Preparing For Flight Into Secret Sky: Q’s With Aaron Greene Of Slush Management

– Secret Sky

Porter Robinson grabbed the eyes, ears and hearts of the electronic music world last year when he put on his own festival, Second Sky with Goldenvoice in Oakland, Calif. Robinson’s team told Pollstar at the time the event – with 30,000 attendees over two days – was a smashing success and they fully intended to bring it back in 2020. Then, of course, the coronavirus pandemic completely put a halt to all live music, preventing the announcement of the lineup and onsale for 2020.

But Robinson will still not only be providing music digitally, but he will be providing a virtual concert-going experience of sorts, tomorrow, May 9, during his Secret Sky online festival. Robinson has curated a massive lineup for 13 hours of music, which can be enjoyed in a lobby with 1,000 other fans, all represented by their own digital avatar. If it sounds familiar, it may strike similar tones to the recent Fortnite concert by Travis Scott, though Robinson’s co-manager, Aaron Greene of Slush Management, tells Pollstar this has been in development quite some time and will be very different from the “Astronomical” event.

Greene took some time to chat with Pollstar about how the coronavirus affected their plans, what to expect from Secret Sky, and why the decision was taken to donate 100% of the proceeds from the event to MusiCares.

Pollstar: So there was going to be a Second Sky this year, but COVID-19 prevented the announcement, correct?

Right. We were planning on doing Second Sky 2020, we had plans to announce it, it was going to take place in September, but yeah, we were planning on putting it onsale, all the machinery was in place. We still have the lineup and we are planning on moving it to 2021 assuming we can, though we are not sure what’s going to happen and what the situation is going to look like. But we have dates held in two different parts of 2020.

We’re optimistic and we’re hoping that things get better and we can still do the festival because it was such a special experience. It’s something we all felt a happy vibe from, it was such a positive, high-energy festival. We feel really lucky to have the fans that we had and the support that we had.

 Will the next event be at the same location at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in Oakland?

No, we will have a new location. It won’t be at Middle Harbor but it will remain in the Bay Area. We’ll have more details when we announce the next edition.

So how was the decision taken to do something digitally?

So when the festival was canceled, right afterwards there was a little sadness about it for all of us, we were a bit bummed. So the result of us talking through that was the thought, “Let’s still do this online, digitally.”

There were a few challenges that popped immediately after the quarantine was announced.

The thing we faced immediately was that we wanted to figure out how to fans could still experience the festival in way that was true to its original form. Its just so hard to recreate that feeling of being at the event with artists and like-minded people. We wanted to be able to capture that same feeling people could get on site. We were trying to iron out a lot to get it to that point. So we built out a digital auditorium where fans can interact with each other in a world of Porter’s creation. It’s a pretty special experience that takes into account the constraints of having to watch online, but allows some sort of beautiful connection between people.

I think this is something that’s really special. It’s one challenge to stage a festival, it’s another challenge to organize it and bring all these people together, but it’s another challenge to give people the opportunity to feel connected when everyone is so clearly not connected. I think that’s what we’ve been trying to figure out how to do. We’ve developed a romantic approach that Porter has been inspired by. But I think that was the missing piece for us, trying to give people that experience that somehow captures those real-life vibes.

So what exactly is this digital world you have built to showcase the festival?

We’ve built a virtual arena that 1,000 people can fit in at once. Once that room reaches capacity, the server will open a new room. So an infinite number of people can be in these rooms.

This allows people to watch and experience the festival in this digitized world, and they can interact with one-another. And there’s a couple things they can do in the world, which are curated to the artist performing. We’ve put something together that lets people toggle between the set and the virtual world and interact with other fans who are watching.

The idea is to feel a little bit of connection when you enter this space. We’ve been playing with it a bunch, but when you enter, it puts a smile on your face. It’s just a really unique experience beyond coronavirus and our everyday experience, it’s something quaintly special. It’s taken a lot of Porter going back and forth with the team that has built it, it has been quite an enormous process, honestly.

The company, Active Theory, has been meeting with Porter pretty much weekly, sometimes twice a week. It’s been a lot of calls with them, working on getting it right and perfecting it so fans can have this magical experience.

So fans get an avatar like in a videogame? Can they customize the avatar?  

The customization component isn’t there yet, it’s like being in a game, you can engage and interact with other avatars. We’ve actually built it out so we will be able to flash shots of people actually inside the digital auditorium on stream.

People watching on Youtube, Twitch, PlayStation, they’ll be able to see what’s happening in the digital environment for part of the sets as well. Traditionally you’d see all the people at the livestream event, and this is the digitized version of that. We thought it would be a little cool touch to realize we are doing something all together.

– Aaron Greene, Slush

So is this inspired-by or related to Travis Scott’s Fortnite performance at all?

I see it as something separate. I think it’s really cool what they did, very interesting. The thing is, I think that is so different, Fortnite has its own visual language and style that people are really familiar and comfortable with. This is less focused on being a video game and more focused on getting lost in a visual environment that is new and pretty.

I think the most important thing that we wanted to accomplish with this stream – and I think a lot of people feel this way – the one thing I want to see happen in the world is to be able to not focus on what’s happening on the world right now. So much of the news, internet is consumed by the coronavirus. Yes, many people want to be informed, but there is not enough content that just distracts you and takes you out of whatever element you are in. One of the big reasons we are doing this is to say “Come have fun with us, come be a part of this magical experience you can get lost in, you can hang out with your friends and not feel so isolated. You can forget about the negative sh*t going on in the world for one second. That is personally what I want to get out of it, and maybe it will help other people.

The goal for Second Sky always was that Porter wanted to put on a festival with the people he loves that he feels like deserves attention and for his extended family via music. And that was totally the goal of this, to really just have a positive, fun experience where bands can engage with each other and artists can enjoy themselves.

So this sounds a lot like a videogame in how it is experienced, but it is not a videogame?

No, it is not. There is no goal, there is no winning, it’s just about getting lost in art. It’s such a silly thing because it’s so simple, but I think most peoples’ stress in this time, it feels so singular, and I think, just being able to connect with other people and know that all these other people are having fun with you, it kind of makes you feel better, just to see “alright, yeah I’m sitting on my living room couch, watching this stream, but there’s thousands of other people doing it with me.”

The traditional experience, YouTube with chat, will be a feature, but the coolest thing is that it’s not a noisy environment. It feels like you are in a miniature world and there’s all these people moving around you, and I think that’s really special.

So will Porter be doing his new stuff?

He is doing a DJ set, which is not what we originally intended for this. But because the complexity of his new show is not feasible without his team, he is going to be doing a DJ show. But it is very much in the style and sound of hte new album.

So Secret Sky is a separate lineup for what was planned for Second Sky, correct?

Yeah, it’s a totally separate lineup. It’s funny because Porter has so many artists that he loves that he wants to be on these bills. This was nice because he had the opportunity to go outside the time constraints that normally dictate what is possible to put on a festival.

The amount of artists we’ve been able to add and fit into a day, with varying set lengths, there’s something really special about being able to do an event on the internet rather than in person. And Porter was able to pick a wide range of artists that he is passionate about and loves. This is a 13-hour festival. It’s not something you would be able to do as easily.

Are the artists being paid to perform?

No, none of the artists are being paid. Porter is actually spending a lot of money to make this happen. Sponsors are coming on, but they are not paying anything to us or Porter, they are paying their contributions directly to MusiCares.

There is a component of wanting to help out – we really want to help the music community and we don’t know how long people are going to be suffering, but MusiCares is doing and incredible job supporting crews, specifically, who don’t have other job opportunities available. We think it’s really awesome to help contribute toward what MusiCares is doing.

So all proceeds from the event are going to MusiCares, nothing is touching Porter’s pocket. That’s how we wanted to be, and we wanted brands to come on for this, particularly, because we wanted to be able to give significant money and not rely on fans. We don’t want fans feeling any pressure or the need to donate, because frankly we don’t feel like that’s their responsibility. We want people to be here to have fun and have a good time, the whole focus is just putting positivity out there and having a good experience.

Is there anything else you want people to know about the upcoming event?

So far we have had an incredible reaction to the announcement. We are excited about the number of people who have registered and will be tuning in from around the world. It will be accessible everywhere for free, assuming you have whatever service requirements are associated with the service of your choice (YouTube, PlayStation, Twitch, etc.) Hopefully everyone can have a nice Saturday and really relax, enjoy and escape for a second. That’s our biggest goal.