How can we create programming that's really unique and also captivating to the audience?
How do you put on a festival performance for the streaming generation? How do you curate a lineup for an audience undefined by genres or isolated subcultures? How do artists and fans around the world harness these opportunities for maximum gain without compromising their own artistic integrity?
It’s a challenge faced by everyone involved with live music festivals, but perhaps Coachella has found the answer. The festival had sought a fresh start after its peak historic moment with Beyoncé headlining in 2018, and the resounding opinion everywhere – backstage in the artist village, among the general public in the main fields, and in the dressing rooms of the performers – was that 2019 was the best Coachella festival in recent history.
Coachella's approach in 2019 seemed to be to follow the populace, not attempt to dictate it
In the current landscape, it's hard to predict where music is going and when, but Coachella's approach in 2019 seemed to be to follow the populace, not attempt to dictate it. The headliners: rapper and activist Childish Gambino; psychedelic disco tycoons Tame Impala; and pop superstar Ariana Grande were just the top-tier reflection of the diversity throughout the three days. From Blackpink to J Balvin, Rosalia to Billie Eilish, Maggie Rogers to Bad Bunny, it was an embarrassment of homegrown and international riches. For those participating in a #couchella at home, the action could be caught on a streaming service provided by YouTube, who have had a strong presence onsite since their partnership with Coachella began in 2011.
If this is the way a festival needs to adapt to current trends, how does this impact the experience of the people taking part? To find out, I asked people from four different perspectives. Here's what they had to say.
Coachella gives streaming artists the platform. Now there are bands who are finding that their place is perhaps not as streaming artists. And there are streaming artists that now need to have their place. Coachella is perfect for that.
The fact they had the first ever K Pop girl band to play shows that. I bet a few people were scratching their heads wondering who Blackpink were, but I love the fact that Coachella gave them a set because people should know who they are.
I spent many years on the road doing festivals alongside lots of bands. I remember occasionally seeing Florence, Lorde, maybe Haim. Often there weren't any other female singers on lineups. That's stuck with me. Coachella is extremely diverse and has so many females playing. They give the people the artists they want. Every headliner they had deserved to be there.
I was talking to Childish Gambino's production manager last night, and he said that no one could ever touch Beyonce's set. With Childish Gambino it was a totally different game – he got people involved. Every single person in the crowd is holding their phone up, there's not one person with their hands in the air. Instead of saying – put your phones away – he embraced it and went down in the crowd to take pictures. The first time I played Coachella, the sets weren't like that. It was a lot less spectacle.
Artists are realising that when you have a set at Coachella you gotta up your game. That's a perfectly OK challenge to have. Artists are always looking for ways to increase their creativity. It's not just going up and singing. I used to think I could get away with my guitar and prancing around a bit. When you're offered a Coachella set you have to think outside the box, do something more interactive, more of a spectacle.
We've done over a hundred different festivals now. The main difference I've noticed here is the segregation in the pit. I know that's a Coachella stereotype with its artificiality. But at festivals like Glastonbury you have the same amount of A-listers and performers as they do here, and yet everyone's in the same boat, and the music's on 24 hours. Here it's weird. There's grass in the desert. There's snow-y mountains when you look past the palm trees. Everything's off kilter but in a fascinating way.
We were quite surprised when we got offered to play this festival. It was a generous offer too. For our humour, satire and irony, it's a dream. We've been touring throughout the week, and so have [other bands on the bill] Parcels and Iceage who we're touring with. It's good exposure. If you can't afford a ticket to Coachella, you know one of the bands are probably gonna come through your town soon. In terms of the actual Coachella stream? Honestly, I didn't even think about it.
The streaming service: Ali Rivera (Head of Artistic Partnerships at YouTube)
[Coachella co-founder] Paul Tollett is a curator. We've had so many conversations over the years about how he uses platforms to find artists. The reason our partnership is so amazing is because he's such a big YouTube fan. He spends tonnes of time finding bands, going to shows, then digging deep on the content that we have.
We've been working so closely with Coachella to identify artists who are huge on the YouTube platform. Coachella spends a lot of time diving through YouTube's data, figuring out where fans are coming from: the US, the UK, Asia… These markets are blowing up. We're able to show from our data where people are viewing. That helps us determine who to book and when to put them on.
For instance, over the weekend we saw this huge re-surge in numbers on the Blackpink broadcast when the Asian market finally got to watch it. We really leaned into Latin artists this year – J Balvin, Rosalia, Bad Bunny. Coachella have been expanding their roster, trying to lean into what's popular on YouTube. That reflects upon who shows up here.
In the near future, we're going to lean more into the global nature [of the festival], continuing to book artists who are breaking on YouTube. For weekend two, we did 'Coachella Curated' on the stream for the first time this year because we don't want to compete with weekend one. It's not in the fans' best interests to see the second weekend exactly the same as the first. The second weekend, we stream one song per artist and the headliners' full sets.
How can we create programming that's really unique and also captivating to the audience? It's an experiment, and we're going to evolve and tweak that.
Coachella's lineup is a natural progression. There's a lot of merging of our typical lines in genres. There's so much crossover. It's beneficial to us as a people. That's the truth of what America is, the truth of what the world is. Representation is important.
Coachella is pioneering in the festival space. It's better than it's been in years. Beyoncé was the biggest moment the festival has probably ever had; a black woman with a full stage of over 100 black cast members, and there's no way that one can deny that the people want that? A homecoming for everyone. Let's expand this thing out.
Whether we're playing this Coachella stage or the Greek theatre, we approach it the same way, and that keeps us from mentally letting in the pressure of this being the biggest US festival. We wanna go out there, have a good time, be rockstars. Whatever happens, happens.
Janelle has this thing where she says, 'Oh well, peace'. What happened with Lizzo last week was a challenging position to be in as an artist. Imagine this, you've prepared for this huge amazing show. And nothing went smoothly for her. Imagine for 45 minutes you have to keep this crowd entertained, engaged. You have your ears on, she has no idea what's going on, so she keeps bantering, while we're trying to fix technical things in the background. My hat is off to her. That was magic on that stage. That was true stardom to push through.