Getting event creation out of the Stone Age

Confinement dictates, the Spleen of event creators, reached an unprecedented peak with the coronavirus crisis. The first to be affected, the last to be deconfined. There’s reason to be slaughtered. But to think that this feeling was born with COVID-19 would be a mistake. This spleen isn’t from yesterday or March 17 2020. To understand the problem, we must go back in time but, above (under?) all, we must dig deeper. This is how we realize that the causes of the problem are multiple, more or less obvious, more or less felt, and therefore expressed by the actors of the events world.

I intend to begin by echoing a protean problem that has as much to do with the model of event creation as with the very structure of the ecosystem. In a second step — and because it is my job as CEO of Shotgun — I intend to propose the beginning of a solution.

At this particular time for the ecosystem, it is indeed necessary to rethink the model in which we are evolving in depth. On the one hand, because we are at the dawn of a new wave of creation — we will come back to this in another article; on the other hand, because the importance of event-based production — we now realize this at our expense — goes far beyond the internal stakes of the ecosystem.

Indeed, the brutal halt of all cultural events coincides surprisingly with the acceleration and hardening of the identity crisis that is sweeping through our societies. Disappearance of collective structures. Withdrawal of art. The removal of experience. Individuals who can no longer be in communion with each other in a favorable environment. Solitude and return to violence. These are the direct consequences of a forced and prolonged return of individuals to their primary needs.

Making the right diagnosis and proposing a remedy for the deep problems affecting the ecosystem is, therefore, a social issue.

The Spleen of Event Organizers

If the job of event producer has never been a piece of cake, it has become much more complicated in recent years. Old or new. Big or small. Clubs or festivals. And in this era of the experimental generation — for whom going out has become a way of life — it’s a paradox. If bad news — cancellations, bans, or even closures — damages the morale of the entire ecosystem when it happens, the two more extended and more in-depth trends that make the job harder are the explosion of the event offer and the saturation of media and communication channels.

The explosion of events supply

In 2018, at Shotgun we published a study on the evolution of the electronic music ecosystem. We noticed that over the 4 years preceding the survey, the number of event producers had increased by 50% to 100% every year! An incredible explosion we could observe on the whole range of event types and musical styles. The consequence of this phenomenon has been to put the big historical players in front of a new kind of competition, a competition that was breaking and redefining the codes.

On the other hand, for young creators, this multiplication has certainly been exciting and a source of opportunities, but breaking through has become much harder. Hard to create a unique concept — “differentiating,” some would say. Hard to create a community. Hard to reach a critical size. Hard to produce events consistent with constantly evolving communities.

The event supplied therefore multiplied. On the other hand, event demand is experiencing the same boom. The experience generation goes out every week, even several evenings a week. Sometimes they even experience several events in one night extending over the course of the day. Our friends at Heetch — Uber French competitor — have made this mobility so fluid that it increases tenfold the potential of possible experiences for a generation that has made going out the heart of its social life.

The experience generation goes out every week, several evenings a week.

The first direct consequence of this boom is that the experience generation is made up of experts. Their level of demand for creation continues to grow. The demand is limitless: artists, sound system, place, but also line-up structuring, lights, staging, number of stages, inclusion values, safety behavior.

Second impact: communities are more disparate, less “retentive,” less faithful — are they still communities, one might even ask. Individuals choose every weekend from an ever-widening range of events. The opportunity cost of selecting this evening vs. that event generates fear of missing out. For producers, it is not only harder to build communities, but it has become even more challenging to maintain them.

Saturation of communication channels

In this new supply paradigm, brought about by a generation whose experimental appetite is pushing for a necessary differentiation to attract ever less attention due to the extent of choice, the other primary subject of disarray for producers is none other than the growing inefficiency of traditional channels of communication.

As a more or less direct consequence of this phenomenal growth, communication channels are now saturated. The organic reach of posts, whatever their nature, has decreased drastically in recent years. And it continues to sink. Even the original posts. Even videos. Even stories. It’s mathematical.

At a constant level of number of users, the explosion of content is forcing platforms to restrict reach.

The ready-made solution: advertising. The famous ads. Event creators are forced to pay to (re)find a lost reach. A bet that’s being won for the platforms! Have you tasted reach? Was it good? Cool, but now you’ll have to pay. And since the platforms are far from stupid, they provide the creators with what they are looking for: reach.

Problem: creators get some reach, yes. But in the end, very little commitment, minimal conversion. Very few additional participants to the events, and the end, very few extra tickets sold. In marketing terms: the ads ROI is increasingly decreasing. So, whether it’s on Facebook, Instagram, or others, the difference between reach and user engagement is getting stronger. At Shotgun, we see it regularly: large event institutions, whose Facebook pages exceed the 100,000 fan mark, can — on some campaigns — reach hundreds of thousands of users, only to convert just a few dozen into ticket buyers.

From now on, paid communication campaigns give random results, most of the time, derisory. This plunges the creators of events into a total vagueness and prevents them from foreseeing, and adjusting their strategy and budgets.

Producers must survive in an explosive, increasingly complex and fluid world. In this context, at first glance, the diversity of paid communication tools seems to make up for a diminishing reach, but in the end, it converts very few into ticket buyers.

Real problems that go much deeper

Competitive inflation and loss of effectiveness of communication tools. Anyone in the events ecosystem is aware of these two scarecrows. But it seems to me that, in reality, these are just the easy and visible problems. The two shrubs that hide the forest. The problem is much more profound. Faced with the emergence of the experience generation, it can’t be rational that the multiplication of actors represents a problem. As for the high saturation of communication channels, it makes us forget the real subject: namely the content, the object on which we communicate.

The unspoken problem of the event ecosystem: an outdated creation model

If we were lazy, we could sum up the ecosystem problem in one sentence: at the moment, the creation of events follows a pattern of an old, even obsolete, time. But as we have worked a little on the subject, we will develop it further.

Within the event ecosystem, the creative model follows the following dialectic: the event is expected to create community. This dialectic is the opposite of the contemporary creative model.

Today, in many creative ecosystems, the community precedes creation. Creators are first and foremost figures who gather a community around them. The creator and his creations are one. The followers commit themselves as much to the creative person, and his or her creative process as to the result created.

In the process of birth and emergence of a creator, his creations ultimately represent (very) small investments. But gradually, through the production of recurrent, qualitative, and targeted content, the creator creates and gathers a community around him.

Then, when the community is large enough, retentive, basically when the community is ready, comes the long-awaited moment: the creator moves on to monetization through paid content. His creation becomes a paying product. Aside, money and artistic creation tend to get people. As if the oxymoron was too strong. As if money dirtied the creative process. A mystery to which Oussama Ammar — founder of The Family — recently gave an answer that I found relevant.

Society, out of jealousy, wants to punish individuals who decide to live from their passion.

Given that we are at the dawn of the era of the passion economy, it would be no mistake to deconstruct this model. Attention all interested parties!

Let’s get back to our creation model. There are now countless examples to illustrate our point. Starting with the pioneers of the model. Those who were creators even before they knew it and became aware of it. Let’s take the example of one of the pioneers in France (cocorico): Norman. He started making videos on YouTube — one of his very first on a ping-pong club — before moving on to stand up, then to one-man-show, then to touring and later to the big screen. I’m purposely summarizing and simplifying. Another universe: sport. One of the pioneers, Tibo in Shape, followed a similar evolution. A student with a passion for bodybuilding delivers his advice through a new format. I’ll skip the details of the development, but it ends with a gym he owns, sponsored content, a clothing brand, subscriber meetings…

Today, coaches — sportsmen and women, comedians, cartoonists, writers, and other creators follow this model more or less consciously. Creation of unique and personal content, presentation of the content (showing their faces), and diffusion on a blog, on Instagram, YouTube, or Facebook. Before creating a paid program, editing a book, or selling physical creations.

Anyway, we got both points:

  1. The world of contemporary creation is exploding, with digital platforms having the propensity to transform users into makers massivelyWatching YouTube videos makes you want to create them; reading articles makes you want to write to them, going out for parties makes you want to create events.

  2. This new world has developed along the following model:

(i) free, simple and recurrent content -> (ii) creation of a community -> (iii) paid content, more complete, rarer. Event creation — because yes, we talk about event creation as an artistic act — follows not only a different model, but above all, an inverted model:

  1. Starts with content that is capital-intensive, paid for, and without a prior community

  2. Where there is no initial community to contact

  3. Use of ads and other paid acquisition channels

  4. Disappointing, sometimes devastating results

  5. There is no step (v) because the strategy fails: a first event did not give rise to the emergence of a community

Creating and producing an event very often represents a considerable investment: venue, artists, security, sound and lights, decoration, bar, cloakroom, control room. The worst? Many amongst clients do not realize it.

Price sensitivity in the event world is at about the same level of variance as a dark crypto-currency at the end of 2017.

A lot of investment, then. Not only financial investments: time, energy, reputation, health, studies (many students among the creators of events). Investments that are full of optimism which precede (and are supposed to provoke) a hoped-for result, which unfortunately too often precede a community.

I take responsibility for the word: in an age where influence has become a distribution model, this is absurd.

The icing under the cake: infrastructure harms creation

In contrast to the first problem, my knowledge of other ecosystems is limited; I do not know if this is a problem common to other worlds of creation.

In addition to the obsolescence of its creation model, the event ecosystem suffers from an infrastructure problem. It is a world where skills are fragmented. Scattered. Musical creation, musical production, performance, broadcasting, management, event production, communication, artistic direction. The world of events is an endless chain of intermediaries, all of which have the impact of distancing the artist from his audience, from his community. As a result, the artist’s share of remuneration is progressively reduced.

This fragmentation slows down, inhibits, or even prevents the creative process. The intermediaries are numerous and speak little to each other. When they talk to each other, it is through inadequate and unsuitable channels. The relationship is made complicated by taboos and other mythologies about the relationship between money and creation.

As the founder of Shotgun, this is one of my greatest frustrations. How many events aren’t taking place? How many artists cannot express themselves because of the inertia of an ecosystem that has placed intermediation above creation?

How many events are not taking place every week?

If one wishes to resolve this great frustration — I don’t think I’m the only one who suffers from it? — it is necessary to (1) (re)put the creator at the center, (2) in the best conditions to create, and (3) to break down the creative chain.

In other words, we need to rethink the model of creation and simplify an ecosystem that is far too intermediated.

A new creation model calling for new tools

To finish this paper, we will try to lay the first bricks of a humble solution to the first problem. For the simplification of the ecosystem, we will come back. Soon. One thing at a time.

A new model means new tools, new media, new methods, of course. But above all, it means a return to the fundamentals of creation. An event is an artistic creation. I talk about it in a previous article on my vision of the events world. An event is an artistic creation that is characterized by two unique elements: it is a temporary and multi-dimensional creation.

So let’s keep in mind that an event producer is above all an event “creator,” both artist and craftsman. His project is to express an emotion, an identity, a project for the world, values, a vision through a moment of life punctuated by a musical journey.

In this context, the creative process must be put back at the center. Because today, communication is more important than content, and as a result, it is biased and degraded. The medium has a considerable influence on the content that it is only supposed to convey. The qualitative creation that brings a community together has no difficulty in communicating by itself, in distributing itself.

Community is a distribution channel in itself

An engaged community does not need to receive advertising or even email to buy the product of the creation of the one it follows.

Enabling event creators to exist outside the ticket sales cycle: that’s what’s at stake. This cycle traps them in a 100% commercial relationship with their clients — who are, therefore, a list of clients before being a community. This relationship does not suit anyone and forces customers to think of the artist-fan relationship only in terms of communication, sales, and ticketing.

Creators who manage to build communities today are the ones who win the battle of qualitative recurrence, mostly through non-mercantile content. However, events are rare content, (almost) exclusively paid for, and whose quality depends on many criteria — very subjective.

So we need to rethink content creation, community building, community retention, before imagining how to integrate ticket sales as a logical step in a more extensive creative process.

Step 1 - starting with creation: working on the content

  • Generate rich artistic, creative content, specific to events

  • Offer content that is overwhelmingly non-mercantile content

  • Commit to a certain recurrence of creation (and therefore of diffusion)

Step 2 - establishing a content strategy: multi-dimensionality

  • Creating a framework for recurring content is fundamental in the era of community-driven distribution.

  • Mostly free content, from which sometimes paid content emerges

  • Work on the multi-dimensional aspect: musical content, graphic content, event content, artistic content, spiritual content, personal content, intellectual content, etc.

  • Respect the essence of the event which makes its artistic singularity in the eternal arts: the temporary; the event is a performance anchored in time; this fundamental element must transpire through the content that is created

  • By their recurrence, the contents participate in the creation of an artistic universe, fundamental to the construction of the community.

  • It is sometimes essential to surprise one’s community; because, like its temporary aspect, the surprise is what characterizes the singularity of event creation

  • Beware, despite the surprises, a certain coherence must emerge to create a real event brand gradually.

Step 3 - establishing a brand strategy: embodying an identity to bring a community together

  • Creative recurrence is the best way to connect, a loop with a fledgling community

  • It allows the creator to receive an echo of reality, to test innovative ideas, to iterate on projects of more significant importance

  • Gradually build a community by regularly offering creative, qualitative and multi-dimensional content while listening to the feedback

  • Understand step by step what you embody for your community: are your initial vision, your values, your creative project recognized by the emerging community?

  • If this is the case, it is a question of going all the way, of assuming and verbally embodying this vision, of making it content in its own right.

  • When an artistic project meets the profound identity of a community, it is the beginning of something big.

In this context, the paid event becomes a prominent, organic meeting place for a community. It changes the dimension; it changes the meaning. It is no longer a “ticket,” a “ticket” to a party. It’s an investment. It’s a brick. It’s the individual participation of each member of a community in an artistic project that animates them and, at the same time, goes beyond them. This moment is the result of an exchange of a more or less conscious co-construction. The passage from non-market content to paid content of event creation. The event.