Future Of VIP Fan Experiences
Offering VIP Fan experiences to concert attendees has become a great way for artists to draw in some additional revenue from concert attendees. As the business landscape changes and we adapt to a post-COVID music industry, David Benjamin De Cristofaro takes a look at what the future of VIP fan experiences might look like.
Guest post by David Benjamin De Cristofaro
As Artists aim to find new opportunities in the face of primary revenues in Music’s shift from record sales to live event spaces as well as the ticket re-sale market, new models have emerged around the front end of ticket transactions just as bundles do around record pre-sales. One that has become a common practice for acts is that of pre-show Fan Experiences featuring exclusive accessibilities and amenities bundled with tickets sold from front and center outward within a capped number of available allocations. Sales of these packages help to make up for part of revenues once achievable through traditional album sales, as well as those lost to the multi-billion-dollar secondary-ticket market.
Artist’s teams work with them and the promoter, ticketing-company and at times a middle-company contracted to design and facilitate these programs, amenities and suppliers. it’s common for middle-companies to present a selection of options based on previous programs and packages, from which the Artist and their team pick and piece together their own program bundle while lending input to layout, designs and features. These programs are often structured with 1-3 tiers of options, though larger acts may run up to 5 or more depending on the strength of their brand, audience and venue size as well as different combinations they can offer from most valuable down to the simplest upgrade in a fan’s experience. Likewise, prices can range by act from $100-$800 to $2,000 or more, also to scale of the Artist and audience.
Fans are met with check-in areas for confirmation and issuance of their package items, of which the most basic amenities typically include early venue-access lines and an Artist-branded keep-sake laminate to commemorate the experience, while others include items such as Artist-signed posters or bags. While 1st tier early-access package purchasers might collect their bundle items, entry doesn’t usually take place until shortly before doors. For those seeking more, high-tier packages offer a more-or-less on-brand experiences that include dedicated lounge spaces with photo-booths, ops and props, branded step-&-repeats, lounge-furniture, games, activities, instrument demos, hors d’oeuvres or buffet catering tables. More immersive Artist experiences include traveling “exhibit” style pop-ups with outfits and memorabilia from notable events, appearances or times significant to their history.
While experiences may not include the Artists, pre-show engagements such as a behind-the-scenes tour, sound-checks, performances, Q & A’s, Meet-&-Greet photo’s (or some combination) that run based on the Tour and individual venues day-sheets, schedules and promotional commitments are sometimes included with higher package tiers. Fans differ in values and priority, some purchase packages to get as close to the stage in the venue’s GA pit as possible, while for others a draw can be access to their own bathroom, food, beverage, early venue access and merch-booths without the lines. Widely, Artists have embraced pre-show experiences with fans as a regular part of Touring life, though some have publically decried the model to make a statement, others out of principle, and at times to express their discontent. Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman points out a social dynamic between the bands and their fans in which this adds a “transactional” value and quality to the exchange at times that can affect the personal touch. Depending on how much value a fan feels they got out of a package or interaction, it could scale from authentic to transactional depending on their experience.
Some Artists select fans at shows to join them backstage for free meet-and-greets as well, so whether by pre-pay or by chance, it’s worth looking how this aspect of the Experience Economy will adapt post-COVID. Acts in high risk age groups postponed or cancelled tours early on, while others eliminated the meet-and-great feature. Artist-interaction portions of programs will likely need to be modified in pre-show engagements to interactions from the stage and group photos taken in front of it and a standard 6-foot distanced barricade. The growing popularity of fan-texting and monetized zoom-type meetings that provide more direct-engagement with Artists could lead to more pre-show or post Tour follow ups with fans during the recovery period as a part of promotional cycles, sending them activity kits and interactive opportunities.
Businesses that provide these services, like many secondary-parties, will be assessed as the Music Industry looks to adapt and recover from the COVID Pandemic. Artist’s and major Promoters have learned they can access resources and supply chains to offer the same services internally. Streamlined efficiency in operation and scheduling for programs within a promoter’s venue network onsite eliminates common schedule delays and confusions for staffs and fans at larger venues such as with box offices who’ve not yet received lists or opened their gates, programs and services etc.
Many of these programs leverage accessibility and rewards based models that credit card companies like American Express have rolled out for years, though as they’ve become common practice in live events amenities and formats have become more generic and similar to one another. As the return to live events will be competitive, the value for creativity, experience design and better branding practices at the ground level on the front lines of fan engagement will be high. Artist’s may look to create more immersive brand experiences for fans to get their values worth from programs. Traveling exhibit activity spaces may become more widespread and give way to new opportunities using models long employed by amusement parks and pop-ups by re-creating environments from films, television shows or music videos to create an immersive environment that invites fans into part of their story.
Recently Los Angeles saw a former K-Mart converted into a completely immersive one-stop Britney Spears experience called “The Zone”, whose features include an interactive nine room walk through some of her most famous video scenes and moments. In my conversation with producer Jeff Delson, whose creative merch rollouts include a broad scope of Artist’s from Beyonce’s Formation Tour to 30 Seconds To Mars’s Camp Mars, he expounded on the ideation behind the exhibit in how “The most valuable currency today is experience. This pandemic has made it even more clear that we all deeply desire to have life-changing experiences, build communities, and create lasting memories with friends. Interactive experiences are the future of the artist/fan relationship. Before creating The Zone, we thought, what if you could walk into the world of your favorite artist—like literally walk into the music videos?”
Here the concept of Artist pop-ups is taken to a new level and standard for fan experience while giving a glimpse of the future of immersive branding and hands-free interactive content generation. A tour complete with an RFID wristband that will be used to deliver 6 free specially curated photo and video activations via cameras set up in rooms to take them for you delivering directly to mobile devices. These RFID Trigger Trap style photo moments along with Projection Mapping on physical objects and participating media as well as insertion of guest media into comp templates came the way of collaboration with The Third Floor Visualization, who consulted on creative ideas for the experience spaces. Creative Director of Immersive Albert Cheng shares “over the course of development, we consulted on the various rooms which would incorporate innovative technologies in fresh new ways and had the pleasure of working with Chief Creative Officer, Shannon Ramirez. Our Immersive group, who excel at applying creative technology to the experiential world, clicked well with The ZONE team and relished the opportunity to explore all the tech and creative ideas that would go into the experience.”
In addition to its impressive tech, the installation has peak and non-peak timeframe pricing while circumventing the secondary re-sale market by texting tickets purchased 24 hours ahead of booked times. Delson points out “The Zone is first of its kind and the most immersive fan experience ever created—a destination that allows you to truly enter the world of your favorite artist. We spent years carefully planning every small detail, and the technology and production value are unmatched.” With the growing popularity of Artist branded and curated Festivals as well as interactive RFID in fan ecosystems and commerce and the desire for bigger brand experiences amidst monotonous VIP programs, The Zone marks a new era of Music fan experience!