2020 Is An Innovation Accelerator With Live Leading The Way

Drone disinfectant
(courtesy Mercedez Benz Stadium)

AERIAL ATTACK: Disinfecting drones are one of many innovations increasingly being adapted this year. Here, a Lucid D on duty at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity – not a threat.”

– Steve Jobs  

Innovation was one of 2020’s all too few silver linings in a business cycle that was upended by a once-in- a-century global pandemic. Far too many of our industry’s most successful businesses, execs and employees were sidelined. To heed Steve Jobs’ wise words above, to “see change as an opportunity not a threat,” was a difficult proposition at best. But many, thankfully, did and got to work.

Even if it’s hard to see right now, rafts of opportunities exist. And it’s with good reason the term most often heard on 2020’s countless and interminable Zoom calls was a word inextricably linked to innovation: “pivot.” To change course, formulate new strategies, try something different became a mantra, a necessity and is itself an incubator of innovation. With live events halted in their mid-March tracks and few in the business  generating substantial revenues, what choice was there?

Innovation, Marc Geiger told Pollstar, is “looking for broken systems and trying to figure out what would be part of the next generation. Whether it’s abandoning fossil fuels for solar or watching how Elon Musk advances things, for me, that’s the fun. It’s reassembling in a more efficient, cooler form. That’s innovation. That’s how I see it.” Geiger would know, having co-founded Lollapalooza and ARTISTdirect. and this year, he left his gig as global head of music at WME and is launching a new company with its ambition imbued in its very name: #SaveLive. It’s an exceedingly tall order, but who better suited than this lifelong music space innovator?


Pollstar’s Future Forward Innovation Special Issue featuring D-Nice as the year’s artist innovator.

In this special Future Forward Innovation issue, Pollstar honors some of the industry’s most successful pivots, technologies and innovators, in conjunction with this month’s issue of VenuesNow, which simultaneously honored innovation impacting the venue space. Both lists appear together on our respective sites here.

Pollstar’s 2020 Artist Innovator and cover subject, D-Nice, a.k.a Derrick Jones, is the embodiment of innovation. His mid-March pivot, launching Club Quarantine on Instagram Live and reaching unprecedented heights of success while engaging in social activism and bringing so many so much joy, actually came, in part, out of fear and sadness,  according to Jones. His touring, including major festivals and a Jill Scott tour, were suddenly on ice. But this wasn’t Jones’ first stare-down with uncertainty. Coming out of the rough and tumble South Bronx in the 1980s, D-Nice hit the top of the charts as a 15-year-old rapper with Boogie Down Productions. Not long after his mentor, Scott La Rock, was murdered and D-Nice’s career stalled.

So he pivoted. He became a web designer and photographer, started his own company and worked with Tyra Banks, Aaliyah, Timbaland and Alicia Keys before again pivoting, this time to DJing. In the summer of 2019, against his instincts, D-Nice tested out Facebook Live backstage at Essence Fest. He didn’t think much of it, until he saw analytics quantifying the technology which netted some 10,000 vies. With that data in mind, Jones launched Club Quarantine, at first with just his iTunes, a lot of story telling and a few high-profile friends. But leveraging the A-list relationships developed over a 35-year career, within a few days he hit 100,000 followers, with the likes of Oprah, the Obamas, the Rock, John Legend, Madonna, Shawn Gee and even President-elect Joe Biden waltzing into Club Quarantine. He’s now up to 2.5 million followers and counting.

Pollstar reached out to two execs with their laptops firmly on the pulse of new technologies to get their take on the year’s innovations. The first, Steve Koenig, VP of Research at the Consumer Technology Association, which is the parent company of the the annual CES show, spoke of two technologies driving much of this year’s innovation “bonanza:”  artificial intelligence (which informs technologies like ticketing being able to have information like Covid tests and vaccines) and robotic process automation (those drones cleaning our stadiums). Koenig also noted the parallels to the last global 2007-2009’s crisis, which gave rise to “services and technologies that are indispensable today, including Uber, Instagram and Airbnb and a host of cloud services. “That’s when we saw e-commerce take a quantum leap because everybody was going online looking for value, and that pattern stayed,” Koenig said.  In this crisis, he continues a number of the behavioral shifts we’re seeing with online retailing or livestreaming may stick.

Anti-Fragile Strange Loop Spirit Bomb

Anti-fragile, the fully fledged virtual character produced by Strangeloop Studios for its Spirit Bomb “Visual Label,” could soon be playing a venues near you.

Bob “Moz” Moczydlowsky is managing director of Techstars Music, a technology accelerator dedicated to innovation in music and live entertainment. The former Twitter Music and Topspin exec noted he’s seeing “lots and lots of live streaming” and “more virtual experiences and immersive entertainment which are avatar-based or in a virtual space.” These technological trends, he said, have been building for years but the pandemic has acted as an accelerant as “our entertainment habits were ripped up by the pandemic.”  He mentioned a number of virtual reality-type environments centered around music, but companies like Strangeloop Studios which are taking those digital artists and creating a lable, Spirit Bomb, and looking to bring these artists into real  venues with immersive live experiences.

Some of the innovations supporting the new behaviors can be found among  year’s Future Forward Innovation honorees. This includes “gamifyers,” iFortnite, Roblox, Minecraft and Wave that can attract stadiums worth of fans for one performance; InCrowd which is enhancing livestream user experiences; Raised In Space, a music-tech investor that sees opportunity everywhere; and the aformentioned Strangeloop Studios.

But innovation is not only glittery technological toys backed by two-letter acronyms — AI, ML, AR, VR, XR  that may or may not radically alter our world. There’s hugely important pivots and launches tangibly having a profound impact on our society in these challenging towards making these times qualitatively better. The diversity initiatives Roadies of Color started years ago and that Diversify The Stage and The Black Tour Directory supported in this year of racial upheaval will ensure this industry lives up to its promises of a more inclusive and diverse business. At the same time, the breakneck speed which philanthropy whipped into action starting in March was wonderfult to behold. Whether it was Just a Bunch of Roadies, Musically Fed, Crew Nation or MusiCares, the goodwill and largesse the live industry immediately launched showed early on what makes this business so special.

And somewhere between hi-tech and lo-fi, of course, are The Flaming Lips, who this year upped its past live experience game which included boom-box concerts, broadcast radio transmitter shows, wildly immersive lighting, and, this year, bringing their Coachella bubble concept to fans with bubble concerts set for December.

Flaming Lips Bubble party
Scott Booker / Courtesy WBR

The Flaming Lips’ test run of the bubble concert concept at The Criterion in Oklahoma City where in December they will hold their first official concert.

The e new VenuesNow is filled with technologies and innovations ensuring the venue industry comes out whole on the other side of this challenging time. This includes its league bubbles, which the National Women’s Soccer League helped pioneered. Though less trippy than what the Lips have pioneered, its relative success for this year’s NBA and MLB seasons was powerful towards bringing us back towards some semblance of normalcy.  Further contributing to bringing the live business back are other innovations   ashierless concessions, sanitization certification, drive-in concerts (which actually began in Europe), venues livestreaming, smart ticketing, rapid testing, ventilation, venue advocacy, sustainability and more. It’s an incredible additive array that has broader implications outside of just venues..
The Grand Ole Opry
Chris Hollo

The Grand Ole Opry, which led Pollstar’s Q3 Livestreaming chart, kicked off its month-long 95th anniversary on Oct. 3 with Dierks Bentley, Terri Clark, Vince Gill, and Lorrie Morgan.

As our industry reeled, Pollstar pivoted, too. We launched Pollstar Live! Digital Sessions, a livestream series with interviews and roundtables with major execs and artists alike to better provide context, analysis and perspective in our changing market while extending our editorial coverage and a bunch of superstars (thank you Brad Paisley, Dave Grohl, Carlos Vives and Mickey Guyton, among others) and major excs (thank you Shep Gordon, Alex Hodges, Kevin Lyman and Dennis Arfa). We also launched our first-ever Livestreaming chart in May, which quantified success in the business with unexpected chart toppers like Norah Jones, The Grand Ole Opry and Sofi Tukker who offered new paradigms for livestreamed performance content. In August, Pollstar conducted its first State of the Industry Survey, with nearly 1,400 respondents providing actionable information on how our industry could best forge a path forward towards a full recovery.

The live industry, which is ancient and predicated on human gatherings, is a microcosm of our larger society and one that this year we discovered is more important than ever. It is a barometer of a society’s health and not a day goes by without someone posing the multi-billion dollar question we’ve heard since the advent of this virus: When are shows coming back? We are, without question, getting there. The health, safety, and well-being of fans in the live industry is paramount. And for decades this business has adopted cutting-edge technologies improving fan engagement, communications, commerce, transportation, production, digital experience, and so much else which constantly improve. These innovations have larger society applications, whether its testing, drone sanitization, ventilation and cashierless concessions or inclusivity and diversity programs, drive-in shows, bubble concerts or sustainability. In 2020, more so than any other year, the pace of innovation accelerated and the data from the live sector can and will be shared far more broadly.

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