XLIVE Interview with Mike Snow, COO, Crash Line Productions
Since its inception in 2013 Boston Calling has grown to become one of the preeminent music festivals in the North East, annually drawing over 20,000 attendees for each edition of the festival. Boston Calling has also received a great deal of recognition from the music festival press, including being named as one of Consequence of Sound’s Top 10 music festivals in America.
With the first weekend of Boston Calling 2016 coming up on May 27-29, XLIVE sat down for a one-on-one interview with Mike Snow, COO of Crash Line Productions, Boston Calling’s parent organization. Snow gave an in-depth look at how his music industry background in print and radio prepared him for the monumental task of starting Boston Calling from scratch, while detailing the challenges of marketing for multiple festivals each summer in the same local market.
Before starting Crash Line Productions in 2012 you worked for many years at the Boston Phoenix and WFNX, which were legendary tastemakers for the alternative rock scene on a local and national level. How did your background working in print media and radio influence your decision to start a company focused on live music events?
The Phoenix/FNX were owned by a super small company and that was incredibly beneficial since it allowed me the opportunity to get “hands on” experience in every step of the concert business while getting paid a full salary in the process. Whether it was running a show in a local venue like the Paradise or the Middle East, putting together a free show on City Hall Plaza (where Boston Calling is now held today), booking acoustic sessions at the station or anything in between, by the time I started Crash Line I understood how to make it all flow. The main drawback was going from a beloved company with a long history of successful events to launching a startup live events company where we had attendance targets that were at least twice as big as anything we had done previously at The Phoenix/FNX. Without working at the station I would have had no idea where to start on the permit process or selling sponsorships.
Boston’s music scene has been the stomping grounds of influential bands for decades but outside of the FNX Block Party events there really hadn’t been a successful multi-day large scale festival in the area until the inaugural Boston Calling festival took place in 2013. Were there any particular factors that led you to believe that the Boston market could support a major festival? Were there any local stakeholders that played a key role in helping you to get the festival off the ground?
I grew up here, traveled to other great cities to see festivals and just got sick of not being able to celebrate great music at a ticketed event in the city. There was no real reason, other than finding the right venue, that this couldn’t be done. I thought about all the people I knew that traveled to Newport Folk Festival and Tanglewood every year and thought to myself that locals would be there for Boston Calling as long as the lineup was strong and the pricing was reasonable. We didn’t have a ton of local stakeholders on the government level or anything like that but we hired every local music expert to work on the show we could find. Many are still working with us today and all of them wanted to see this succeed from the start.
Boston Calling has been unique in the music festival industry in that the event has been held biannually since its inception. What are the most significant marketing challenges that you have to prepare for in order to put together two successful Boston Calling events a year?
The first is the people get confused! People know about the Memorial Day weekend festival since that’s basically the official start of summer but we haven’t cemented the September dates in anyone’s brain quite yet and I believe that leads to a little overlap. Knowing people are most interested in the bands, we lead with that in all of the marketing. The great thing about Boston is that we have more colleges and universities here than any other city in the country. That means when the college kids come back to the city in September we tend to get a nice influx of fresh eyes for that event that aren’t in town during the first festival of the year in May.
Do you perform any types of audience segmentation or analytics research to target specific attendees for each edition of the festival?
Nothing that specific, it happens naturally in Boston. I mentioned this a little bit above but since so many people are used to coming into the city for sporting events during the year, we don’t have to dig super deep to get to the audience. Great bands, a fresh look to the City Hall Plaza, and some unique touches from festival to festival help us keep it up to date.
As a follow up, experiential marketing has been an important topic of conversation for festival organizers as they look to create new opportunities for revenue generation. How do you go about the process of working with brands to authentically integrate their products and messaging into the festival experience in a way that actually benefits the fans?
It really varies brand to brand but the super savvy ones are always on top of this and present us with tons of great ideas that we can fit into the festival. On the flip side, many people come to us for the ideas and we have a blast trying to sort that part out. Coming from that media world, it’s very much in our wheelhouse and something that we enjoy doing. The message we always drive home is that we are a festival that puts the attendee first and they will have plenty of time on-site to interact with your brand. We encourage our partners to do something impactful so that you become part of our fan’s lives for that day or weekend.
Lastly, as a festival organizer are there any particular in-venue tech trends that you believe will have a significant impact on how we attend concerts and interact with our favorite musicians in the future?
RFID bracelets are an untapped resources. The attendee will eventually fall in love with them because it will be all you need to remember for the entire festival. You can use it to pay for anything you want, send yourself social media messages, capture all the bands you might have seen and much more. The tech reach is still developing and providing more info to the festival and to the user. Now we are seeing people use it to setup scavenger hunts, reward loyal fans that arrive early or stay late and instant upgrades, but I’m excited for the future because there’s so much more to explore!