With lockdown restrictions starting to ease and in-person events on the horizon once again, it can be helpful to look back in order to look forward. Event creators have learnt so much since the start of the pandemic and this new knowledge can be applied to organising music concerts in 2021.

Whether it’s a drive-in music gig or livestreamed festival, creators have found innovative ways to host events in line with government regulations. And with benefits like flexibility and accessibility, virtual and hybrid events are likely to stick around.

We caught up with Jonathan Ware, creative director for Summertime Live, and Fiona Alexander, producer at Aberdeen Jazz Festival, to find out what they’ve learnt from hosting live music events online, what lessons they’ll take with them, and how they’re planning on reintroducing in-person gigs.

Engaging with communities online

At the start of the pandemic, music event creators had to quickly figure out how to organise a gig online. While it was a steep learning curve for many, they managed to adapt and respond to the various challenges by keeping one thing in mind: their communities.

Summertime Live holds one-day festivals in a number of UK spots. With live music, DJ sets, and an orchestral performance of dance anthems, it has a loyal following. When in-person events weren’t possible, Ware and the wider team found a way to keep their followers engaged by interacting with them online. In fact, building an online community has been “the main takeaway from the last 12 months,” notes Ware.

“The content we have put out online, with livestreams, playlists, and videos of DJ sets from all over the world, has shown us that the one day a year our audience spends enjoying the event we put on is just a small part of our relationship with them. Moving forward, we will be putting a lot more time and resources into engaging with them year-round and adding value to their connection with us.”

Aberdeen Jazz Festival had a similar reflection. The festival offers an exciting programme of jazz and blues performances featuring new talents and international stars. During the pandemic, it decided to put its fans at the heart of its online event strategy.

“The critical thing was to create excitement in our audience to want to see the shows and to buy tickets,” Alexander says. To do this, the team made a number of decisions about its digital offering. They realised that the quality of acts had to be the best they could achieve, so focused on finding “a special angle or hook to make them stand out from the many other offerings online.” Then, the team “concentrated on the quality of video and audio to ensure ticket-buyers felt they were getting a true concert experience.”

Technology is every creator’s best friend

To successfully livestream concerts, high-quality technology is needed. So it’s no surprise to hear that music event creators invested in new equipment and software in recent times.

But having seen the benefits of using new tech to livestream gigs, Aberdeen Jazz Festival intends to incorporate it into future events. As Alexander explains: “We have purchased a fixed camera system in our main venue, which has been essential to future hybrid events. The quality of video from the system has been exceptional and, being fixed and non-intrusive, it will allow live audiences to watch while the show is being streamed or recorded without any interference. This means our new normal will include the option to view our concerts either live or streamed.”

Summertime Live, meanwhile, “made use of all the usual suspects for [its] livestreams” such as Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram,” says Ware. “Aside from the tech in the studio where the DJs broadcast from, the software and online side of it is taken care of.” However, the team did take advantage of its in-house digital content creator, asking them to produce new graphics for the streams. This “really helped engage with the audience and make it visually better,” Ware adds.

A return to in-person events

Now that the roadmap out of lockdown is well on its way, there is hope that in-person events may be back this summer. As with anything in the events industry, creators have different approaches to reintroducing live audiences.

Aberdeen Jazz Festival is focusing on its online offering for now, making the most of what it learnt about livestreaming during lockdown, with the hope of gradually bringing in live attendees. “We see the transition to live audiences being a slow transfer through small, distanced audiences to full audiences over perhaps a year or so,” Alexander states. “During this time, our digital presence will be essential to maintain interest in our festivals and to bring in larger audiences.”

Others are hoping to soon be able to hold full-on gigs and festivals with all the necessary COVID-19 measures, of course. But it’s still unclear what social distancing at festivals and other restrictions will look like. “Planning for reopening has been tough to say the least,” admits Ware. “There hasn’t been a firm set of guidance released yet, though pilot schemes are in place to assess what will be required. That being the case, we are planning for every eventuality with social distancing, increased toilet facilities, extended operational hours to allow for less queueing, more bars, and the potential for rapid testing onsite, to name just a few.”

The future of music events

Looking ahead to music events in 2021, it’s clear that there are lessons creators can take away. Making every decision with fans in mind to earn and reward their loyalty is key, as is utilising the benefits of livestreaming for audiences across the globe. For a while at least, in-person music events are set to look different. But if the past year has proven anything, creators will find a way to give attendees what they want.

If you’re thinking of holding a music event in the near future, the best thing you can do right now is stay on top of local guidelines, put together a comprehensive outdoor concert planning checklist, and communicate all of the health and safety measures that you’re taking to help make guests feel confident about attending. Don’t forget to boost your music event’s success with the Eventbrite Organiser app.

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