Q’s With Rolling Loud’s Matt Zingler & Tariq Cherif: Promoters Embrace ‘Forced Pivot’
Rolling Loud/@itchyeyephotos – Loud Stream
Rolling Loud founders Matt Zingler & Tariq Cherif
Rolling Loud continues to prove its hip-hop tastemaking status is no fluke, with its “Loud Stream” live event taking place on Twitch generating 4.7 million views over the Sept. 12-13 weekend – without the A-List type headliners it’s known for, viewable only live as it happened, and put together in a mere three weeks.
“You know how long it takes with lawyers, man,” Rolling Loud co-founder Tariq Cherif says about the deal he and partner Matt Zingler finalized with the streaming company.
Loud Stream is a triumph during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced many in the live business to adapt. But the situation has also given time and necessity to work on projects that may have been put on the back burner or were harder to get around to in normal times.
“I’d say we pivoted to become a media company,” Cherif says.“We’ve always said we’re bigger than just an event or a music festival, we’re a lifestyle brand, and at the beginning of the year we were making serious strides in creating our budget for the year and our plans to expand slowly and surely into media. But then the pandemic popped up and basically blasted our plans in our face. ‘Nope, you’re only going to do media right now.’ It was like a forced pivot, but we embraced it and truthfully believe we’ll come out the other side of the pandemic as a much stronger company.”
The event – all live – featured performances from headliners Swae Lee and Ski Mask The Slump God (managed by Cherif and Zingler), with other energetic sets from artists including Lil Skies, NLE Choppa, Smokepurpp, Tay Money, Polo G, Lil Keed and others, with hosting duties handled by Druski, Jenesis Sanchez, DJ Scheme, and DJ Five Venoms keeping the live sets moving and Cherif and Zingler publicly running the show as well.
Pollstar: How did Loud Stream and the Twitch deal come together?
Tariq Cherif: The pandemic hit, and we wanted to do live shows, but we didn’t have the business model to be able to afford it – as far as booking the artists and all the production stuff. We went in search of a partner and ended up finding one with Twitch that provided the blueprint for us to do it.
The last thing we wanted to do was put together a not-real-live event. A lot of other festivals have been re-streaming and doing all that, putting out fliers with a million artists on it but it’s all past performances and only a few new ones. Want to find Travis Scott’s 2017 Rolling Loud Miami set? It’s probably on YouTube, we’re not going to force you to watch it on Twitch. It’s real live content, the artist is getting paid, and you’re watching it for free – what more can you ask for? You’re supporting your favorite artists, supporting what I hope is your favorite festival. If not, we hope to earn that spot in your heart.
Matt Zingler: I don’t think we really understood the cost of producing a live event like that, since we had never really done it. After the show, being able to sit with Twitch and understand how we can make it better and what tools we need, and the budgeting – being able to actually create a budget for a show instead of an overall number, it is very helpful.
They’re very supportive of us, to increase the experience and increase our weekly show experiences. Being able to have programming five days a week, it’s almost like we have our own television show now, where you can tune in for an hour a day and kind of enjoy music-oriented topics and that kind of stuff.
4.7 million hits is a lot, especially considering you had to put it together so quickly and the fact it didn’t have the star power of a Travis Scott or Post Malone that Rolling Loud typically stages.
Cherif: Totally. We wished we could afford Travis Scott and the big-name, A-list headliners for this, but the business model isn’t the same, we aren’t charging for tickets. But it speaks to the strength of our brand to get 4.7 million people to tune in. That’ll show you that we’re strong and hip-hop in general is strong. Ski Mask was the highest viewed out of all of them, which I don’t think people would expect.
Were there any big surprises or major takeaways from the whole live-virtual experience?
Cherif: Putting the screen up that Twitch had and putting fans on the screen for the artists to see, it really did the trick of creating that energy exchange we were looking to create. When we launched this we realized that what we do is provide the venue for artists and fans to exchange energy, and I was pleasantly surprised. It was always our goal, but it was like, “Ahh, it’s not gong to be the same.” But it still felt live, you can see the look in the artist’s eyes, seeing the chats go crazy and seeing the fans on screen going crazy – it translated. They gave it right back to the fans and the fans gave it right back to them and it was awesome. Nothing is going to beat when we get back outside again, we all want that human connection, but this definitely checked some of those boxes.
How did artists react leading up to and during Loud Stream?
Rolling Loud/@itchyeyephotos – Lil Skies
Rolling Loud/@itchyeyephotos – Lil Skies
Zingler: At first it was kind of like pulling teeth because obviously the performance budgets are a little different on the live side because it is a free event. So it was kind of like us having to almost convince the talent there was going to be a high viewership and they’re going to gain new fans, and that the production would be on point. There’s a lot of companies doing live events right now that are just not really nailing it. A lot of artists are concerned about the fan engagement, without fans being there, to hold a digital crowd is a lot different and requires a different skill set.
So, 1, artists are a little intimidated – some at least; 2, some enjoy it more because they’re like, “Damn I can just come in and come out, there’s no fans, there’s no nothing. It’s digital, and I still make money.” So there’s those acts that enjoy that.
The artist response in general after the event was they loved it, it was super cool. We had a lot of COVID parameters and health parameters in place – the way we funneled the talent in and out, limited to five people per group, tent checking and everything like that. Being a smaller party was also nice, so that it was more controlled than a Rolling Loud, but overall, viewership was amazing, engagement was amazing, a lot of fans took advantage of that. I think we really set the bar for the livestream.
Cherif: Our 2019 Miami Livestream did like 8 million views. So the fact we did so many views with only 20 artists and artists that haven’t reached that A-list, top billing yet, we were super blown away by that. Nobody had less than 20,000 viewers at a time. Even our smallest acts were performing for some of the biggest crowds they’d ever performed for, a bigger venue than an arena, almost stadium-sized crowds. It was some of these peoples’ first performance, and it was in front of 40-50-60,000 people.
What’s it like doing business right now as a promoter? What does festival deal-making look like as things come back? Is someone like you in the driver’s seat?
Cherif: Rolling Loud prides itself, and Matt and I pride ourselves, on doing fair business, two-way-street business. It has to benefit both sides of the table and not just Rolling Loud. I don’t think we’ll ever try to unfairly use any type of leverage. We remember who was there for us when we weren’t shit, and we remember who is playing ball with us now to do these livestreams, for reduced pay to what they’re used to. Everything is a two-way street in business. We don’t plan to over-leverage anybody. But we will note that there are not a lot of offers out there right now, and not a lot of people to play ball with, especially where you’re going to get real viewership. You might get a million bajillion dollars from Verizon or some brand, but they’re not going to drive the viewers.
Rolling Loud Portugal just added two days and some major headliners for next summer.
Cherif: We were originally a three-day festival in Portugal, sold that one out, and then we created a second festival immediately following the three days, which basically creates a five-day experience if you have both tickets. There’s also a five-day ticket that’s now available. I think we’re the first hip-hop festival to do that. If we are, we’re super proud of that. We have a blurred artist yet to be announced that people should be very excited for, we’ve excited to be doing a show on the beach, the first Rolling Loud on the beach and in Europe. We hope people keep staying safe with COVID so we can get back to life as we know it and can get back outside. We don’t want to delay any more shows.
How about Rolling Loud Miami 2021?
Cherif: Miami remains scheduled for February, we are staying tuned to updates about COVID and investigating options if we need to cooperate with authorities and move it back again. We are confident that Rolling Loud Miami will take place for 2021, for whenever it is we will keep the fans informed. We are hopeful for February, but if we need to move it to the traditional date of May we will investigate that.
Do you plan to continue the digital content when the large festivals come back?
Cherif: We’re never going to forget how to throw a festival, so we’ll jump right back into that with our amazing team we already have. But our media output between festivals and during festivals is going to be way better. We’re self-taught, everybody on our team has learned new skills to produce content, which Matt and I are super proud of. Our merchandise department, spearheaded by Matt and some designers we’ve been working with for years, have been releasing great merch that is doing well.
I think when we come back we’ll be that much stronger, we’ll sell out the shows that much faster. The shows will be more enjoyable, the livestreams will be more enjoyable. I don’t think there’s any reason to stop doing the digital events. Maybe the frequency changes, who knows what happens? I think people will still want to see artists in that type of environment.
Cherif: I think we can tell you to expect a different scene, we’re going to keep it spicy, got the announcement coming soon. Just expect a dope scene, and a more immersive show. I think the fans and readers should know that while we were working on launching a live, internet virtual event since March or whenever COVID really [hit], we really only locked up the Twitch deal three weeks before the Loud Stream. We produced that event in literally three weeks, So the next event we are doing will be even better.
We have more time to figure out how to up the engagement level between the fans and artists, how to make the time between sets even more engaging to the viewers, just having it be fun, raising the level of quality. I’m super proud of what we did in that short amount of time. I’m not trying to brag or say it’s good we did things so quickly, I’m just pointing out the next one will be even better. Just wait.
We’re doing merch collabs with our headliners, those sold a lot of units and were only available during the festival. If you got it, you got it. If you didn’t, you didn’t. We’re doing real splits with the artists so they’re making money. Your favorite, major-label artist might have been the greatest artist in the world but they’re not making any money this year. A great way to support them is with merch. And they definitely see the money when they collab with us.
Speaking of merch, have you tried the Travis Scott McDonald’s burger?
Cherif: I’m a quarter-pounder guy (laughs). I haven’t gotten his burger, but I got my hands on one of the worker T-shirts, like the staff shirts.
Zingler: Nah, but I did buy the Nugget pillow (both laughing). The Chicken McNugget pillow from his drop.