Intervention Feedback from Experts

From John Burgess, director of Bugged Out! (http://www.buggedout.net/) and Field Day Festival (http://fielddayfestivals.com/), and founder / director of The Mighty Hoopla Festival(https://www.mightyhoopla.com/):

Positive 
I thought the idea of doing a night base around that era of music was great. Might feel too soon to older folk but not to 26 year olds (target clubbing market) who were 15 at the time so it’s their first nostalgic experience.
Like the idea of an immersive night for a rave up in general. Chiming with the times when people seeming to want more out of a club night, to wit Sink The Pink, Elrow and events like Secret Cinema. Seems weird no one has really done it before with a club night. 
Good name and reflects the concept of taking a trip to Mars. Promo conveyed it all strongly. 
I liked the check in with the Japanese ladies best. Fun start to the night. Set the tone that you weren’t about to walk it into Yet Another Indie Night at The Garage.
The installation was great in the centre of the room and the movie clips were fun and well done, clearly worked well on the audience and stoked them into cheering along. Shame the lady who played the co pilot was not at the club night itself. 
Negative 
I guess it is difficult with a club night on from 8-2am to get everyone there at a certain time. We felt we had arrived really early (10pm) but a lot of people had already arrived and so when we did the check-in bit it was just our small group. Might have been more fun if we were entering with a load of people. Maybe you could sell tickets with time slots to enter? Like 9.45-10pm10pm-10.15pm etc I think Secret Cinema do that so you get to interact more with strangers. 
Shame the audio failed on the last clip as I wasn’t sure why the pilot was strangled. 
Shame Elon Musk’s star fell prior to the event. 
The immersive bit seemed to end quite early? Unless I left and missed anything that may have happened after the death of the pilot. I was standing too far back to really notice the actors doing their bit. 
The music was great and everyone was dancing but could have been improved with a DJ just to be reactive to the dance floor or to deal with any issues (like The Blue Monday bit). 
Wasn’t sure whether there should’ve been more interaction in the club room between actors and punters? Unless the actors took one look at me and assumed I’d turned up to pick my kids up and gave me a wide berth. 

 

 

Production Feedback

The two main production people, Mhari and Ignas have sent feedback from the event. Both are Theatre Design students, both worked on the event for the past few weeks and attended as customers. 

Ignas:
Hey Andy, here is my feedback 
During the production process we had a great supply of materials, and a constant support from technicians. We managed to build a durable and stable construction in considerably short time and got surprisingly realistic results (imitating metal) in spray painting stage.
The party seemed to attract an audience big enough to call it success. Live action scenes were amazingly involving and exciting. Crowd enthusiasm was clearly lifted as they took a part in a mission and it went well according to the rebel plan. Actors did an amazing job. Key changes: music organisation (avoiding glitches), more variety in digital visualisations.
Maybe I would do more digital visuals, maybe big projector screens on all angles to create surrounding environment.

And maybe audio could include sounds and effects to help build the atmosphere.

Mhari:

Hi Andy, 

 
Here is the feedback you asked for. 

I just wanted to start off by saying that it became apparent that you have a very creative side and you are full of good ideas. You are also very open to suggestions and collaboration and I really appreciate that. 
 
For additional feedback, I think the most important piece I could give is related to time management. Obviously, a lot of this will be clear to you now that you have had the experience of doing the event, but i think there was a lot more work to do than you had anticipated or allowed time for. Perhaps because I have been on the production side in the past, I know that there will always be glitches on the day, so it is important to have anything that could be finished, done before the day of the set up. The film and the music being examples of things that should have been finished beforehand. If there had been any technical trouble with the projectors we would have really been in trouble. 
 
Also, we should have sat together before and made a checklist of equipment to make sure that everything had been thought of (ie. playlist for upstairs room, lights, instructions for actors, etc.)
 
There were obviously things that needed to be ironed out to make it a truly immersive experience, but I hope we can work on developing ideas in the future. 
 

Definitely in the future events production will be addressed for earlier in the process, with everything being tested in advance. I plan to run a ‘dress rehearsal’ of the Kanye event in a small space with 20-40 people to gain feedback far enough in advance to be able to make changes.

Adam Alston’s book refer’s to the concept of ‘elegance’, to mean how smooth the imagined world being created in Immersive Theatre transition’s with practical considerations / restrictions (for example wanting to move people from one room to another to continue the story – tell them to move or entice them in a way that is coherently part of the story). I feel that lighting and devices such as sirens / alarms could have definitely improved the elegance of my production.

Thinking more deeply, my research and thinking are increasingly leading me to conclude that the real aim here is to create events with no limit on their upside – that is scaleable concepts, in order to become subject to Pareto’s law. For that to happen the story must be mostly led by pre-filmed content, which can be used again without additional cost. Replacing expensive DJs with expensive sets and actors isn’t a great leap forward. My emphasis for the next event will be on the digital production over everything else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Launch of Second Event

I have launched the second major intervention. I have created 3 promotional videos:

And set up 12 adverts for these, with various demographic targeting. Press release has been sent out, and there will be a pre-sale next Wednesday (August 1st). This is a better date than previously with a broader musical theme – hopefully this will do better

 

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Intervention Feedback From Actors

From actors Miranda & Tim, who just completely a full season of Secret Cinema’s Blade Runner and are experienced immersive actors with Punchdrunk, Secret Cinema and more.

Tim and I just sat together and wrote you some feed back. Hope it’s helpful. Please don’t take the negative personally. For a first time immersive event you did a fab job much better than many I’ve done. 

Feedback. 

• It was nice to have  the brake out areas to perform more one on one content. Allowed us to drive a lot more detailed narrative in spaces like that. • The toilette pathways was little disruptive when trying to create an atmosphere and deliver content. 

We countered the natural flow of audience going to the toilet at inconvenient times by using the security detail. He would stop them and ask them questions like “do you think it’s your basic right to be able to go to the toilet?” Or “do you have ID?” Or pretending to listen to a walkie talkie. This gives enough time to to be able to send them through where they wouldn’t interfere with the rebel story line. It wasn’t perfect but it was ok.

• The flow of audience to the smoking area is also another pathway to think about and warn your performers next time where. As they are always asked. 

• When you are opening up a new space, like the big room we opened at 10: 20pm. it  can be useful to use the narrative to help that reveal land in a more exciting way. 

• We found with walk about interactions in the big space. it is limited to physical tasks 
As it was too loud to deliver much vocal content. This was absolute fine as the videos where doing that at this point. Although they needed a little more tech support to land right. Personally I think they were too quite. Perhaps a siren or a loud sound that snaps the environment for a moment before the videos. A repeated sound motif used through the event like a school bell to teach the audience to pay attention at critical narrative moments. The videos could also use subtitles. 

• The same tech support is needed if you are going to have a live scene in a space like that. “Find your light” became a catch phrase, when working on The drowned man with Punchdrunk. Its great to perform in dark space’s, but you need pools of concentrated light to be seen in, if the audience is gonna have any clue of what’s going on. 

 

 

 

Post Event

The event was Saturday. I will go deeper with my assessment as more stakeholders are surveyed, but below are my initial thoughts / learnings.

Overall the event was a commercial failure, a creative success and an amazing learning exercise.

 

There were just over 300 people through the door, which was more than enough to create a great atmosphere (see video above), but more than half were ‘comped’, so the revenue did not cover costs. There were three reasons for this in my opinion:

1) The date was terrible, June 7 July are the worst possible dates for club events, and the week before payday is especially bad; in addition a hot summer exacerbates this, and it’s the hottest summer in living memory.

2) This is a new and unknown concept, which people found confusing (there were people asking online ‘what is it though?’ throughout the campaign. Partially this is good, in that it indicates that this is an original idea, but perhaps I could have simplified the messaging earlier (after the first few weeks of advertising I switched to emphasising the music).

3) The musical theme is an obscure one – that’s fine as a test event, but by combining a challenging concept with an obscure musical theme the potential audience shrinks dramatically.

No new business can expect to be profitable during it’s first ever trading period, so this isn’t disastrous, and I would much rather learn all the other lessons during a low profile event. I am rereading ‘Smarter, Faster, Better’ by Charles Duhigg, the book where I first read about creativity often being the cross pollination of ideas between domains. In his example which inspired this whole concept, Duhigg talks about A West Side Story, and how it brought together different types of theatre. The first showing was held in Washington “So if it bombed, news might not reach all the way back to Broadway”, which I find comforting when reflecting on this event. The Garage is not a high profile venue, and Nu Rave is not a mainstream musical genre I will need to revisit.

The event itself was one of the most stressful days of my career, starting at 10am in the venue. My production team were there all day creating the centrepiece, which looked amazing and did a magnificent job of making the dance floor less intimidating.  

I spent much of the day editing and re-editing the video which contained all the music for the night as well as the visuals and filmed parts. I was using Premiere Pro, a programme I used for the first time on this project, and had spent all week on. At 6pm I was ready to upload it, and the computer said it would take 5 hours to save! Having only used iMovie previously, I had no idea that large films take hours to render – this meant a last minute panic, and having to run the film from within the programme itself. This caused significant anxiety on the night, and the programme froze twice, but it was a minor pause and didn’t affect audience experience.

Audience members on the night arrived and were led into the upstairs room, where there were 9 actors manning tables marked ‘Mars Immigration’. There were told they were not getting full citizenship and given glow sticks and faces painted in neon, as per the script. The ‘secret room’ was used to great effect to recruit ‘rebels’ as per the script also, and the audience were loving the experience. We decided to hold everyone upstairs until 9.30pm building atmosphere and anticipation, and it worked really well. When they went downstairs the dance floor immediately filled up, and the atmosphere was euphoric. The biggest surprise of the night for me was the reaction to the first filled scene. The audience went crazy cheering and celebrating, and booing Elon Musk’s name. It was an amazing moment, and bodes well for the concept in the future.

Several people expressed surprise that there wasn’t a DJ, and in hindsight perhaps I should have had one after the filmed scenes were finished. The pre-programmed music got harder as the night went on, when in actual fact the crowd was thinning, and it should have gone more towards disco than rave in those circumstances. I need to find a way to balance a pre-existing story with the flexibility to react to the night in future.

The actors final dramatic scene which coincided with the final filmed scene had mixed results. Those who saw it loved it, and were cheering the ‘rebels’ enthusiastically, but in a busy, dark, loud club many missed it entirely. The actors felt this could have been overcome using spot lights to focus the crowd on them.

Overall, I am delighted with the experience of putting this on, despite it’s problems. I have never been so nervous before an event, and probably would have cancelled it when the film failed to save were it not part of my Masters – doing something out of one’s comfort zone leads to fast learning, and that has been the story of my summer so far.

Before the next event I am going to research ways to add flexibility to using music and film in a club environment – I think there is a type of CDJ music player which incorporates visuals. I will also make the next event far clearer in it’s explanation from the beginning, and go for a more mainstream music policy. The film / music will be sorted well in advance, and some kind of mini ‘dress rehearsal’ is a must in future. I would like to invest in more actors and more decor / effects on the night, but of course this is budget dependent.

The actors will be sending me detailed feedback this week, as will several promoters I asked to come to the event, and the venue itself. I will send a survey to all ticket holders also.

On Wednesday the second iteration of my concept will be announced – ‘The Electoral College Dropout’, to take place at Electric Brixton on October 5th. I built the website for this today – www.elixarimmersive.com

 

 

Final Instructions for Actors

 

Hi Miranda,
So further to yesterday’s email, here’s some more information for the actors.
Roles
 
Security
Supervisor
Rebel 1 
Rebel 2
The event runs 8pm-2am, and I will be the point of contact – 07479941994. The numbers won’t be huge, so we expect a relatively smooth night.
The premise of the event is that people are boarding a spaceship to Mars on one of Elon Musk’s first 1000 ships to colonise the planet. They are enjoying a party between take off and passing the moon, where they will be put into a deep sleep for the journey. They have chosen the ship with the music ‘Nu Rave’ (electronic indie music from 2005-2007) for their party.
However upon arrival they will notice that the music proceeding this scene, Libertines-era music will be playing. They will also notice signage with mildly disturbing messaging, along the Orwellian-creep-to-totalitarianism theme.
Audience will enter via room 2, a 200 capacity smaller room upstairs, and be confronted by our ‘extras’, who will be manning ‘Mars Immigration’. They will ask audience members for their facebook logins, twitter logins, bank pin numbers etc, essentially asking for personal details to the point at which audience members refuse. When they refuse, they will be informed that they will unfortunately not be given full citizenship or voting rights when they arrive on Mars, and they must be ‘marked as half citizens’. This will involve neon face paint being smeared across the eye area.
Of course, some people will say no to both being painted and giving personal information, and they will be taken for processing, and rudely informed that they will be spending time in a detention centre when they arrive on Mars, and that on Mars, to disobey Elon is to disobey God. This is the role of the Security Guard. 
 
The Supervisor will oversee this process too, and is also an evil Space X employee.
They will be led to a small booth-like area to be photographed. But in fact there is a hidden door there, and the Rebel 1 & Rebel 2 will invite them into a back room. There they will be recruited to join the rebellion. The message will be as follows:
– No corporation should run a planet. Earth is shit, Mars will be worse. The moon base is already set up, and there’s rebels on every ship ready to land on the moon and claim it as a free place with no rulers.
– The key is to get the ship to stop being steered by mission control on earth, and have the pilots reboot and fly manually. Space X doesn’t know your ace in the hole – the co-pilot is a rebel.
– When the time comes, the motherboard will need to be smashed, so security must be distracted. Rebels should use the glow sticks when the signal is given.
– Take a swig from this hip flask, you’re a rebel now.
– Tell no one.
As the evening progresses, everyone will go downstairs into the main room. There will be a screen where the cockpit can be seen (as can space), and a large centrepiece representing the link to ground control. The Security Guard will guard this from about 10pm onwards.
There will be 4 video addresses from the cockpit:
Approx 10pm
1st, a hello from the pilot and co-pilot, apologies for the music, a problem with space command back home.
Approx 10.20pm
2nd address speaking about rebels on other ships, and that the cockpit is perfectly secure.
Approx 10.45pm
3rd, a reiteration that the cockpit is secure, and so any attempt to sever the link to earth is fruitless.
Approx 11pm
Between the 3rd and 4th address, the rebels will smash the link to earth by pulling chords from the ‘main computer’. Rebels will first distract Security and Supervisor with a small ruckus in the corner of the dance floor (Rebel 1 will organise people to do this), whilst this happens, Rebel 2 will smash the link to earth. Whilst security and supervisor take the rebels away, they celebrate.
Approx 11.15pm
4th, the announcement of a reboot and manual flying of the ship, followed by the co-pilot strangling the pilot, and taking control. All audience members will be given “emergency lights” (glow sticks) and will be asked to light them by the captain during the 4th address. All actors and extras should encourage audience members to light glow sticks at this point. (rebels have re-entered and Space X employees have had a change of heart in light of all the announcements by the captain).
 This will be followed by a full blackout, and the music switching to Nu Rave – an announcement of victory.
This will be the key moment of the night, approximately 11pm. All extras and actors at this point should be in the main room, and should be loudly cheering and celebrating the successful takeover of the ship.
After this point maintaining a celebratory atmosphere on the dance floor will be the roles of the extras and actors. Having a good time!
Let me know if you have any other questions?

Progress Update

The event is this Saturday, and it’s full steam ahead. I’m editing the film on Premiere Pro, and adding the music to the film (here’s a snippet).

I have ordered glow sticks and neon paint for the audience.

The centrepiece was designed and built by myself and the team of CSM volunteers (mostly them).  

I’ve also ordered 40 light up wire,  5metres long. These will protrude from the top of the centrepiece out onto the ceiling, which will hopefully look spectacular.

 

I have 8 ‘extras’ booked, who will greet arrivals and paint their faces. I also have 5 actors, all of whom were on the cast of Secret Cinema’s ‘Blade Runner’ production, which is perfect.

Ticket sales are still terrible – 76 as of this morning. This is despite huge social media advertising spend, and actually effective ads by traditional measurements (average less than 20p per click, average for the venue is over 70p, sometimes as much as £4). My time will be spent now mostly on filling the venue. Definitely, such a challenging concept as immersive clubbing should not be accompanied by an obscure musical theme – in hindsight I would have gone broader musically, so I could spend this week worrying about the narrative over the sales.

Filming

 

Today I did the pre-filmed parts for the event. I managed to get a location for free – https://www.backyardcinema.co.uk/mission-to-mars/ – a pop up cinema decorated as a spaceship. The filming was done by myself and Mhari, one of the production team I recruited from CSM. A friend linked me with a cosmetics company who had used space suits in an advertising campaign, and kindly let me use them for free.

The actors were Kathryn (whom I had previously approached as a stakeholder due to her expensive experience with Punchdrunk and Secret Cinema), and James Kelly – https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0811839/ -who was outstanding, and whom Katheryn helped me to find.

The last few days have been extremely tough / stressful. I’ve met the venue to address advertising / ticket sales, rewritten the script (again), met a film editor for advice on adding effects to the video, purchased Adobe Premiere Pro and started watching tutorials in anticipation of creating a professional edit of the footage, lost a lead actor (and replaced him), been to Essex to collect space suits, found a ‘space pod’ to go into the venue (currently negotiating prices on a crane / flatbed lorry to see if this is feasible), met the production team to finalise decor, and finally, filmed this morning.

I have never been so far out of my comfort zone, and stressed. There’s a feeling of regretting going this big with my intervention, but equally all the books i’ve read this year talk about growth only coming from being out of one’s depth, so there’s consolation there.

There’s also huge consolation in the fact that the shoot was great, the actors were amazing and the set location was perfect! We improvised some scenes and dramatically improved them, and overall i’m feeling much better about the event.

I’ve also created over 60 new types of facebook adverts based on the demographics and preferences of previous ads, hopefully to get tickets moving. Within 24 hours i’ll be able to see what is and isn’t working and funnel money into the successful ads.

10 days to go!

Production Development / Choices / Theory

With less than 2 weeks to go, I am finalising the production for the event. The main challenge is trying to work within time and (especially) financial constraints whilst trying to make a convincing space ship. I have been extremely lucky to have a small team of helpers from other theatre and design courses at UAL for this.

The decision we have made is to use neon signage with dystopian phrases around the venue, to give the impression of people ‘not getting what they bargained for’ in terms of life on Mars, 4 projectors within the building, so as to be able to give rich visual information without the need to physical building, and one centrepiece in the middle of the dance floor, which will represent the ‘mother ship’.

(Illustrations by design team, not myself).

 

This will be a kind of ‘pillar’ wrapped in neon UV cables and with some circuit boards. Whilst this is visually striking, it also very much fits with the aesthetic of ‘Nu Rave’ the musical theme, who’s aesthetic is all neon and glow sticks.  It also fits with the broader aim of having decor and props which are consistent with the idea of the event being a party in which people are supposed to dance and have fun.

The deeper motivation for a centrepiece beyond it decoration, is a concept called ‘The Void’ by Jason Warren in his excellent book ‘Creating Worlds’. 

Much of the theory I have read about Immersive Theatre presumes to project political or socio-economic motivations behind certain actions of Immersive Theatre companies after the fact by those not involved. Nassim Taleb in his book ‘The Black Swan’ describes such practice as ‘Lecturing Birds How To Fly’, that is, rationalising post-hoc something that has entirely practical reasons in the first place. An example of this is Adam Alston’s book ‘Beyond Immersive Theatre’,

in which he argues that the fact that one is ‘rewarded’ for being proactive in immersive theatre with individual scenes / interactions with actors is a reflection of New Labour and David Cameron’s embrace of the free market and generally the establishment of neoliberal economic thinking across the political spectrum in Britain in the 90s onwards. This is a neat theory, but it certainly doesn’t correspond to reality – immersive theatre productions such as Punchdrunk and Secret Cinema are businesses, and a major expense is acting talent – the ‘first come first served nature of interactions is entirely practical, as there are less actors than audience members for economic reasons.

Back to ‘The Void’, this is the idea that audiences will avoid large empty spaces, and that simply putting a pillar or other physical object will make those spaces more inviting to audience members. In fact Jason Warren’s example involves a night club scene in his own play:

 

I hope this will have the effect of making people feel comfortable on the dance floor from the beginning. Also, as ticket sales are currently very low (60 sold so far), it will help to ‘shrink’ the venue, making for a better atmosphere with less people.

Step Back / The Reason For This Project / Transition To Digital?

  

 

Outside of what I deem specific research on the subject matter of immersive theatre, my reading this year has increasingly informed my thinking on the project itself. This reached the point a fortnight ago where I considered changing my question to a broader, more theoretical version of my own, perhaps using the event Escape To Atlantis To Interzone as some sort of case study. Upon reflection, this isn’t a necessary step – in fact the new knowledge gained is just part of my research, but on a more macro level – and if anything is a slight step back, a more  academic justification for the project itself. I will attempt below to summarise my learnings and how they relate to this project:
Why Immersive Theatre, Nightlife and Technology?
 
Why Are Promoters Always Sad? 
My experience as a professional music events promoter for the past 15 years allowed me to observe a phenomenon which only struck me upon stepping away from the business; promoters (and particularly venue bookers) are consistently unhappy with the industry in which they work – bitter, angry, enraged, exhausted. The usual culprit for this ire is ‘the industry’ or often ‘booking agents / managers’ who represent talent, but the vagueness is indicative of the fact that the difficulties of being a promoter are related to the structure of the industry itself rather than any specific stakeholders within the system.
In my opinion the main explanation for these feelings stem from the economic structure of this industry, and it’s contrast to the perception of it’s structure by those involved.
Being part of the music industry, most perceive music promotion as being a ‘creative industry’, whereas it is far more like a commodity business. Promoters compete to book talent (DJs and bands), and that talent is the chief driver of demand to the audience. Whilst other factors (venue, opening hours etc) affect demand, ultimately the most important driver of consumer decision making derives from talent, a commodity promoters have to compete for against competition based largely on price. Like any highly competitive market, intense competition pushes the price of talent to the point where all profit is competed away.
From Zero To One – Peter Thiel:
“Perfect competition” is considered both the ideal and the default state in Economics 101. So called perfectly competitive markets achieve equilibrium when producer supply meets consumer demand. Every firm in a competitive market is undifferentiated and sells the same homogeneous products. Since no firm has any market power, they must all sell at whatever price the market determines. If there is money to be made, new firms will enter the market, increase supply, drive prices down, and thereby eliminate the profits that attracted them in the first place. If too many firms enter the market, they’ll suffer losses, some will fold, and prices will rise back to sustainable levels. Under perfect competition, in the long run no company makes an economic profit.
This competition is further intensified in the night life industry, by the social currency to ‘being a promoter’, and by low barriers to entry allowing motivated amateurs to hire a venue for one night and book their favourite DJ (often willing to overpay due to lack of knowledge or motivations outside of profit). This is a derivation the phenomenon of interns competing to work for free in highly popular industries such as fashion.
Another way to illustrate competitiveness within an industry is how much of the value created is captured by the companies in question.
Again from Zero To One – Peter Thiel:
U.S. airline companies serve millions of passengers and create hundreds of billions of dollars of value each year. But in 2012, when the average airfare each way was $178, the airlines made only 37 cents per passenger trip. Compare them to Google, which creates less value but captures far more. Google brought in $50 billion in 2012 (versus $160 billion for the airlines), but it kept 21% of those revenues as profits—more than 100 times the airline industry’s profit margin that year. Google makes so much money that it’s now worth three times more than every U.S. airline combined.
Clubs may generate huge amounts of revenue from tickets, but the vast majority will go to the talent, when said talent is the driver behind those sales.
One argument is that avoiding the ‘surefire’ ticket selling talent in favour of upcoming talent is a solution to this problem, but there are two chief problems with this. Firstly, in an efficient competitive market, new talent is cheap for a reason – it generates correspondingly low audience demand.
The Lion King On Broadway
Secondly and critically, event promotion in its current form is not subject to the Pareto Principle (often referred to as the 80/20 rule). This is the idea that 80% of profit (or productivity, or growth, or sales etc) stems from 20% of the activity – a heuristic shown to be consistent across many domains. In the context of the creative industries (where it can be even more pronounced, often a 99/1 rule), many industries can lose money on nine out of ten ventures but that one pay for the cost of all ten. This is true for record sales, book sales and more, and allows for high levels of risk taking / experimentation in those industries. People often cite the absurdity of so few authors recouping their book advance, but for our purposes it’s more important to understand why an industry can exist where that is the case.
From Blockbusters – Anita Elberse:

In 2011, 102 tracks sold more than a million units each, accounting for 15 percent of total sales. That is not a typo: 0.00001 percent of the eight million tracks sold that year generated almost a sixth of all sales. It is hard to overstate the importance of those few blockbusters in the head of the curve. And the trend suggests that hits are gaining in relevance.


Since music event promotion is essentially a commodity business, the upside is severely limited. A successful event is extremely difficult to scale upwards when demand is high – ticket prices have an upper ceiling (either self imposed or often imposed by the talent’s representatives), and capacity of the venue is fixed and inflexible. The successful event cannot be scaled through geography (adding dates in other cities) or time (adding extra dates in the same city) without renegotiation with the talent – one cannot scale what one does not own in the first place.
Digital creative products (such as music singles) have virtually infinite economies of scale, they can be reproduced and sold forever for virtually no extra cost – so even if the intellectual property belongs to someone else who takes the lions share, the upside is enormous. Events to which the promoter owns the rights have an upside which is scaleable – The Lion King Musical is the highest grossing entertainment property in history – because it can be scaled in price, time and geography simultaneously.
So how do club / concert events escape commoditisation and capture value? Differentiation (and ownership of that differentiation) and Scalability. We will discuss how later, but first antifragility and optionality in concerts / clubs.
Antifragility
Nasim Taleb shows us how the New York restaurant industry is Antifragile (improves from exposure to stressors, as opposed to fragile or even robust), because of the fragility of its constituent parts, the restaurants. Many highly competitive restaurants constantly enter the market, and many fail for myriad reasons – each failure is noted by the survivors, and so the industry as a whole improves – hence Antifragility (and great food). Having constituent parts that can fail can occur at different scales at once – cells die and are replaced within organisms (strengthening the organism), organisms die and exit the gene pool (strengthening the species), species become extinct (strengthening the ecosystem). A great example of internalising Antifragility is Streetfeast – a venue housing multiple independent food vendors, using the multiplicity as an attraction in and of itself. Should one vendor receive no custom and cease to be profitable it is replaced, strengthening the offering overall.
For a nightlife promotion organisation to itself be Antifragile, it must have constituent parts that are able to fail without the effects being catastrophic to the organisation – indeed the organisation must have ways to improve itself with each failure. The speed at which it’s smaller units can fail and the whole can improve as a result, the faster the evolution.
This ‘overcompensation’ to stressors, i.e. the improvement after each failure rather than simply returning to parity, stems from some form of redundancy in the system.
From Antifragile – Nasim Taleb
Now, it turns out, the same, very same logic applies to overcompensation: it is just a form of redundancy. An additional head for Hydra is no different from an extra—that is, seemingly redundant—kidney for humans, and no different from the additional capacity to withstand an extra stressor. If you ingest, say, fifteen milligrams of a poisonous substance, your body may prepare for twenty or more, and as a side effect will get stronger overall. These extra five milligrams of poison that you can withstand are no different from additional stockpiles of vital or necessary goods, say extra cash in the bank or more food in the basement. And to return to the drivers of innovation: the additional quantities of motivation and willpower, so to speak, stemming from setbacks can be also seen as extra capacity, no different from extra boxes of victuals.
 
The problem with a competitive, homogenous marketplace (such as multiple promoters attempting to book the same band for the same venues) is that with such tight profit margins there is no room for failure – hence no room for experimentation leading to failure leading to growth / innovation. So we can infer that the more competitive / homogenous the market, the more likely it is that one will be a fragile unit within it, rather than an Antifragile organisation containing fragile units. Again, need for differentiation and scaleability.
Optionality
If Antifragility can be defined as having more to gain than lose from uncertainty (in our example of Streetfeast, not knowing which type of food will be popular benefits Streetfeast relative to single restaurants with their own kitchens), then optionality is a direct agent of Antifragility. As long as the upside from being correct from any given option exceeds the downside from being wrong, one does not need to be correct that often in order to thrive.
The Lion King will launch five dates, and if they sell out, Disney has the option to add more (they are currently on over 8500 dates). This is optionality. However when booking premium talent, the event is one off, and the commitment absolute. And since artist’s up-front fees are the majority of the revenue at sell outthis is the mathematical opposite of an option – making the promoter fragile on each event involving top level talent. At sell out profit is small and predictable, anything other than sell out leads to large losses.
The Answer
What can give scaleability, differentiation and ownership to the promoter? What can have more upside than downside (optionality)?
Firstly differentiation – recontextualising music.
An immersive club event, an original story is owned by the promoter, and has no competition. A story contextualising specific music means one can convey the music policy to the audience without needing to book talent.
Optionality is achieved because A) the entire cost is production, which can vary depending on the strength of ticket sales, and B) more dates can be added at will depending on demand.
Scalability. There are economies of scale, because props & costumes are purchased once, and the effort in writing & planning the story only has to happen once. The story can be recreated in price, time and geography.
The main conclusion from reexamining all these ideas, is the impact that true scaleability can have. Anything digital has huge potential upside, so why not make the content on the night a film, which can be reused? This would be a replicable, own-able asset to be franchised elsewhere. Making a film set to the music will be my focus of research in the coming weeks.