It’s safe to say that 2020 has been a tumultuous year for the music festival industry. Many of the most prominent festivals around the world have regrettably had to cancel or postpone their events in 2020 and the foreseeable future. In a time full of uncertainty, the same question is running through everyone’s minds - what will happen in 2021?

With the timeframe for the Covid-19 vaccine still up in the air, there seem to be more questions than answers as to how the next festival season might play out. However, regardless of the challenges, the music industry is determined to rebuild itself and uplift its people across the world.

A New Normal

Despite the circumstances, the pandemic has forced the industry to think outside of the box and find creative ways that will both keep their attendees safe and maintain the thrilling festival experience they all know and love. We’re taking a deep dive into the strategies that music festivals around the world have implemented in 2020 and can take into their planning for the upcoming year.

1. A New Form of Engagement

The rest of 2020 may seem like a write-off, but there’s a lot that can be done during this time to ensure that fans are engaged and excited for the upcoming festival season. Many festivals are starting early by releasing engaging campaigns that will keep their fans’ attention until they’re ready to start back up.

The Australian Festival, Splendour in the Grass, which was originally set to take place in July, quickly pivoted when they realized that they had to cancel their festival for 2020 and have already confirmed headliners for 2021. In the meantime, they released merchandise that reads “Rather Be At Splendour”, with the proceeds going directly to crew members who have been impacted by the pandemic. They also had Triple J, an Australian radio station relive past Splendour sets during their original festival weekend. With lowering caseloads, Australian festivals are in a great position to begin planning for the next season with high hopes that future festivals can be run in-person. As such, by providing fans with timely festival content and promoting their next line up early, Splendour in the Grass can keep their fans engaged and talking about their festival more than a year before their 2021 date.

2. Long-Form Festivals

The traditional festival format likely takes place for three to five jam-packed days and attracts multitudes of people with a variety of music tastes. Now that social distancing must play a role in planning next year’s events, many promoters are considering running smaller scale festivals over longer periods of time or breaking their 3-day festival into bite-sized shows throughout the year under the same festival umbrella. This allows for a clearer targeting of their audience and gives organizers multiple dates throughout the year to hopefully account for the changing restrictions and caseloads. With decreased lineups, promoters can refocus their efforts on targeting the right people for each event rather than advertising on a massive scale. This way, they can ensure the safety of their attendees and save on advertising costs.

In Denmark, Grimfest introduced “The Ugliest Evenings” concerts which took place over the last summer, as seated events of 500 people were newly approved in the country. Fans were able to bring their blankets and gather outside to enjoy the concert, with a few safety requirements from the organizing team like keeping faces towards the stage and keeping family groups small. With capacity capped at 500 attendees per show, Grimfest was able to highlight the artists in their original 2020 lineup and drive engagement and hype for the 2021 festival season.

Photo: Mikkel Berg Pedersen

3. Live Concert Alternatives

After a summer of restrictions, fans around the world longed for any form of a live show to attend. To fill this gap, organizers have implemented creative ways to reach their audience and provide live shows that offer similar experiences while still meeting social distancing guidelines. We’re breaking down three of those formats below:

Drive-In Concerts

A popular variation of live shows is the drive-in concert, which has been gaining popularity around the world in the past year. At a drive-in concert, fans can enjoy performances from their favorite artists from the safety of their vehicles. Over the summer, Encore Live introduced Encore Drive-in Nights. This series features popular artists like Metallica, Kane Brown, and Blake Shelton showcasing an exclusive pre-recorded setlist, complete with interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. Shows simultaneously take place at hundreds of drive-ins across the continent, effectively connecting fans across North America, where the pandemic and recent political unrest have increased the boundaries between states and countries.

Turntable Stages

In Australia, the Good Day Sunshine festival in Western Australia debuted “the world’s first COVID-safe format”, which called for a “Turntable Stage” and four isolated festival zones. The festival had one stage which sat at the center of the venue and continually rotated between four separate zones, each with a 1250 person capacity. The zones themselves did not overlap whatsoever and operated as their own separate events for the duration of the festival. This is an innovative way to host a 5000 person show, without the risk that comes with it. One review stated that there were shorter queues and well-located screens so that the audience still had an optimal view, even when the artist wasn’t facing their area. Overall, this format seemed like a success that could very well be used in festivals moving forward.

Pig Pen Shows

In the UK, a pop-up venue called the Virgin Money Unity Area hosted shows in “pig pens” that allowed concert-goers to socially distance in small groups of five. Each group’s platforms were stocked with chairs, a table, and a fridge so that guests have everything they need within their specific area. Food and drinks were purchased beforehand to be either picked up or delivered to the group area. To ensure their guest’s safety, distancing was enforced the moment they arrived at the venue. While this format was quite different from the typical live show in Europe, it keeps in spirit with the continent’s overarching sentiment to work together to bring back their festivals.

4. Going Digital

Possibly the safest strategy that promoters can employ is to bring their in-person events into the digital space. Whether the festival moves entirely online or is simply a complementary component to your smaller-scale event, taking concerts online opens up a whole new world of possibilities that are both proven, and safe. Live streaming or virtual concerts have been effective fallbacks in 2020 for those who were unable to run their events, and they will continue to be important parts of live events moving into 2021. In fact, according to Billboard, interest in paid live streams went up 577% from July 2020 to September. When done right, live streaming and digital concerts can expand reach and open up the festival to a brand new audience.

Live Streams

Bonnaroo’s Virtual Rooality was a three-day virtual event that took place on Youtube Live and featured past performances as well as new, live-streamed shows. While the main show was free to everyone, Bonaroo also offered a pre-show that was made available exclusively for those who already purchased tickets to their festival in 2020. The pre-show featured never-before-shown performances from their festivals. Hosting this stream on FanXP allowed organizers to keep track of paying attendees and their data to utilize for their future 2021 festivals.

Virtual Concerts

One of Europe’s most prominent festivals, Tomorrowland, brought their iconic festival online with the debut of Tomorrowland Around the World. This digital festival ran for two days, included over 60 artists, and was held on 8 virtual stages, mirroring its physical counterpart. Bringing together 280 000 fans all over the world, this virtual festival proved that festivals can emulate and capture the same magic that attracts their fans in-person, through an online concert.

Opportunity: Partnership Activations

A key thing to keep in mind is that running a digital event requires both resources and budget. Consider including sponsorship activations into your live stream or virtual concert experience to help offset the cost, while engaging fans. This can be done organically by having the event ‘brought to you by’ and including logos and branding across the virtual experience. As an example, Live from Inside, the ongoing live stream concert series put on by Live Nation, was put on in partnership with Jim Beam.

Key Takeaways

The introduction of state-of-the-art strategies by festival organizers over the past year has proven one thing: the music industry is resilient. After a year full of not-so-great news, hope is on the horizon. A recent study in Germany found that live music events, with the proper safety precautions and ventilation, can safely take place in the near future. Until then, here are our top takeaways for planning your 2021 festival:

  • Engage your fans early: With hardly any festivals run in the past year, it’s extremely important to engage fans as early as possible to keep your event top of mind for next year. Running engagement campaigns and putting out the relevant content will ensure that fans are thinking about your festival in the lead up to the 2021 season.

  • Redefine live events: The year has forced us to constantly adapt and ultimately redefine how we interpret live events. While it’s important to preserve the festival experience for attendees, don’t be afraid to implement creative strategies to get the music to your fans, regardless of the boundaries you face.

  • Digitally Transform: You’ve heard it a thousand times before; digital isn’t going away any time soon, and it’s more widespread and accepted than ever. Offering a digital component to your fan base might benefit you more than you’d think, especially going into the next year.

  • Tie in digital sponsorship activations: Consider including digital sponsorship activations into your live stream or virtual concert experience to help offset the cost and engage your fans with outside content.

Although there will be many changes ahead of us, we can’t wait to see what festival season in 2021 looks and feels like. Festival fans from all over the world are eagerly awaiting your return.

Looking to plan a live stream event or ways to engage your festival fans? Contact us for a demo.

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