How a Digital Music Festival Without Major Headliners Made $100,000 - Rolling Stone
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How a Digital Music Festival Without Major Headliners Made $100,000

With the live music business sidelined, “virtual” concerts like Live From Out There are growing increasingly popular and successful — even without superstars

jam festival livestream

How Live From Out There made six figures from a virtual concert put together in days.

Bodnar Taras/Shutterstock

Live From Out There — a subscription-based digital music festival — didn’t have superstars on the bill for its first weekend near the end of March. There were no special discount codes, no merchandise bundles, no particular gimmicks to draw attendees in. It still raked in $100,000 in one weekend.

Event organizer 11E1even Group, an artist management company in Denver, Colorado, put on the fest with the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, a charitable foundation offering aid to musicians, after the coronavirus pandemic started shutting down live events. Artists who played in the digital event included Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Dead & Company bass player Oteil Burbridge, and Eric Krasno, who’s collaborated with Norah Jones and the Tedeschi Trucks Band. The festival’s revenue was split into those paying $50 for a six-week subscription and others who paid $5 for access to an individual show; some shows were streamed for free, and paid shows were streamed on streaming platform Nugs.tv.

11E1even Group owner Ben Baruch has individually helped organize festivals like Okeechobee in Florida, but this is 11E1even Group’s first festival. “We were pretty surprised, and obviously extremely happy,” Baruch tells Rolling Stone. “This has allowed artists and crew to get paid.”

Like much of the industry, Baruch and his team braced for tour and festival cancellations after Coachella announced its postponement. Knowing their artists would need a new revenue stream, Baruch and his team conceived of the festival on March 12 and got artists onto the bill two days later. The initial profit exceeded expectations — and is notable because the group managed to turn a fast profit in an online platform with much few resources than major music companies or organizers like Live Nation and AEG. Many of the acts on the bill are jam bands, who festival organizers knew had previously performed well on livestreams.

“Part of it is how fast we formed this,” Baruch says of why the festival worked. “I don’t know if anyone was thinking virtual festival even a week ago.” Demand for online shows due to live music’s standstill has of course helped too. “It definitely wouldn’t be getting the same type of viewership and revenue,” Baruch says of the pandemic’s unique circumstances. “Even with some artists we know who get 10,000 streams on a normal day, we’re seeing upwards of 60-70,000 on that specific set.”

Live From Out There made another $50,000 in its second weekend and is now getting ready for weekend three of the six-week digital event. It just announced its phase-two lineup, which adds on more artists, including bluegrass performer Billy Strings and pop singer Ashe, whose song “Moral of the Story” gained popularity from Neflix film To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You. In the spirit of in-person festivals, there will be a couple digital cooking sets too, including one from chef Matty Matheson.

As the live music business remains in indefinite halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Live From Out There’s success is the latest in a growing trend of promising livestreaming opportunities as much of the U.S. is locked in their houses — the definition of a captive audience. As more parts of the country continue to go into quarantine, more artists and organizers are announcing everything from smaller one-off concerts on YouTube and Twitch to full-blown benefit shows and digital music festivals.

Elton John hosted iHeart Radio’s Living Room Concert for America on Sunday night, which featured Alicia Keys, Dave Grohl and Billie Eilish among many others; the star-studded show reportedly raised over $8 million for coronavirus relief funds. TikTok concluded the first week of its #HappyAtHome livestreaming series with sets from Alicia Keys, Megan Thee Stallion and Jason Derulo. Insomniac drew in 3.5 million people for its Beyond Wonderland Virtual Rave-a-Thon, and followed up with a second livestream event the weekend after.

Livestreaming as a whole has become wildly popular in a matter of weeks, and livestreaming companies have said they’re seeing unprecedented interest in the platform.

Baruch sees digital shows as a potential new revenue model for artists. Digital shows have very little overhead and expenses, and it makes interacting with fans easier than through traditional concerts. “There’s so much uncertainty, it’s hard to tell what the live music landscape is going to look like even a year from now,” Baruch says. “But what we’re seeing is another stream of revenue that we can get for artists. If artists want to participate, I don’t see it as any reason to stop. These artists, some are making more than they would’ve made playing some of these shows because there’s no cost.”

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