In what has been a weird time for the live music industry thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen a lot of innovation in the world of events. We have seen forward-thinking problem solving across the industry with livestreaming taking off and virtual music festivals taking place in video game lobbies. After the successful collaboration between 1001Tracklists and Genesis, hosting their Top 101 producers celebration in a Minecraft lobby, we decided that we had to talk to them about it.
We spoke with 1001Tracklists CMO Jacob Merlin about the unique challenges that go into producing such an event, the virtual landscape the live events industry is taking hold of, and the future of events as a whole. Get a taste of the madness with the official after movie and check out the interview below. You can enjoy all of the sets from the festival on their Soundcloud page; if you enjoy them, be sure to head over to the 1001Tracklists website for—what else?—the full tracklist from each set!
Grit Daily: Gaming and virtual festivals seem like an unlikely match at first, but the success of your event and the Travis Scott x Fortnite event seems to indicate that this is a trend that will stick around. What do you think?
Jacob Merlin: Definitely, I think that it’s a trend that is here to stay. There are certainly a lot of overlaps between the fanbases of electronic music artists and gamers, and we’ve only just started to see those avenues really be explored. They were already being explored before COVID, but now with everyone stuck at home and everything going digital, you’ve seen the crossover events rapidly increase. Gaming is also definitely a unique way to connect with some younger audiences. It was funny how many artists and artists’ managers mentioned to us how excited their kids were for the Minecraft festival experience. Obviously, they’re excited more from the gaming perspective, but it then gives them a chance to discover new artists and music.
GD: There are a lot of unique opportunities with virtual festivals and concerts that would be logistically impossible in the past, giving attendees an experience they may not have been able to get otherwise. How do you think the industry will keep pushing forward?
JM: I think interaction is definitely the name of the game here. The first thing is the ease of artist-to-fan direct engagement in chat. With pre-recorded sets that are then steamed, artists can chat with their fans in real-time and see how fans respond to their music in a whole new way, almost comparable to reading a dancefloor. It’s definitely an extra incentive for a fan to tune in to a stream if they know that their favorite artist will be answering fan questions and interacting.
The next level of interactivity I see coming is fans being able to influence the environment of the stream in real-time. Both as an option for all participants – for example, real-time polling of what color scheme or graphic to display next – as well as an option for paid / tipping opportunities, like donating and setting off a special effect, or getting your face put on the stream.
GD: What do you think makes music festivals hosted in online game lobbies more appealing than livestreams?
JM: Definitely having the first person point of view and the ability to interact with the environment. You’re in control of where you go, what you’re looking at, and what you’re interacting with. We had some posts on socials that looking for friends in the festival world within our Minecraft virtual event was the most normal thing that they’ve done in 2020 haha. I think that people miss creating and enjoying their festival experiences, and so the gaming world allows for more options, choices, interactivity, and a greater sense of community than a livestream by itself (which you could maybe get from the chat or putting fans on screen via Zoom).
GD: What challenges go into putting on a virtual event like this?
JM: Quite a lot of challenges went into putting together the virtual Minecraft event. Together with Genesis, we approached things as if we were putting on a real festival, so many of the challenges were the same. There was the build team, who were physically building the environment and the stages weeks in advance. The production team installed all of the LEDs, lights, lasers, and other effects in the game in advance, and then they were responsible for setting those off in real-time during the sets. There was a stage manager who coordinated with artists when to go on stage for their set (we created a backstage for them to come to in advance, just like a real event) and then there were actors who were dressed and played the DJ character on stage if the artist couldn’t be in the game.
On top of all of that, there are the challenges associated with streaming – you need in-game camera operators, a streaming coordinator, admins to moderate the chat for each stage, any many little things that pop up spontaneously and concurrently. With the need to be coordinating with 50+ artists during the event, posting on socials, messaging giveaway winners, and more, it’s certainly a whirlwind set of hours! Add in all of the troubleshooting issues with virtual events – poor internet, trouble accessing the server, etc. – and your hands are full! And lastly, I should mention that for me personally, the event started at 1 am local time in Bali and ran until 11 am – it was the best time to run the event from a global perspective, but certainly made for quite a night and morning!
GD: Once in-person festivals return, do you think the demand for virtual events will still be as high?
JM: I think that naturally the demand for virtual events will decline somewhat, but I do think that virtual events will have a lasting place. I think the big festivals will return to their in-person events as much as possible, but individual artists, brands, and labels who have built strong online fanbases during this time will continue to want to connect and engage with those audiences. Especially when this time has allowed anyone geographically, and many times also anyone economically (if free events), to engage in these events where they never could have before besides listening to set replays or watching on YouTube.
GD: What are your thoughts on the current state of the music industry amidst the covid pandemic?
JM: For me, the hardest part is definitely the challenges that I see so many, including myself, facing with mental health. Electronic music is a uniting thread across countries and cultures, a source of gathering on nights and weekends, and an integral part of the summer for so many with festivals, that being devoid of those things takes a toll on not just artist creativity and output, but also overall health.
With dance music specifically, I think there’s a definite shift in the music that you’re seeing released and that will be released in 2021, as it heads away from club music. How can you be making club music if you have no dance floors to test it out and play the tracks on? This is on top of a long-term shift that has been happening, where artists are making music for streaming appeal, so this only further moves artists down that path.
On a positive note, this time period acts as sort of a reset – it’s afforded an enormous amount of time to work on new music and harness creativity in a way that I don’t think we’ve seen in a long time. It’ll be interesting to see who’s positioned themselves for a strong emergence out of these times, where there will be plenty of opportunities in the times ahead!
One other thing that I think we’ll see across all genres of music – more local bookings for shows rather than paying high fees for international artists. I think that this will be true more for individual shows and concerts; festivals will continue to book high paying acts as this is what they need to create separation from one another and also to justify high ticket prices. As we dig ourselves out of COVID, I think that people will be so excited to get back into clubs and concerts, that they won’t care as much if they’re seeing a local artist or an expensively booked artist. Not to mention, it could take a while until it’s easy to travel, and also there will likely be lower budgets contributing to why I think you’re going to see an emphasis placed on booking local acts.
GD: What do you guys have planned next?
JM: The next big project coming up is our yearly A State Of Dance Music report. We release the report at the beginning of the new year, taking a deep dive into the plethora of data that we have on our website and sharing all of the biggest insights. You’ll be able to get a good sense of trends across the electronic music scene as well as find highlights such as top tracks and top tracklists of the year – both overall and by genre – top-performing labels of the year, and much more! You can check out last year’s report in advance and watch out in early January for the 2020 report!