Q’s With Digital Mirage Presenters: On Bringing Top Electronic Talent & Supporting The Black Lives Matter Movement

Brownies & Lemonade:
– Brownies & Lemonade:
(L-R) Alai Tseggai, Jose Guzman, Dan Kagan, Evan Washington, Kushan Fernando and Chad Kenney

Los Angeles-based event curators Brownies & Lemonade and YouTube channel Proximity teamed up in April to present the debut Digital Mirage online music festival, a free event that generated funds through participant donations with a 50/50 artist revenue split. Within just two and a half weeks of proposing the idea, the presenters put together a festival featuring 51 artists performing over three days – including Kaskade, Louis The Child, TOKiMONSTA and more – which attracted 1 million viewers and raised $300,000 for Sweet Relief Musicians Fund to help artists in need. 

Digital Mirage was supposed to return the first week of June for its second edition but following the death of George Floyd and subsequent protests, the festival organizers made a last-minute decision to push the event to June 12-14 to not “divert any attention from the Black Lives Matter movement.” The festival also announced that proceeds will now be donated to the Equal Justice Initiative and Color of Change via its partnership with PLUS1. The lineup includes A-Trak, Kaskade, Griz, Big Gigantic, Chromeo, Boys Noize, Matoma and more. 

Brownies & Lemonade co-founder Kushan Fernando, head of staff / MC Evan Washington and marketing director Alai Tseggai along with Proximity founder/CEO Blake Coppelson recently spoke to Pollstar about Digital Mirage and the Black Lives Matter movement. 
What was the process like of curating Digital Mirage together? 
Kushan Fernando: Curating a lineup for Brownies and Lemonade in general is pretty normal. We’ve been doing it for years on a weekly basis. What was really interesting was working with Proximity. They bring a different direction of sounds that we don’t typically have with our lineup. So there was definitely a lot more variety in the electronic space in this lineup than what you’d see at a typical Lemonade & Brownies event. And it also brought new fans to both of our brands collectively.
How do the participant donations work?  
Blake Coppelson: Funds are being raised and donated directly through YouTube. So YouTube gave us a custom feature … given on a case by case basis to channels. And it really is something special compared to every other donation platform. YouTube actually covers all the transaction fees, which are typically 2.9% plus 30 cents per credit card transaction. They’ve been amazing partners and helped us facilitate the highest of potential donations. And the organization that we are working with is called PLUS1. They’ve been educating us and helping us allocate funds to different charities and they acted very quickly upon the changes that we had for where we were going to donate. A few weeks ago we were donating to the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, primarily for coronavirus, but given the current climate, we are switching to two different charities, one being the Equal Justice Initiative and the other is Color Of Change. 

Can you talk about the decision to reschedule the June edition?  
Fernando: We definitely had a number of internal discussions about whether or not it was best to move it. We ultimately decided that given the situation in the country, it wasn’t just affecting  black people who were outraged by the current situation but it was affecting everyone who thought it was wrong and it needed to be addressed. People within our team were outraged by the situation along with everyone on the lineup, along with everyone around the country. … We also felt like it was important to use our voice during that time to raise awareness of what’s going on and allow that opportunity to really shine as much as possible.
We sent out the announcement to all the artists the night before and there were literally no objections. Everyone was on board and we had no issues with having to change the date.

Once live events are able to return, do you see Digital Mirage continuing or do you think you’d switch back to solely doing in-person events?
Fernando: I think we’d like to do both. We realized in a short amount of time that online events definitely have an interest for people and it also attracts a worldwide audience compared to a live event, which is centralized to a certain area and can obviously only attract a number of people depending on the size of the venue. So there’s a lot of limitations in terms of the audience when you do a live event. But the advantages of a live event is obviously you get the full experience. Monetarily, there’s much more of an advantage for everyone involved as well, which you have to take into consideration in order to sustain a living in this industry. I think it’s really important going forward for us to focus on both in order to not only grow as a brand, but also to provide a different avenue for content to be delivered to our fans. 

Digital Mirage
– Digital Mirage

Anything else you’d like to share about the challenges and rewards of producing a virtual festival in the midst of the pandemic and the protests that have been going on?   
Evan Washington: As far as some of the challenges, as far as being a black man in America in the electronic music scene, you know, originally I became kind of disengaged with just everything going on. I felt like that postponement was actually a great contribution to the movement because it gave the platform to [Black Lives Matter], what we felt needed it most. … And the festival gave people hope in a time where, you know, it’s not really looking too hot right now. So that’s one of the rewards – giving [fans] something to think about outside of the news cycle.

Alai Tseggai: To add to what Evan said, another reward is working with PLUS1 and being able to shift our charity efforts to focus on Color of Change and EJI. We think with the [impact] that the last Digital Mirage had and this one should have it’s just going to highlight these organizations even more. We think people are going to be enticed to learn about them and hopefully people will help donate to the organizations that are helping fight the good fight.
What are your thoughts on the overall response of the music industry to the Black Lives Matter movement? And what do you think the music industry needs to do to continue supporting the black community and promote diversity?
Washington: A lot of people are saying poignant things. But I think what’s really going to push [things] over the top is using the phrase “Black Lives Matter” and applying it to how we treat artists. Just, with reputable equity … Upholding those kinds of principles … and applying those to the artisanship would be better served than some of these grasps for attention and statements.  

Alai Tseggai: We need to see what happens in terms of follow-through. Like we saw the posts, we see labels donating money. … which is a good start, but there are a lot of changes that need to be addressed. The biggest one being the lack of black people actually working within the industry … within the labels and executives, there’s a lack of diversity that needs to be addressed. There’s an open letter called Elephant In The Room on Music Business Worldwide’s website that has 12 steps the industry can take in terms of actually following through.   

Anything you’d like to share about your experience working in this business?
Tseggai: For me, with Brownies & Lemonade, this is the most diverse bunch I’ve ever worked with. In the other jobs I’ve worked at in the industry, the lack of diversity has been a struggle for me personally in terms of being a person who has to answer questions from coworkers and things of that nature. But I think what’s been impressive and uplifting the past week or so has been some of my colleagues reaching out and doing the research and seeing where they can help and putting action behind their words, which has been hopeful for me to see, but there’s still a long way to go.
Washington:  I definitely see an effort and the collective response that is kind of greater than anything I’ve seen before. That gives me a lot of hope. So I just want to capitalize on that momentum and keep the ball moving.  

Proximity founder/CEO Blake Coppelson
– Proximity founder/CEO Blake Coppelson
How do you plan to continue supporting the Black Lives movement?
Tseggai: This past week has been super inspirational seeing so many people come out and march together and protest together. There’s a strong push happening and small changes that are starting to happen. But we have to keep going. And I think we have the platform where we can make sure that people who follow us know that these things are happening and there are things that we can do to affect real change.  

Coppelson: I think our situation has changed how we want to move forward as a company as well, not only educating and being active this week, but keeping that momentum and actually acting upon that change. For us, that’s curating more diverse music, continuing to educate. We’ve been taking a different approach – driving awareness on petitions as well as where to donate and how to actually help. We’ve been [sharing] how the foundation of electronic music actually stems from black culture. Educating our fans is something we wanted to do because we are a music curation platform. We want to do it in a very authentic way … and we want to drive that message not only for the past couple of weeks, but for the rest of the year and for years to come.