This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Allen Cook, founder and CEO, TOURtech.
So much technology at today’s music events, including RFID wristbands, payment systems, and video streaming, relies not just on a dependable internet connection, but on a dependable local network as well.
Founded by its CEO Allen Cook, and headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina, TOURtech provides temporary network solutions for the entertainment industry, specializing in high-profile projects where connectivity is vital.
TOURtech is among a handful of innovative companies reshaping live events by offering site design and consultation, hardwired connectivity, targeted Wi-Fi, network monitoring and analytics, VoIP services, and mobile office systems for music festivals, concert tours, corporate events, and product launches.
While providing network connectivity for production, stages, sponsor areas, merch stands, security, artist, media tents etc., TOURtech supports many new evolving technologies such as live streaming, RFID access control, and cashless payment systems that all depend on its custom network in order to seamlessly operate.
When Cook launched TOURtech during the 2008/2009 festival season, back-of-house Internet access was considered nice to have. If it failed nobody got alarmed. As the live music sector has become increasingly connected, reliable IT has become mission critical.
At the same time promoters and advertisers are both increasingly seeking analytics indicating which audience demographic likes which features of an event. Promoters also welcome information on how to reduce queuing snafus, and improve management of which individuals have access to which areas.
According to Nielsen Entertainment’s Audience Insights Report on Music Festivals, collected in 2014, approximately 32 million people attended at least one music festival in the U.S. each year. Nearly half (46%) are aged 18-34, highlighting a huge opportunity for marketers to reach the coveted millennial demographic.
RFID-enabled wristbands not only provide historical data but enable ticket holders to connect with social media, potentially promoting not only bands, and the event itself, but also products that could advertise via social media. Prior to the RFID system's deployment, promoters and advertisers knowledge about event audiences was limited to how many tickets had been purchased. They knew virtually nothing about the ticket holders themselves.
When a festival is utilizing a cashless payment system that may or may not need to connect to the internet, but certainly to a server on-site, or to each other, a reliable local area network--supported by a company like TOURtech providing the base layer from which all of a festival’s technology can spring--has become mandatory.
Last year, TOURtech serviced 25 festivals, and 45 one-off events.
This summer, TOURtech’s dance card of events includes Coachella, Lollapalooza, the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle, the NFL Draft, Counterpoint, Bottle Rock Festival, Governor’s Ball, Firefly, and many others.
When was TOURtech founded?
We incorporated for the first time in 2007 in California.
It is just me.
How much staff do you have?
We have10 full-time employees and about 20 to 25 regular contractors.
How many crews are working in any one period?
We will have six crews running at the end of May. Each crew tends to be 2-4 people. Coachella is a very big site, so it’s a four-man crew. We may pop up to as high as 5. We have 5 going to Lollapalooza, and Firefly.
You are based in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Right. People ask, “Why are you there?”
Yes. My parents and my in-laws, by coincidence, both retired in North Carolina, and I had wanted to get out of California. I thought, “Well, that’s a lovely place.” Right off (Interstate) 95. It really has worked out quite well for us.
A five minute commute from home to the office?
I love the photo on the company’s Facebook page of a truck in an empty parking lot at the recent Tortuga Music Festival in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with the caption, “First in and last out.” Generally, how early do you go to a festival?
Actually, the truck had just pulled in. We are in about 7 days before doors on those events. A typical three-day festival for us is a total of 11 or 12 days onsite. You’ve got the day after the event. Usually you get a Friday, Saturday and Sunday show. Most of it is packed up the following Monday and, maybe, a little bit left on Tuesday. We come in usually the Friday before.
Technology now plays an important role in the festival experience. However, you aren’t the guy seeking to take away my color wrist band, or who wants me to have a better Wi-Fi signal so I have a more personalized experience at a festival?
Well, no. I am the guy who wants to make sure that those guys stay connected. So you have all of the RFID guys—and we are the Wi-Fi guys as well—but our primary mission is to provide solid stable connectivity for any of the systems onsite. Whether that is ticketing, cashless payments, access control, credit card machines, production offices, and sponsor activations. Our goal is to be sort of that bottom layer, the less sexy group as we can be, and to make sure that everybody stays connected.
So you are the guy coming in with the dedicated high bandwidth connection with the local communication provider, as well as routers, data hubs, and Wi-Fi receiver-transmitters?
So that’s different than the role played by Intelltix, the global provider of RFID access control, and cashless payment systems for live events.
Right. Intelltix brings us in to connect all of their gates together. We provide the infrastructure that makes their entire system go. When someone is upset that Intelltix’s system isn’t working then Intelltix is generally upset with us.
Your company did 25 festivals last year.
Yeah, we did 25 festivals, and another dozen that were related; sponsors at a festival or we were the only support for the RFID company.
The company also worked at 45 non-festival events last year.
About 45 non-festival events. One offs, and product launches.
When your company works on tours with Beyoncé, Bon Jovi or Madonna what are you providing?
That tends to be supporting the production and tour management offices. Providing the VoIP systems so they (production and management staff) have a consistent phone number that isn’t their cell phone. A lot of people like to be able to give a different phone number that they are always sitting at to people so that they don’t have their cell phone number.
You provided the production networking at Moynihan Station on March 30th for the Manhattan launch of Tidal, the new music-streaming service recently acquired by Jay Z.
We did Tidal, yep. The challenge on that was the time frame. We got the call a week before the launch and, at the time, they still weren’t sure what venue they were doing it in.
Do you keep a logistics book on what you might need at a location?
Yes. That is exactly what we do. They called and said it might be over here, and I said, “Okay we will look at that.” Tidal happened to be at the Moynihan Station. We had done a number of Nike events in there. Our New York guy sort of does all of our Moynihan events. Every time he goes in, we take some notes on what was different.
There are some locations where you are just not going to get reliable Wi-Fi reception.
Nope. And it is certainly is true in arenas. At the end of last year, we did “Peter Pan Live” at Grumman Studios where they use to assemble the lunar lander. That entire place was shielded for espionage. In situations like that I joke sometimes with my guys that, “It’s amazing how much wire is involved in wireless internet” because, in those cases, we find a way to get wiring out of one office, and run it down the stairs, and through the hallways. That’s all you can do.
[Opened in 2009, Grumman Studios, located in the heart of Long Island’s Nassau County, sits on a 30-acre site in the space formerly known as the birth of the Apollo Lunar Modules that placed man on the moon.]
Wherever you are, you still have to connect to a local communication provider.
Any time we can we find a microwave ISP because no matter where you go the telecom experience is universally the same. When we started, we found all of the ways that we could to avoid the phone company. Not because they were difficult to deal with but, they didn’t get it.
If you go into a venue for the first time, say a performing arts center or an amphitheater, you check it out ahead of the event?
Depends on the type of event, really. Like we are doing all of the World’s Loudest Months events this year starting in Jacksonville with “Welcome To Rockville” (April. 25-26). The next one is “Carolina Rebellion” (May 2nd & 3rd at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina), and then two shows later is “Rocklahoma” (May 15 & 17) There’s “Northern Invasion” (May 9) and "Rock On The Range” (May 15-17) this year that we have never been involved with.
It’s relatively small footprint festivals, and amphitheaters. The one in Wisconsin is at a shed. The one in Ohio is at a soccer stadium. We have done enough of those that we sort of know what the ups and downs are.
We have some equipment that we carry with us for the contingencies that are typical in those venues. But, if we were going into a convention center...it’s usually the indoor centers that we like to go, and get a look at. Sometimes we just don’t get the opportunity to go in there. Either there is just not time or you can’t get access. That is sort of where the breadth of where TOURtech’s experience becomes valuable to our clients. We are very, very good at dealing with temporary situations.
Who do you bill?
We typically deal with the event producers or the production company. Well, with festivals we deal with the producers. We deal with C3 Presents directly on Lollapalooza, and ACL (Austin City Limits Music Festival). Then, when you get to say, Global Poverty Project with the Global Citizen Festival up in Central Park, they hired Diversified Production Services, and we get contracted by that production company. So with the festivals, we tend to deal directly with AEG or C3 Presents or Live Nation. Then on the indoor events, we tend to be brought in by the production company who is hired to manage the event.
Many locations are not suited for an IT infrastructure for events.
No, and that is what has really fueled our growth. Even in a handful of places where we do go where there is some kind of venue, the infrastructure just wasn’t intended to handle what are now really mission critical applications.
Connectivity has become ever more important. A few years ago, you would have backstage people saying, “It’d be nice to have Wi-Fi here. If we don’t have it, that’s okay.”
Yeah. We used to joke that four years ago nobody cared if the internet stayed up.
C3 Presents increased the number of network drops for Austin City Limits from 100 in 2013 to over 240 in 2014, as ACL became the latest major festival offering a cashless option for concessions and merchandise purchases.
Most of what we have done down there is back-of-house connectivity. Any terminal that a fan walks up to, it’s connected to our network. Every single payment terminal that a fan walks up to buy their pretzels. Sponsors are on our network.
Now with cashless festivals, and other activities, having a reliable Wi-Fi is critical.
We have gotten to a point that it can’t go down. Four years ago nobody cared. Three years ago it (having Wi-Fi) was because they needed to check their email. Two years ago if it went down, it meant that they couldn’t get people into the gates. Now if the internet goes down....We set up the cashless payment terminal or the POS terminals for Coachella, right? Coachella’s main bar, we are told, does about $250,000 an hour between 6 and 10 PM. So you can do the math on what a half-hour outage costs the festival.
At the same time annual spending of festival sponsorships is increasing because such events are deemed the best way to reach a relevant audience. Marketing, digital, and event strategy have to remain connected as well.
Yep. And the sponsorships themselves are growing in scale, and complexity. I started out as a lighting designer for special events. We haven’t seen this kind of frenzy in the event market in 14 years. It’s been since September 11th (in 2001). Things started to rebound in 2008 right before the economy tanked, or so they said that it tanked, anyway. We have had steady growth throughout. As entertainment tends to survive those things, we did very well. Now, we are seeing a demand that we haven’t seen for 15 years.
Several promoters are now working to extend the festival experience to those that can't physically be there, or to those who were, and want to remember it. YouVisit offers a virtual festival experience that allows fans to explore an entire festival. Oculus is offering virtual reality experiences. As well, fans are experiencing mobile teleconferencing. As a result, the event experience itself is changing so much.
I would agree. Last year at Made In America, we had a company that had come in and they did these portals. We did simultaneously, Los Angeles/Philadelphia festivals. So you could walk up to the cameras, and you were looking out at the festival in Los Angeles. Those people would walk by, and they would walk up and they would see you. People would wave at each other and make silly faces. It was something that a lot of people would just walk by, and not think much about. But a tremendous amount of technology went into building a very simple little marketing--I hate to call it a gimmick, that’s not fair to them—but, it is basically a gimmick.
A gimmick that can be utilized almost anywhere on the festival site.
The opportunities just keep climbing.
What were the issues you faced recently with Verizon Super Bowl Central in Phoenix with the Verizon Power House-- a concert and activity center--showcasing the latest in Verizon technologies, products and services over five days?
In that one, in particular, and on those types of events, there is so much subjectivity involved. One-off events like that, with all of the planning that goes in, there’s still a whole lot of changing, and adjusting that goes on onsite as people are realizing the flow. We were providing connectivity to the digital projectors for some imagery that was projected onto one of the buildings. The location of those kept changing. Then, at one point, the lighting control system was having problems. They asked us if we could build out connectivity from the lighting control position to the roof of the building so their DMX would work. It was kind of new for us. We don’t get much into control system working, but that has now presented itself as another place where the demand for connectivity is becoming so critical. I used to be a lighting guy so I don’t want to knock them, but it’s not the kind of thing they are always able to do. Now you need IT people. Now you need technology people. You need networking guys to start integrating your control systems.
Much of today’s staging, including lighting and sound relies on technology, but these two crews tend to operate separately.
That is beginning to change. My original concept for TOURtech was that we were going to basically build a touring infrastructure system that all of the individual departments would connect to. I went to visit some of my friends in rehearsals in the early days in Los Angeles, and explained that. They said, “That would never fly.” The lighting and video guys were forced to get together because lighting instruments became video projectors, and video projecters became lighting instruments. But you are not going to get the lighting guys and the sound guys together, ever. They are reluctant to share those systems.
I say ever, but it will happen. At a certain point running redundant fiber down the dashers of each side of the arena, and only paying 4 union stage hands to do it, instead of 8, well there are just economies of scale. When everything was still analog, or even with the early days of digital with proprietary formats, it was difficult to aggregate those systems, but they are all IP-based now. They are all using common equipment. They are all using cabling. It’s just about coming in, and building a node that brings all of those connections together, and then allows the individual departments to break out from that backstage, and front of house rather than every department running their own line to the exact same place.
This is a sector that is going to grow, if only because of the data that can be provided by Google analytics or data gleaned from following audience movement at events with Wi-Fi, GPS, iBeacons or Bluetooth. The sector is going to build out in the next couple of years.
Yes. Demand is beginning to grow this year for what we call “footfall analytics” which is sort of anonymous people tracking. It is the kind of stuff when you are looking at crowd densities. We work a lot with the CCTV guys, and they are using CCTV for crowd density measurement. We are doing some work at Coachella with passive Wi-Fi analytics measuring, including dwell time and engagement, and sponsor zones, and bar activity. Traditionally, you could stand at the bar, count people, watch a person, and see how long that they stand there. We are now able to automate that, then present it, and manipulate the data to show it in a number of different ways.
Over the years, festival promoters gave people on site different arm bands to indicate where they should be. However, at the end of the day they had no historical data about their audience.
Right. Obviously, everybody likes to now say “big data” because that’s the catch phrase of the year. They call it “big data”. A few years ago, the festivals themselves were still a bit of a, “I know an empty field. I know a guy in a band. Let’s put on a show” situation. This (live events) is where the music industry is making its money right now.
Last year, Billboard’s Ray Waddell noted that, “Considering that promoters only make 15% or less of their money from ticket sales, ancillary revenues from sources like parking, merchandise and concessions are critical.”
I know that they are doing very well with food and beverage.
Developing historical data at a conference about who went to what booth, and how long they spent at an exhibit is invaluable. As it is at a festival with multiple stages, if you can determine how long people stayed at what stage or where they are in a line-up.
Yep, and that‘s helping to inform site design. I know that ACL was able to identify a pinch point in the fence line by watching time lapse footage from CCTV. They were able to see as the crowd would move--just the way the fence was shaped--that it was restricting the flow. So they opened that up. It’s small things like that. With so many small festivals that you are competing against, you have to make sure that every aspect of the fan experience is the best that it can be.
We are now seeing competition by festivals to further enrich the fan experience.
Right, because it isn’t just about music anymore. Even with radius clauses, you still have the same bands performing at a variety of different festivals. A lot of people are going to have to travel to see their favorite bands. It is going to boil down to who offers the better experience. If I can go see the Foo Fighters in California or I can go see the Foo Fighters in Dover, Delaware, what’s my vibe? Do I want to go out to the desert or go out to a forest?
What we are really talking about is utilizing technology to provide a more personalized experience.
Festivals are traditional cash intensive. Was making use of wearable technology, an RFID wristband, to accept cashless payments a game changer for festival promoters? Any resistance to being cashless?
RFID was an easy decision for them to make. The actual control portion. RFID use at events developed earlier in Europe. Yes. Guys like Intellitix had pioneered it over there but the cashless thing that started coming out in 2011, and 2012. By then we started seeing little bits of RFID wristbands showing up over here (in North America), but it wasn’t really until last year that a lot of mainstream festivals made the decision to go cashless.
Was there a resistance to going cashless or did promoters not quite know how to introduce cashless at their events?
There were technological concerns, and nobody wanted to be the first. Everybody sort of waited for somebody else to do it, and see how it went. But I will tell you what as soon as a couple of festivals did it and posted their numbers—and those numbers are consistently a 30% to 40% increase in revenue—then everybody was like, “Wow, it’s worth the gamble.”
Lollapalooza was the first major U.S. festival to go cashless in 2014, but Coachella....
Coachella is still not cashless.
The primary challenge of cashless is making consumers comfortable with new technology. People worry about security breaches.
There were a couple of high profile credit card breaches that made people a little leery. Some people still are. We don’t very often see an entirely 100% cashless festival. Most of them still offer the ability to at least accept credit cards. There are security concerns (with cashless) but the providers, the builders--Intellitix, Best Ring, Appetize--those guys have all taken that into account in their systems. It is probably more secure on that system to having the credit card with you. Somebody loses that wristband, and it can be turned off right away. If you lose your credit card, you have to go and find a phone and reach the credit card company.
Going cashless is not that dissimilar from the inherent challenge of festivals years ago rolling out credit card terminals at various points of sale in a remote field.
I know that initially Serge Grimaux, founder of Intellitix, his plan was 100% cashless. No cash anywhere, only this form of payment. That softened a little bit because of people’s reluctance to adopt a new way of doing things, but it really seems to be catching on now. People are realizing, “Okay, people aren’t stealing my money. It is actually easier to have my wristband. I don’t have to worry about my wallet or my credit cards or my cash getting lost or stolen.” People can go out, and enjoy themselves. It’s like the cruise or resort experience where you are issued an RFID wristband, and you don’t have to worry about carrying your wallet or carrying money. You are just able to enjoy yourself.
There is a generational apprehension as well. Millennials are an experience generation. They want you to take them somewhere unique. Older people are more nervous about the use technology.
I would agree with that. That’s why you are still seeing options on site instead of (festivals) going fully cashless. I don’t want to say that it’s a trust thing because I think that younger people are equally leery of technology. They understand very well that their information is being used for other things. But I think you are right that they are very much about the experience. Anything that enhances to any degree is very intriguing to them. We are always amazed at the number of people that we see at the Facebook check-in stations, and Twitter stations scattered around festival sites. To go, and tap your wrist band, and send a message. They will see a sign or an icon up of the top of it, and they will come over to it, and every single one of them in a group will tap their wrist band. Whatever they can do, they will do it. They want to do every single thing that is there for them.
[According to Nielsen Entertainment’s Audience Insights Report on Music Festivals millennial festival fans are almost twice as likely to use Facebook to access music than the U.S. average. Music festival fans also use social media more than the average American. In general, they’re more likely to use it three or more times a day, and they’re especially active across social networks while attending live music events.]
Privacy concerns are deep. People have concerns about companies gathering information about them.
There are some shifts of how Apple is dealing with Wi-Fi in its latest release of software to prevent some of that data mining. Now you can collect anonymous data from iPhones running OS 8, but it is not as easy now to tie that back to an individual user. We have designed a bunch of different Wi-Fi backend systems, and while we never know who this person is, all that is really needed is a connector to another data base with one shared piece of information, and then that anonymous data that I was able to gather from a cell phone becomes a part of that person’s profile on somebody else’s data base.
[U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in California ruled March 23rd that Apple and 14 app developers, including Yelp, Twitter, Instagram and Rovio, must face the majority of a class' claims that they swiped and shared data from iPhones and iPads without users' knowledge or consent.]
That’s the exact type of thing making people nervous about technology.
I know it is. We have found a lot of things that you can do with Wi-Fi. Not just from the consumer side. For instance, we had built a system that would replace all of the ads on a web site. So if you were inside a venue, we could basically hijack all of the ads and only show...well, if it’s a Coke venue, we could hijack all of the ads on the page, and only show Pepsi ads. I told my guys, “Don’t ever show anybody that.” I will tell you that the marketing guys in the venue loved it, but what happens when the CEO of that other product is at your event, and he goes to show his friend these great ads that are running at this website, and all of a sudden it’s Pepsi running?
Your company undertakes considerable corporate production work, including for Amazon, Nike, and Google. What does that entail?
The Google event that we did at South by Southwest, they had had four of their development groups hosting classes. They were four small house/bar type venues in Austin. They were just running in a classroom setting. The Amazon projects are their product launches. For launching the major products, it is extraordinarily complex. We have fully redundant systems. Apple and Google both have had experiences where the Wi-Fi failed during their press launches. You don’t want to be a tech company with a tech problem. So there’s a ridiculous amount of redundancies that is engineered into their conferences.
Providing network connectivity for corporates is potentially a growth sector?
The corporate segment is where we are really looking to grow. A corporate event used to consist of a registration desk where they had some computers, or there was a photo booth. But now it’s all the same (hi-tech) stuff. They are using the UHF RFID, the contactless versions, to track (crowds) as people move through large sections of a venue, or to do attendee tracking within a conference. There are content walls that are coming in. All of these things have to be connected, and it gets to a certain point--and this is the same thing that has happened with outdoor events--it isn’t that any of the individual companies aren’t necessarily capable of doing it, at a certain point so many people have to connect things that for the festivals it just made sense to put that all under one roof, and have one group to manage it, and to be responsible; particularly as you get into competing Wi-Fi networks. We were very fortunate to come into (working at) events as the internet was being adopted, and we have really grown along with the demand and the complexity.
Your academic background is in technical theatre?
I went to Millikin University, smack in the heart of Illinois (in Decatur). I spent my formative years in Chicago.
How did you become interested in the technical side of things?
Growing up, I liked to take things apart, and I liked things that lit up. When I got to high school a friend of mine suggested that I check out the lighting crew. More or less because he got to eat lunch in the auditorium, and wasn’t subject to the lunch rules in the lunch room, which I found fascinating. I went down there, and there was some really cool stuff. We got to play with all kinds of things. Honestly, I fell in love with lighting, and decided that is what I wanted to do in college.
You took a four-year technical theatre program at Millikin University.
Yes, a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) in technical theatre. Millikin has a very strong musical theatre program. So there was some really aggressive recruiting for technical folks to bolster the back end there. The unique thing about Milliken was that they didn’t restrict your study. We were able as freshmen to work on main stage productions, and be part of the stage crews for the national tours that would come through. Going to school for theatre (from 1992-1996) gets some people to laugh at me, but we spent four years working on our craft whereas there’s the college of hard knock guys who are out there learning, and digging it. But I came into the work force with some skills already.
You worked at a performing arts theatre?
We had a 2,000 seat road house, Kirkland Fine Arts Centre, and they would bring thorough mostly national Broadway productions. I was the stage manager there for two years after two years being on the crew. I got to cut to cut my teeth on some shows.
How did you make the jump from there to Merv Griffin Event Productions?
I graduated from college and I wanted to seek my fame and fortune in film and television. So I moved to Los Angeles. There I responded to an ad looking for freelance lighting technicians. Merv Griffin had just started an event production company. So we were Merv Griffin Event Productions. Craig Waldman, one of the guys who initially put that together, had great contacts with Disney and Sony, and we started doing a lot of movie premieres. We did the majority of the Golden Globe afterparties. So I got really good at uplighting tents. That was great fun. Around 2002 I moved on from Merv, and I was working for Buena Vista Events in the Disney camp. I had a bit of a disagreement with the senior VP about my interaction with my production peers. I had some very good bosses but my boss’ boss really did not understand the production game very well. So we had some disagreements, and I moved on. I really did not want to get another (full-time) job again. So I started doing small business IT stuff, working for friends. That sort of turned more and more into helping production friends. I had also started working with a friend of mine who was running a web development company, Azavar Technologies, in 1998, and he wanted to expand to the West Coast. So we opened up an office in Los Angeles.
How did you get involved with music-related events?
When I left Merv a buddy, who was doing lighting with me at the time, said “We’ve got this ‘MTV Campus Invasion Tour’ and they’ve got some computer stuff. Can you take a look at that?” So I went in, and it was really basic. They had some interactive flash-based demoes that they had built in running little kiosks. But things needed to be connected, and plugged in right. The production manager said, “We are going to take the IT guy for a week.” I ended up spending two weeks out on the road. That production manager was Howard Hopkins, who is also one of the production managers for Phil Collins. We did a couple of these MTV tours together, and then he dragged me out on Phil Collins’ “The First Final Farewell Tour.” The management was ordering 5 to 6 phones a day and sometimes they wouldn’t even pick them up. At $100 and $150 a line. I did some math, and, I said, “I can save you about $30,000.” That got me invited back in 2005 when we did Eastern Europe, and started touring with VoIP phones.
Then in 2008 I got introduced to Opie (tour manager Dale Skjerseth) from the Rolling Stones. We went to Tour Link (Conference) in Phoenix that year, and I was introduced to Opie. We showed him the system. He said, “You need to meet my friend Dave Meyers from Live Nation Special Events.” Then Live National Special Events--which eventually became DPS (Diversified Production Services founded in 2011 by Dan Parise, former VP of Live Nation Special Events, and dir. of production for Live Nation Music New York)--started bringing us out to do special events. We did the NFL Kickoff that year in (Manhattan’s) Columbus Circle. A broadcast television event that is typically very Verizon heavy with POTS lines, and DSL modems. We didn’t have any copper from the phone company. We had a microwave internet connection that almost nobody had heard of at that time. We laid it all down. It was a one man crew, and they were all blown away. DPS remains one of our biggest clients.
Why did you decide to form your own company?
After the Phil tours, I started looking at this thinking, “I might be able to make a living doing this.” I thought it would just be me, and that I would go out and be the IT guy on tour. But what happened, as with Live Nation Special Events, I would bring a bunch of contractors together, and then those contractors would all go off and do an event for Event Resources in New York or they would go out to California, and do something for a company out there. All of a sudden I’m getting calls from three different guys. So we bought some more stuff. I didn’t hire anybody for a long time. I found some guys that wanted the contract as well and I sent them out. Then the festivals started and...
What was the first festival that you did?
We did Bamboozle in 2008, but was one line into a production trailer. Our first real festival, with the resemblance of what we are doing today, was the (three-day) Hangout Music Festival in 2010.
What a change over four years.
Oh my gosh.
Promoters and advertisers have probably only touched the tip of the iceberg in the use of technology at events, particularly gathering historical data. They haven’t dug deeply yet, really.
No, especially on the data side, it’s really too early. Data from one festival doesn’t really...it tells you some stuff, but as these festivals have three and five years worth of data to map trends, and to measure those against social factors and economic factors they will really see when is the right time to try something new. When is the right time to introduce a new stage. Right now, they sell out, they add a stage. Well, is that really when they do it or can they use data from similar-sized events and similar growth patterns to identify that? Maybe, it’s the year after they sell out. Maybe, they need to see out two years in a row before they plan to grow.
DoubleDutch is a mobile event app that can be used for acquiring and analyzing real-time data. It can see what sessions or stages that attendees are most interested in. Analyzing real-time data will be more common eventually.
Yes, it’s hard to do right now.
Last question, how wired is your house for communication?
Ahhhh, (laughing) when we moved in it was all wired for telephones. The regular old phone service. I converted all of that to CAT5, and honestly it doesn’t work right now. I go home and the last thing that I want to do is figure out why the Wi-Fi is weak up on the third floor. You know that whatever the problem seems to be, it’s going to be six other things, and the next thing you have been at it for a week. You have replaced everything, and it’s only marginally better.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.
He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.” Larry is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry. He is a board member of the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ontario.
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