Q’s With Rave Family’s Jackie McGuire: Block Party Minecraft Festival Digging Into New Potential For Artists
– Jackie McGuire
The Rave Family Block Fest was already an anomaly when initially announced. With top electronic talent totaling hundreds of artists – including Diplo’s Higher Ground, Claude VonStroke’s Dirtybird, GriZ and others – and cool attractions like Minecraft iterations of iconic venues Red Rocks and The Gorge to boot, the event already had a notable lineup at a time when concerts of any sort are hard to come by.
And though it’s all taking place within the video game Minecraft – more often known as an educational engineering building tool – the event’s not that strange when you add up the pieces.
Rave Family’s Jackie McGuire got into the music festival scene later than most, in her 30s, and with her Rave Family initiative started creating safe spaces and advocating for more family-friendly environments at major EDM fests like Electric Daisy Carnival and Electric Forest. She also helped launch Silent Discos at these events, bringing access for the hard of hearing to enjoy a music festival like anyone else. As a child, McGuire’s parents would drop her off at the local RadioShack, where she learned how to use the Tandy 2000 computers they carried at the time. Fast-forward to 2018, when she led the first all-female team to win TechCrunch’s notable Hackathon competition.
Working from home like most professionals right now, and with kids home from school, McGuire first saw Minecraft as a potential for needed human contact.
“Maybe that’s a way we can see our friends during quarantine,” McGuire says. “That’s literally how it started. I reached out to four or five of my artist friends – I’ve worked around music for a while – and they reached out to a few friends and they reached out. And it took off. Very fast.”
Pollstar: Getting 800 artists to perform and sell tickets to a Minecraft festival is not just a way to see friends!
Jackie McGuire: It’s a massive amount of work. But one of the things I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by is how easy a lot of the artists and managers have made themselves to work with. We’ve had hiccups, and I don’t think you can do something this size and not. Everybody’s been understanding and supporting. It’s kind of restored my faith in humanity a little bit, I have to tell you. It’s been a great experience.
It’s unfortunate that the event has been pushed from June 23-28 to July 9-13, thanks to an unexpected Minecraft update, but the timing might work out better this way?
It’ll be better for everybody all around. The servers in Minecraft are dependent on the version of the game they’re running. You can’t run 1.16 on a 1.15.2 server, and we can’t guarantee that all the apps we use to tie all the servers together will be able to update their plugins in time for the 25th, so we’re going to postpone the festival by two weeks.
One of the other reasons we’ve not done a ton of promotion yet is that it doesn’t feel appropriate right now, with the Black Lives Matter movement and a lot of people who are finally having their voices heard. We don’t want to be a voice not adding to the conversation. My whole team took a whole week off to protest, and we really want to leave room for marginalized voices that need to be heard. By pushing it out a couple weeks, we give a little more time for that, and time for people to have recovery time.
– Higher Ground
– Higher Ground
The cool thing is the Nether in Minecraft is getting its first update in five years. They’ve got new monsters, new block types, it’s a really cool update, and it’s actually going to be a better experience for fans because there’s going to be cooler stuff in it, but it’s a bummer the timing worked out the way it did.
This thing is happening soon and a lot of the promotion and artist marketing efforts haven’t really started yet.
We haven’t really gone full bore on advertising and promoting yet because we wanted to make sure everything is stable and we’re putting finishing touches on a handful of the different servers. Some people have said they haven’t seen pictures and videos yet, and aren’t sure this is real.
Part of it is that the stuff we’re building is sooooo cool that I wanted to wait and wow everybody with everything all at once. We’re up to almost 80 individual servers, different worlds that are unique from one another that the artists have built out. A lot of the artists have either gone in and built stuff themselves or given us very detailed artistic direction.
The really cool thing is when you got a set at a music festival and the artist put together this set just for you and it’s a really cool experience, so we’re doing that, and you get to listen to that set in an entire environment the artist has created. It’s been really interesting to see what different artists like and what they want to build. It’s been really fun. I feel like a kid playing Minecraft.
What particular artist servers can you talk about or are most excited about?
Steve Aoki’s label Dim Mak has a super cool world that they’ve based off a classic movie. I don’t want to give too much away but we’ve called it the Dim Mak Dojo, so you can maybe figure it out. It’s very cool, especially if you’re into Japanese culture. Higher Ground, Diplo’s label, built out a whole space station, this insane floating massive space station that has these risers that go into space where you can watch the DJs spin from a planet. That’s really cool. Walker & Royce have a really cool stage with a big alligator; there’s a ton of really cool stuff. I was shocked by a handful of artists who said they never played Minecraft. “Oh, just get in there and check it out.” We’ve had more than one artist come back and say, “Can I start building?”
GriZ, we didn’t know was a massive Minecraft fan. “Oh yeah, I can totally build my world,” he said. His server is probably my favorite, not just because the stuff they built in it is insane. He built it all himself, and when you see it you’ll be able to tell it’s really meaningful to him. I’ve been awed by the level of thought put into these and the concern for the fan experience.
– Sloth Acid
The performances aren’t actually live but the artists have recorded sets specifically for the event.
Almost all the musicians have created new sets. Some have multiple sets, or multiple sets across different stages. I think the only couple exceptions are the actual bands who weren’t able to record together while socially distanced, but almost all the sets are original.
As an artist manager yourself and seeing some of the difficulties of touring and playing the festival circuit, you’ve publicly made this a direct revenue-share model with the artists.
If you buy a $10 ticket, $3 goes to pay for the rights to the music. Mixcloud, our partner, has great ID fingerprinting software and can pay the rightsholder. Then of the remaining $7, it takes about $2.75 to pay for server costs, and the artist gets the remainder, over half of the ticket price. That’s really how it should be. With no artists there would be no festival. Hopefully it’s a new way forward in the music industry.
What is the plan going forward? Is this a one-time event?
We are hoping to do it monthly. Each artist world is built on its own server, so we have the main festival area that is our server – with Red Blocks amphitheatre and some of the other cool stuff you see in the pictures. The main festival area every month will change. Next month we were looking to do a cityscape instead of the green and mountains. The artists each have their own servers and each month can go in and add and change and make them cooler. The goal is once a month. That might be incredibly ambitious as we’ve had to push this one a couple weeks already. (laughs) A lot of the heavy lifting we had to do for this event, scaling the servers and all that is done, and once it’s done you don’t have to do it again. Our goal is to be a platform more than a Minecraft festival producer. I have a background in AR/VR, and have a cool app we’re working on for the end of the year. We’re looking at other games with similar numbers as Minecraft. I think there’s a variety of different channels that artists can reach fans in and will appeal to some artists more than others. Our goal is to be more of a platform to enable that interaction and take care of all of the technical back end. We can ask, “What kind of event do you want to do, how many people do you want to invite, do you want to sell tickets, if so, how much do you want to make per ticket?” Then we can hit a button and everything you need is ready to go. That’s my dream, to democratize creating new experiences for artists of all sizes. Small artists, especially in electronic music, make music run.
This first one sounds like it’s not going to be easy to pull off still!
We didn’t tell anybody we’ve done this 1,000 times before and we’re experts and nothing could possibly go wrong. We’re all in this together and everybody’s helping and doing what they can. It’s cool. There’s been articles online: “Is this the new Fyre Festival?” (laughs.) When I saw that, that’s how you know we did it right. When the lineup came out, and 90% of the internet was like, “This is a scam, there’s no way any of the artists are involved in this,” then they started posting about it on social media, and people were like, “No. Fucking. Way.” It made me so happy. s