Imagineering at Music Festivals: The Voice of the Next Generation

June Calvo-Soraluze studied Business Management, specialising in Strategic Management at Deusto Business School in Bilbao. She extended her knowledge of management at University of International Business and Economics in Beijing and at Aarhus School of Business in Denmark. In the latter, she received her MBA degree and developed the idea of her master thesis, entitled ‘Understanding leadership in Music Festivals: The analysis of management dilemmas’ published by Lambert Academic Publishing in which she combines her two specialist areas: leadership and music. She has also published other papers related to these two topics in different international journals and books. She is currently doing her PhD with a grant from the Basque Government on the new profile needed by music festival managers at University of Deusto in The Basque Country and at NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences in The Netherlands. For more information you can check out her LinkedIn profile or contact her directly.

Current audiences do not attend festivals and merely listen to the concert, but simultaneously tweet, capture photos and videos, share opinions of the concert with their Facebook or Whatsapp friends and engage in many other activities that involve some form of technology, app or social media site. In fact, 92% of the people that attended a European music festival in 2013 used Facebook, followed by Youtube (71%), Twitter (33%), Instagram (32%), and Google Plus (20%) (EFA & CGA 2014).

This shows an evolution in the way people attend festivals and a change in their expectations of music events. This transformation constantly challenges festival creators and managers to reinvent their festivals to achieve the attendee reactions they desire. Therefore, festival managers try to maximise and enrich the experience by taking into account the aspects that today’s attendees value most.

But what are the aspects that attendees really value most in a festival? Is it the line-up? Is it the location? Is it about the parallel activities? Or maybe is it more about the innovations in technology?

Event managers and industry professionals might know about what their attendees need. But there is nothing like listening to the next generation to realise what we really want from music and from a music festival. In this respect, there was a panel this year at Eurosonic that gave us clues about future trends. Just the title of the panel suggested fresh ideas for the industry: ‘The Voice of the Next Generation’.

Six students from NHTV University were the main members of this panel, along with Arend Hardoff, director of the Academy for Leisure at NHTV, acting as moderator. Sitting at a round table, Luca Naus, Romy Duijster, Jora Vullings, Chris Dekker, Timo Schapendonk and Kaz Gommans gave their opinions in a truthful and fresh way about the music industry and their role in it.

What was remarkable about the discussion was when they started talking more about the intangible aspects of the industry than the tangible ones. Words like motivation, emotion, co-creation and interactivity highlighted the importance of experience when we are talking about a live event. A great line-up surrounded by a beautiful landscape is of course something that can enhance the experience. However, the desire for creativity and an emotional bond were the main reasons mentioned by this new generation as the most important ones in the decision of whether or not to attend a festival.

Listening to this next generation is when we realise that there is a need for an evolution in the strategy of festivals regarding the levels of intensity and sophistication in technology engagement. Empowerment and participation strategies offer huge opportunities to enhance the experience. This would mean an intense commitment with media and / or technology, participation in communities, specialised knowledge networks, interest-based communities, feedback and learning, recognition and reputation. But, how to shift to a new business model where the intangible aspects are the key ones? How to design new strategies in accordance with the new generation? And how to use technology and social networks to transform festival experience design?

These questions probably do not have a specific response, but there are ways to reach the answer. And it is here where Imagineering has an important role, because it fits into this line of new emerging complexity-based approaches. It means that festivals can be designed to appeal to the imagination of individuals in order to generate new, collectively wanted behaviour. It is the idea of engineering with and for imagination. Albert Einstein once remarked that “Imagination is more important than knowledge”. In this contemporary network society, this idea is more powerful than even before. If, as a music festival organisation, you can go beyond organising a festival and putting together different bands, and, in addition to this, you are able to inspire people; you can be in the business for a long time. The key is to create and give instruments to the people to participate and be integrated in the process.

Digitalization and new technology can help to co-create, but as Erik Qualman says “we don’t have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it”. Although technology can make extremely large contributions and transformations to promote co-creative and memorable event experiences at music festivals, they have not taken advantage of their full potential yet. And maybe this is because the music industry is too focussed on the material creation value proposition.

Companies can create value in two ways: in a material way and in a symbolic way. In the former, resources are combined according to available technology resulting in mutual benefits. In the latter, resources are combined to evoke specific processes and identities, giving people the opportunity to act in a meaningful way in their lives and to express themselves. As a new generation we are looking for activities that help us to develop our own personality and our own identity. In fact, music is a very important leisure activity to create meaning and that is where symbolic value has everything to do with the music festival industry.

Certainly, there is a need for a balance between both ways of creating value. The thing is how to switch from material thinking to also create symbolic value. It means a transformation to a more complex form of business logic where you can integrate material and symbolic value creation in order to enhance the festival experience as a whole, making it more meaningful and memorable. This means not getting stuck in the traditional model and evolving with new mechanisms, new principles and the design of new business models that allow new ways of doing. Therefore, what about giving voice to the next generation through Imagineering?