Moogfest Preview: AC Entertainment’s Matt Hendrickson
By many accounts, Moogfest 2012 hasn’t generated the same level of pre-event enthusiasm that welcomed the Asheville-based festival in its first two years. Whether it’s the reduced number of acts in the line-up (37 this year versus 62 in 2011), one less day of that line-up (two days instead of three), or the line-up itself, is open to debate; that there even is a debate says something about the reduced excitement.
But to Matt Hendrickson, director of Marketing and New Media for AC Entertainment, the company that promotes Moogfest, the contractions are a sign of the festival’s health. He says the two-day bill— headlined by veteran weirdo rockers Primus (but in 3D), and also featuring rapper Nas, electronic music legends Orbital, and post-rock poster boys Explosions in the Sky — is as strong “top to bottom” as any line-up yet.
Hendrickson, in his first year with AC Entertainment, talked with Shuffle’s Managing Editor John Schacht about the festival’s late-October status, line-ups past and present, what promoters have learned from the first two years, and the festival landscape in general.
Shuffle: From a marketing standpoint, what differences are there marketing Moogfest as opposed to the other festivals you do?
Matt Hendrickson: What’s different, and it’s a positive difference, is that there’s a hook to this festival, that being Bob Moog. So you automatically have a brand awareness of the name by a lot of people. So it’s different from a festival that just sort of pops up somewhere. Obviously the festival landscape has changed dramatically and gotten more crowded, but with Moogfest there’s Bob Moog, electronic-based synthesizers, that whole element — so it presents us an opportunity to really capitalize on the fact that there’s a lot of huge Bob Moog fans, there’s a lot of electronic music fans, there’s a lot of fans of innovative music, it doesn’t have to be necessarily electronic. Look at our line-up: Primus 3D, Explosions in the Sky, very much guitar-based but still very innovative in what they do. Obviously we have a healthy amount of electronic acts, too.
The challenge with any festival that’s going on its third year is to really try and capitalize on the years before, and keep and increase the level of fan’s engagement — you want those repeat customers, especially since the festival landscape is really crowded and there’s a lot of opportunities for people to spend their money elsewhere. We just like to create the best possible experience that we can put out there. We have an intensely loyal fan base that we’ve developed over the two years, and just to keep the word going with them and have them tell their friends, that’s key. The first year is kind of an experiment, the second one you figure out maybe what didn’t go so well the first year and how you can fix it. Then the third year you get to this point where you say, ‘okay, we’re really going to make a run at this and try and establish Moogfest as being one of the premier festivals in the country,’ and hopefully we’re on our way to doing that.
Shuffle: Was there a sense in the first year that it should be almost exclusively electronic music-based, but in the second year it was decided not to limit the festival vision that narrowly?
MH: Yeah, definitely the first year I think there was an emphasis pretty much across the board on that. Pretty Lights, Disco Biscuits, Massive Attack being the big one. Then in 2011 we expanded that out a little and had the Flaming Lips. So I think the thread of innovation runs through all three years of the festival; maybe it’s defined differently in 2011 than certainly in 2012. Obviously synthesizer and electronic-based music is the foundation from which we build the line-ups, but we’re not afraid to put something on there that people might at first scratch their head over. Like Nas, you don’t look at Nas as being a Moog sort of act, but we feel like Nas has been an innovator in hip-hop for many, many years and as it turns out he’s touring for the first time with a full band, which includes members that play various Moog instruments. So it’s obviously tailor-made for us to maybe expand the musical horizons of what people expect from Moogfest, and also in keeping with the spirit of the Festival.
Shuffle: What’s been the most effective method of marketing — the traditional methods can’t be that effective anymore, so how has social media played into your marketing plans?
MH: It’s huge. I think what it does for us — we have 30,000 people to, quote-unquote, like the Festival, but there’s a very active audience on there so we obviously do a lot of our marketing on there. Not only with our Facebook and Twitter accounts, but also on-line marketing and on-line ad placement beyond the basic what it was in the 80s or something, with posters and print advertising — which we still do. But there’s definitely Facebook, which is obviously a big one, we try to engage various other social platforms to drum up buzz for festival, whether that’s Spotify or Turntable.fm. And Facebook allows us to respond to our fans who maybe pointed out some things in the past. If we do make a change we can listen to them and respond with answers to questions. I don’t want to say we’re the only festival that does that, but I think that’s sort of unique, the engagement we have with the fans. They’ve come to appreciate that and let us know that they really do like the fact that we’re active and we engage. That just helps build buzz, and then they tell their friends and hopefully they’ll buy tickets. It’s very much more than just placing an ad in the alt-weekly or whatever; we can have much more of an engagement with the fans and promote certain things and disseminate messages that the fans will enjoy, whether it be about a schedule, or a mobile app, or some cool stuff that’s happening in Asheville that weekend as well. It’s a way to really make the marketing more of a 360-viewpoint, rather than just this flat 180: Here’s a print ad, here’s a poster.
Shuffle: Is there an example of something that’s come up on the forum that’s worked its way into your viewpoint? Something that a fan’s view from on the ground provides rather than from on-high?
MH: Well, I wasn’t with the company last year, but I know they made some adjustments to the schedule so it would be easier for people to see the acts that they wanted. There’s more time in-between certain acts that the fans were asking for, that we responded with. We do a lot of sort of maintenance, question-and-answer sort of things: tickets, what things consist of. If you buy a VIP ticket, how does it work — if they haven’t figured it out from the messages we’ve already put out. We have like a diehard group of fans that put up their own (Facebook) page, called InfoMoog, it’s run by fans and there’s a forum for it. It’s interesting sometimes to go there and see the chatter, see what they’re talking about. It’s almost market research in some ways; just gauge the temperature of the room, so to speak, and if there’s anything we can do better we’re not afraid to do it.
Shuffle: Have we seen the last of the outdoor event then? Or is that something that could come back in the future?
MH: I don’t want to say ‘never,’ but, you’re based in Charlotte, right? Well, Asheville’s much different even than Charlotte because it’s in the mountains. Last year it rained on Friday night, and it was cold, and Saturday it was just abysmally cold. And I think to just provide the best experience, we’re not doing a night-time, outdoor — I guess it’s late afternoon until the evening —event. Plus, when you’re doing a festival in a city with multiple venues, to add another outdoor element in a spot that doesn’t traditionally have concerts — this is basically in the parking lot next to the arena — makes for some operational things that are really challenging, especially when you have five other venues that have five other sets of requirements. It’s not like Bonnaroo or something, where it’s in a giant field and everything’s pretty manageable. So there are just some logistical, operational challenges, and the weather in late October in Asheville is kind of a crapshoot. It could snow, it could be freezing rain, and you just don’t want to diminish the experience for the fans. I think people enjoyed it during the daytime, but I remember being at the Flaming Lips show last year and I think my wife is still shivering. It was soooo cold. If the festival was maybe in September some time, I think it’d be a great thing to have. But with everything else that’s going on it was sort of an easy decision to say, ‘you know what? Maybe not this year.’ But we’ll see what can happen.
Shuffle: What about the timing of the festival – Hopscotch is in their third year as well, there seems to be a fair amount of crossover fans, and I did hear a few people making a decision between the two, which one they were going to be able to afford. Has there been any thought to moving Moogfest into the spring?
MH: I don’t necessarily think Hopscotch is much of a concern with the fall as it is with the city of Asheville and the time of the year. It’s fall, there are a lot of people there that are not there for Moogfest, that are doing drives through the mountains looking at the leaves changing. And the town becomes very crowded, and it’s not a camping festival so people are either staying with friends or buying hotel rooms. There’s just a premium put on space during that time of year in Asheville, the tail end of the leaf-changing season there in Asheville. If we do move the festival, that would be something that we’d really consider. Hopscotch, I don’t know what their attendance was this year, and looking at the line-ups, they’re very different in a lot of ways. There is always that case of people having to make a choice; like I said, the festival landscape has gotten really crowded. There’s a big event in Atlanta the same weekend as Moogfest, Sound Tribe Sector 9 is doing two shows, which is a chunk of potential Moogfest attendees who might rather go there. There’s a big event in Nashville with Skrillex and Pretty Lights, they’ve played Moogfest before. And the end of September you have CounterPoint, which is the big electronic musical festival outside of Atlanta. So there are just all these factors that you have to take into consideration. I think there’s only a limited amount of money that people are able to spend. We’ve been a little, I don’t want to say removed, but had a little bit of a buffer, as I’ve found that Moogfest attendees, while there are definitely early- to mid-20s attendees, there’s a decent amount of older people — I’m not saying 60-year-olds —with enough income. So it’s definitely a challenge to figure out the right time.
Shuffle: So is that on the table, then?
MH: We haven’t really talked seriously about it, we’re just trying to get through this year. But you ask any festival that’s not Bonnaroo, Coachella, Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits — they’re pretty ingrained in the time of the year — but other than that there’s very few festivals that are really tied to the second weekend in October, or the second weekend in June, which is what Bonnaroo is, or the first weekend in August like Lollapalooza. There’s some flexibility that people have, even though you generally want to have it in the same time frame because, if it’s the fifth year or whatever, people sort of come to expect that time of year. But you always have to be aware of what’s out there, and how far people are willing to travel, what they’re willing to spend. I think we’d like to keep it in October, but we keep everything on the table.
Shuffle: Did you guys sense that there was a palpable let-down this year when the line-up was announced?
MH: I don’t think so. I think people were surprised maybe by some of the acts. But once we sort of explained why they were…Primus being the primary example, you wouldn’t normally think that Primus would fit on a Moogfest bill. But the fact that they are innovative, and the fact that they’re on a quote-unquote 3D tour, and they’re going to be handing out thousands of 3D glasses, that’s pretty cool. Even if you’re not a huge Primus fan, you might want to check that out. But we’ve got Nas, one of the biggest hip-hop acts; Orbital are legends in electronic music; Santigold — there’s plenty to go see. Would we have loved to have Nine Inch Nails? Sure, but who wouldn’t? So I think our line-up, even though it’s two days, is probably the strongest we’ve had from top to bottom in the three years that we’ve been doing this.
Shuffle: What about the discounted ticket sales for locals? Has that happened before? Some have referred to it as a fire-sale move…
MH: It’s not a fire sale by any means. We did this last year. Asheville’s been incredibly supportive — the venues and the city we’ve worked closely with to put on this festival. Asheville’s got a lot going for it, there’s a lot going on. And to really get more locals involved and excited about the festival we did offer the locals discount — that’s just trying to be a good partner, a good neighbor, a ‘thank you’ for allowing us to come into the city and take it over for the weekend with 8,000 fans. We’d like to offer as many people from Asheville and the surrounding area to come to the festival and experience it because, certainly in my experience, it’s one of the most unique and fun festivals I’ve ever been to.
Shuffle: You guys are co-sponsoring a local showcase this year at the Emerald Lounge – was that a reaction to local concerns that there weren’t any regional bands on the bills?
MH: They (the Emerald Lounge) approached us, and we’re partnering with them, but they’ve booked all the bands and we’ve included them on the line-up and schedule too, but it’s more a partnership. With the limited number of slots we have this year the one area I think that we weren’t able to bring in a lot of the local acts, and I think that’s what was appealing about the Emerald Lounge, is that we’re able to give some play and promotion to a dozen or so local Asheville or Western North Carolina acts.