International Music Festival Conference (IMFCON)

Las Vegas, NV | December 5 – 7, 2010

Contributing Writer: Rashon A. Massey

I was relatively surprised by the turnout at the International Music Festival Conference (IMFCON) and not in an overwhelming, ton of people sort of way.  This affair was populated by the tight-knit core of quirky, dedicated and passionate individuals who don’t ever get the credit they deserve.

IMFCON gathers the ‘who’s-who’ of behind-the-scene individuals working for your favorite summer music festivals.  While most fans who actively engage in music festivals focus on the onsite amenities and artist lineup (…because that is what they are paying top dollar for), I am going to bet that about 75-80% never think about the faces that are losing hair, nights of sleep and coloration in their skin that result from striving to design and execute the best event possible.  A sample of those characters find themselves utilizing their vacation days at conferences like IMFCON-  fleeting days and weekends where they come together with other like-minded, exhausted and laboring superfans to discuss every in-and-out that can take their festival to the next level.

Let me be clear (said in my best Obama voice), music festivals vary from size, location, audience demographic and mission, so to be immersed in a conference that brought together first time festival directors with the COO of Live Nation UK was nothing short of a treat for everyone.  The common talk points that unified the gathering were centered on how to make festival engagement a 365 experience while finding and unlocking revenue potential in the form of collaborations, sponsorships and ticketing.

I learned from panelist Doug Cox, Artistic Director & Executive Producer of Vancouver Island Music Festival, in Canada a union exists between almost all of the music festivals (from overnighters to city events).  The union keeps an open dialogue discussing and sharing in details ranging from talent buys and booking of artists, to production costs and greening impacts.  This was surely one of the best subjects brought to light at the conference because in the U.S. we’re not doing that.  In the recent years, something of a Music Festival Alliance (MFA) has come together, uniting Wakarusa, Harmony, High Sierra, Telluride, All Good and Gathering of the Vibes (honorable mentions to our fallen friends 10k Lakes and Langerado, former events in the Rat Pack).  Hoping to expand upon this, the MFA heads and Doug Cox will possibly begin threading something larger and a bit more cohesive for the states.

From wristbands to digital access, there is a growing and bustling industry of companies vying for music festival contracts to provide ticketing services.  In fact, an entire panel assembled key players to discuss old and new ways of maximizing ticketing revenue, and it became clear that the panelists with a good forecast and handle of the market were Kevin Hartz, Co-founder & CEO of Eventbrite, and Jeff Cuellar, Director of Marketing & Business Development at AC Entertainment.  From email solutions to onsite engagement with events, it seems that Eventbrite will emerge this decade as one of the best, reliable and cooperative solutions to cohesively work with brands.  By unifying promotional design elements to make the fans experience easy, enjoyable and interactive prior to actually arriving at the destination, Eventbrite seems to have a solid brand to handle and facilitate the ticketing process for many popular events.  AC Entertainment is always aiming to enhance their fan experience, and Jeff shared several ways in which they steadily are developing the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, along with several other events the entertainment group is behind.  I was thoroughly impressed by the passion and excitement both gentlemen exuded at the conference, and I am eager to watch both companies learn, grow and develop within the landscape of the live music scene.

To be fair, several ticketing services made a presence at the event.  I thought to be considerate and list them:

Sponsorships and greening initiatives rounded out the conference talk-points, and nothing definitively-concrete was shared beyond the fact everyone is trying to better their relationships in these core areas; even still, ideas and approaches were discussed and openly compared because each event is looking to find more sources of consistent financial revenue and practices which can enlighten, engage and impact the communities which make their festivals a thriving and lasting destination spot.

During the open forum taking place in lieu of keynote speaker Cristian Cussen’s presentation, a voice from the crowd spoke to offer assistance and solutions that could aid in festivals turning a greener leaf.  Zach Carson, Director of the Sustainable Living Roadshow, has assembled an exciting, interactive and growing green community which serves to work with event organizers in developing and executing onsite greening campaigns, initiatives and resources.  A traveling eco-tour, the Sustainable Living Roadshow empowers, educates and stimulates communities through carnival attractions, guest speakers and panel discussions in hopes to promote environmental sustainability and overall social accountability.  While I am further investigating this movement Zach is bringing to events near you, I am thoroughly pleased to have met this resourceful and energized person who I hope TheRFW can collaborate with in 2011 and onward.

Essentially…that was IMFCON 2010.  Being an event only in the second year (maybe third…I forget), it was evident that a conference of this caliber is desperately needed as the business world closes out the fourth quarter while simultaneously being about 40% on their way into the planning of the forthcoming years events.  Unanimously, a call was made to invite other players of the music festival scene to speak at the conference including production companies, food and beverage channels, ambassadors and representatives from greening-based companies, new media technologies and even interactive vending and art affiliates.

While nothing was TOPS at the event (ACTUALLY – special shout out to the ever-so-kind Howard Sapper, CEO of Harmony Festival, and the organizing team behind the IMFCON After-Party & Music Showcase), it was clear that everyone in attendance is on to something- a shared understanding that we’re all in this together amidst a shaky and uncertain economy.  Whether it’s the continually successful WARPED Tour or a new, third-party ticketing solution, the future success of the music festival industry is contingent upon the open communication, sharing and learning that must take place; moreover, with the IMFCON, all of us music festival nerds can finally plan 3-4 days of meeting, chatting and forging the relationships that inevitably are meant to improve and enhance the fan experience for all of us.

And to TheRFW, that is TOPS knowing just how much the people behind the scenes care about their communities and families who participate in their events.

In fact – it means a heck of a lot to us…

…and it should mean something valuable to the fan in you as well.

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