Meagan DesChenes, Director Of HARD Events Talks Holy Ship!, HARD Summer, Insomniac
[After the publication of this article in the Feb. 4, 2019 edition of Pollstar, HARD Events announced HARD Summer will be held Aug. 3-4, 2019 at Auto Club Speedway of Southern California in Fontana, Calif.]
HARD Events played a key role in the growth of Southern California’s EDM scene throughout the 2000s and Meagan DesChenes was knee-deep in it for pretty much the whole ride. She worked as an assistant to HARD founder Gary Richards for 10 years, helping establish the company’s now staple events HARD Summer and the Holy Ship! cruise.
She was there when HARD Events sold a majority stake to Live Nation in 2012, and when HARD was absorbed by Insomniac after the latter reached a creative partnership deal with Live Nation in 2013.
Richards departed HARD in 2017 to become LiveStyle’s President of North America, leaving DesChenes to manage the brand they built together. DesChenes took some time to chat with Pollstar after returning from both voyages of this year’s Holy Ship!, addressing the state of EDM, working in the hyper-competitive SoCal market, and what life has been like as part of Insomniac.
Pollstar: What is the value in continuing Holy Ship! when there are so many competing events?
Meagan DesChenes: People come up to me and say: “I’ve been going to Burning Man for years and the vibe and the energy of Holy Ship! is even greater than Burning Man! I feel like I’m a part of a really special community.” Holy Ship! has changed a lot of peoples’ lives. [Attendees] have actually created their own promotional companies, thrown parties, started venues in their local areas. Moving forward with Holy Ship!, whether it means adding more ships or more destinations, we want to make it accessible to a lot more people.
What makes HARD Events unique from other EDM-focused promoters?
HARD is always on that next wave of whatever is new in music. It’s a place for the fans to discover and learn about new artists and to be open-minded about music in general.
Musically, we can be creative with it. The first HARD ever had 2 Live Crew. The first HARD Summer had N.E.R.D., MSTRKRFT; it was all across the board musically. HARD is really on the forefront of music discovery. That’s what’s different about HARD.
What stands out about your journey with the company over 11 years and what is new about your leadership position?
When I first started at HARD, this was in 2007, marketing a show meant passing out fliers, getting the word out, talking to people at clubs, newspapers. Just being “old school promoters.” I was Gary’s assistant for a long time, and there were only four of us that worked at HARD, so we all did a little bit of everything from booking the shows to ordering trash cans, literally everything.
I still feel like I’m doing what I was doing before but with more pressure. (laughs) Now my name is out there.
Having a great team at Insomniac really helped my vision come to life. I went from having four people to probably having close to 100 people that work at Insomniac.
But surely you don’t have to manage 100 people on a day-to-day basis?
We have three people that strictly only work on HARD but then they have an in-house production team that works on all the other Insomniac stuff as well as HARD; there’s people on the marketing team.
And some of that stuff you had to do yourself before?
Right. Before I couldn’t walk down the hall and talk to the production guys. If I had an idea about stages, “Could we do them like this?,” the person wasn’t next to me. Now I can just walk downstairs and we can all sit and collaborate – it’s really helpful.
HARD has been owned by Insomniac since 2013, correct?
Yeah, people often don’t know Insomniac has had ownership of HARD [for a while]. They were always [accessible] but no one ever reached out to have them step in and help with things like production, HARD operated completely separately. Then, with Gary leaving, it was just natural to start going to Insomniac to have that help.
Some wonder whether EDM is cooling off. What can you say about the genre of EDM and where it’s headed?
You hear lot of people say “EDM is dead/dying.” Well, HARD had the biggest event we’ve ever had [80,000 per day at HARD Summer], so did Electric Daisy Carnival, so did Escape. I think with electronic dance music, it’s evolving, along with everything else, whether it’s [incorporating] Latin, hip-hop, or trap.
The state of electronic music is alive and well and the electronic artists are really good at staying on top of what is popular and putting out new music, having collaborations with popular artists. I see it continuing to evolve with music; it will always be around.
Southern California has had an important part in nourishing North America’s EDM scene. What can you say about the market you work in?
Well, it’s constantly changing. It seems like almost every week there is new competition, whether it’s a venue or another promoter.
Hip-hop has become popular, so hip-hop festivals are popping up. Latin festivals are popping up. Staying on top of what’s new and hip and what’s selling tickets is how to survive. But it’s probably the most competitive market in the electronic space, Southern California.
Name your favorite show of last year, besides your own events.
A lot of people know this about me, but I am a very big Drake fan. I went to three of his shows last year, it was probably my favorite show of the year. Not just because it was Drake but because of the production. And he’s just a really good performer, when you see him play you’re gonna hear every guilty pleasure song that you jam out to in your car.
Who is someone who really saved your skin last year?
I mean, really, my entire team at Insomniac.
I do have a right-hand person here at HARD, her name is Jane, she is always helping me out. She keeps me relevant because she’s younger than me, so I’m always leaning to her asking, “Is this cool or do I sound like a mom?”
Insomniac has made my vision come to life for HARD Summer so I’m forever grateful for the production team, Pasquale [Rotella], everyone.