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Concert promoters embrace new media for fan services

DENVER (Billboard) - Talk about good timing.

After graduating last year with a degree in computer science from Sacramento (California) State University, 24-year-old Alex Rude decided to try his hand at iPhone application development by creating a scheduling app for that summer’s Vans Warped tour, which he was planning to attend for the fifth year.

The idea stemmed from Warped’s practice of announcing each day’s lineup the morning of the event, which can be a hassle for fans trying to keep track of which act is playing when and where. So Rude bought a Mac and taught himself how to code for the iPhone. A couple of weeks later, he finished the app and, to his surprise, Apple approved it.

“That actually shocked me, because I thought there would be some kind of copyright restriction,” he says.

In fact, there was. Warped new-media manager Paul Kersh discovered Rude’s app a week after it went live and had to make a quick decision.

“We could either sue him for using the Warped trademark or we could hire him,” Kersh says. “Of course we ended up hiring him.”

Since then, Rude’s app has gone from an unofficial fan scheduler with only a few thousand downloads to the official Warped tour mobile app that’s been downloaded more than 30,000 times and typically ranks among the top 100 music apps in the iTunes store. Rude is now creating similar apps for the Mayhem Festival and Country Throwdown tours.

‘THE PLACE WHERE IT’S ALL AT’

The story illustrates how important mobile apps are to organizers of summer music festivals. In addition to Warped, such events as Bonnaroo, Coachella and Lollapalooza are using mobile apps to enhance the concert experience for attendees as part of a broader new-media push that also includes social media and Internet initiatives.

“It’s a continuation of what we’re seeing with mobile technology becoming the place where it’s all at,” Kersh says. “It’s really changed how we interact with fans at the show itself.”

The Warped app, for example, goes far beyond the scheduler that started it all. It also features such items as information about each band (complete with links to buy their music at iTunes), news, tour date info and integrated Twitter feeds. Future updates will include automatic notification messages telling fans when the bands they’ve entered into their scheduler are about to play and a promotional code to download 10 free songs from iTunes.

The Coachella app featured an interactive map, a friend finder, photo uploading tools and the ability to mark on a map the location of a car or campsite. And Bonnaroo organizers say they’re in the final stages of selecting a developer to create a “much more robust and functional” app than what it offered last year, including maps and integration with Twitter and Facebook.

But there are downsides, as organizers at Coachella discovered this year. Spotty coverage and mobile network congestion rendered many of the app’s features useless. Also, only a fraction of attendees have smart phones, which is why many are also creating simpler mobile Web versions.

BUILDING A LIFESTYLE BRAND

This push into mobile is indicative of a broader effort to bring more new-media capabilities to live music fans, essentially blending a real-life experience with a virtual one. While mobile apps are designed primarily for onsite use, other digital efforts are intended to drive ticket sales and establish a year-round connection with a festival brand to keep fans engaged and to profit from additional sponsorship opportunities.

“One of the things we’ve realized about our events is that there’s a community built around them that is much larger than the people attending,” says Rick Farman, co-founder of Superfly Productions, which organizes the Bonnaroo and Outside Lands festivals, among others. “Yes, it does push people to attend. But where we think it can go is to build a much bigger lifestyle brand that is monetizable in some way.”

Both Warped and Bonnaroo have amassed more than 100,000 friends on their respective Facebook pages, and both are establishing their own dedicated social networks as well.

The Warped website, created four years ago, has more than 350,000 registered members who can post photos and comments and connect with friends. Kersh credits the site for driving preorder sales up 20 percent above last year’s previous record-setting number of preorders.

Superfly, meanwhile, created the Bonnaroo 365 site, which features streaming video of a handful of performances from the 2009 festival as its first experiment in establishing the event as a year-round brand. Farman declined to provide specifics but said the reaction to the site was good enough that he’s stopped adding content to it in order to formulate a more lasting business model based on advertising and, possibly, subscriptions.

Looking ahead, festival organizers are contemplating how to incorporate such buzzworthy technologies as location-based services (such as Foursquare) and perhaps even mobile ticketing and payment systems.

“If you’re in the business of promoting music or events,” Farman says, “and you don’t have a presence on those platforms or understand how they’re different from one another, you’re not doing your job.”

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