This weekend, YouTube Music will host Save Our Stages Fest, an ambitious three-day event staged in conjunction with the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) and featuring performances at some of America’s most hallowed venues by artists including Foo Fighters, The Roots and Miley Cyrus.
#SOSFEST, however, is just the latest example of the high-profile concert programming YouTube Music has provided during the pandemic. Long a hub for festival livestreaming – 2020 would’ve marked a 10th consecutive year of live Coachella performances on the platform – YouTube has helped festivals continue on virtually as their 2020 events were called off.
“While it’s impossible to replace the experience of a live show, YouTube’s really become this virtual stage and played such a pivotal role during COVID, just keeping artists and fans connected and engaged,” YouTube head of artist partnerships and live music Ali Rivera says.
At the pandemic’s outset, YouTube Music partnered with artists to disseminate public safety information and entertain largely homebound audiences. Some of the first content the platform offered was an in-the-works documentary celebrating 20 years of Coachella, which in light of COVID, functionally replaced the Southern California festival’s 2020 edition.
“Coachella, it’s sort of my baby,” says Rivera, who has worked on YouTube’s music offering for more than a decade. “It was really devastating to see the festival have to get postponed and canceled, [but] being able to pivot into this moment where we premiered our [YouTube Originals] documentary, ‘Coachella 20 Years In The Desert’ at the exact time that fans were supposed to be entering the gates was a really special moment.”
But as the crisis deepened, the platform worked with performers and the industry to hone best practices, increase content, drive charitable giving and reimagine livestreaming’s possibilities.
Before the pandemic, “there were a lot of artists that wanted this perfect experience on YouTube, and really wanted to make sure everything was done right, in order to go live,” Rivera says. “A lot of those walls have come down. A lot of artists have gotten much more comfortable, just with going live.”
Artists have also become more comfortable with opening their vaults. During the pandemic, YouTube has regularly hosted archival performances by A-list artists from Elton John and The Who to Radiohead and Metallica, some of which diehard fans never thought would see the light of day.
“That’s been one of the biggest highlights, just showing fans this old archived content that has literally never been seen before or maybe [was] seen once 10 years ago,” Rivera says. “Just watching artists’ comfort level in bringing out these archives and fans’ appreciation of them and the nostalgia … getting to relive something that makes them happy again.”
YouTube’s partnership with C3 Presents has been particularly fruitful, with the platform presenting highly curated virtual editions of C3 fests Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo and Austin City Limits that combined new and archival performances.
“They’re an amazing example of how to innovate and keep your brands really relevant and entertain your fans,” Rivera says.
While Rivera notes that YouTube’s “partners are the experts when it comes to booking artists,” her team offers content providers advanced analytics to fine-tune aspects of virtual festivals from programming to timing.
The platform has also streamlined its offering for TVs and living rooms; gone are the days of having to huddle over laptops to watch YouTube clips.
“Just creating that really great lean-back experience so that fans can just pop it up and keep it on, not having major interruptions in between, I think just making it that really great viewing experience is important,” Rivera says.
Of course, unique content trumps all. With Lollapalooza, YouTube presented performances that might not have materialized in a non-pandemic world, like Chris Cornell’s daughter performing Pearl Jam’s “Black” and the first Porno For Pyros reunion in two decades.
And because “VOD is so important on our platform,” Rivera says YouTube also encourages festivals to keep marquee content available on-demand, so that fans can access it after the fact; following the presentation of the Beastie Boys’ 2009 Bonnaroo headlining set – the hip-hop trio’s final concert – as part of Bonnaroo’s Virtual ROO-ALITY, the show remained online for the weekend.
“Getting the VOD up quickly after the event and keeping it up for as long as you can is really important,” Rivera says.
YouTube Music’s partnerships have helped deepen the connections between performers and global audiences, which Rivera hopes will continue even when touring returns.
“We’re in it for the long haul,” Rivera says. “We’ve been busy – in a good way.”