wake up with a not so hot brand some year.

Consumer appetite for sponsorship is evolving. And all sides are trying to keep up with both the consumption of brand messages and the nuances of what really turns off fans. I will say that people that decry sponsorship and brands are probably gonna hate on you despite anything you do to mitigate brands and keep your event credible. Above everything, you have to have your event brand’s compass pointing in the right direction, but that’s an internal discussion mostly.

Itunes Festival Coldplay 2014

What makes for the best festival experience?

Being taken care of as a fan and patron. Being treated right by staff, security, bar staff, whoever. Being given a ton of value for your hard earned money. Be allowed to roam and discover the unexpected treasures of any great event. And having a way to reflect and celebrate it all again months or years later.

Can you discuss this new generation of concert goers, armed with smartphone cameras, etc.

I believe the children are our future.

Ha. But where is all this content they’re creating going? Social Media? How is this changing the landscape of things?

Almost every camera capable of video is HD now. So that means if you can hold your hands still (a tall order, actually), then you can record a bootleg of a pretty decent live show. And of course every camera or phone is light years better than anything you had a decade ago. So the content that’s making it to social is better and more creative than ever. GoPros are everywhere and your iPhone does slowmo! Festival creators can’t really manage or keep up with the fan appetite for sharable content. So we’re at an interesting crossroads where content consumption and premium content inventory are at odds. It will (have to) resolve itself in time.



Coachella photos courtesy of Goldenvoice/Photo: Oliver Walker