Minecraft, one of the largest online communities for digital creatives, is hosting an inaugural four-day dance music festival called Rave Family Block Fest headlined by electronic heavyweights like Steve Aoki, A-Trak, and ZHU.
The event, originally set to live-stream July 9th-12th, has been post-poned for the time-being. Stay tuned for details.
Beyond the entertainment factor, Rave Family Block Fest has partnered with a number of charities in the fight to end police brutality, eliminate single-use plastic (bottles) at festivals, and improve musician’s rights to control their music.
COVID-19 has forced music event promoters to rethink the way they do business; which means now is a tremendous opportunity to revamp the traditional live music experience. To preview Rave Family Block Fest, we spoke to Jackie McGuire, the CEO of Rave Family, to learn more about the festival’s development and what attendees can expect.
Rave Family Block Fest
General Admission start at $10
SF Station (SFS) What are the origins of the Rave Family Block Fest and how has it morphed during planning?
Jackie McGuire (JM) The original idea started out small and humble. I’m a huge fan of Electric Forest. I’m such a big fan after going for a couple of years. I was walking back to my campsite and saw some property for sale across from my campsite. I thought what a better way to be able to take our kids here. We have a lakehouse here on 10 acres inside where they hold Electric Forest. Every year we have a ton of people over for the event. My adopted home is the west coast. Electronic Forest is the only time I see all my friends. When we heard Electric Forest was canceled, my kids are playing Minecraft and we moved the server to a native US cloud. The thought occurred to me all of a sudden, we could create Electric Forest on Minecraft in AWS Cloud. In theory, all of our friends could play. I thought, let’s reach out to a couple of people. When we figured out that we could build community venues. We thought we could recreate all of the venues we can’t go to now because of the quarantine.
I originally reached out to a couple of friends I’ve been meeting through music. My background is finance and tech. I reached out to a couple of friends I had met through festivals as a fan. We built Red Rocks. We’re probably not login to have a show at Red Rocks for a couple of years. When artists saw it, they freaked out. They can actually interact with your fans. Streaming is cool like Twitch; it’s a one-way interaction. They are standing in their living room trying to look excited. You can’t see their face. All the people who started live streaming did it for free. As an economist, I thought we’re never going to be able to charge for this. Super cool fantasy venues. A whole bunch of artists wanted to host their own stages with their friends. I didn’t myself book 900 artists, I booked 12-15 of my favorite artists and they started booking people.
There’s a lot of gatekeeping in music. Promoters have their network of artists they book. It’s typically their network of artists. It’s a self-perpetuating thing. You get booked because you have Soundcloud plays and you have Soundcloud plays because you get booked. When you let artists book their favorite artists and you don’t say they have to have at least this many followers… Our lineup is so much more diverse not just from a genre and diversity perspective, but also from a race and a gender perspective. We have 8-9 stages hosted by females and just as many hosted by black artists and people of color. We just want artists to book artists.
(SFS) How did you decide to recreate places like Dunder Mifflin, Red Blocks (after Red Rocks), and a replica of the Gorge and what was the work effort involved?
(JM) I had planned to go to Red Rocks for the first time this year. We built it as an exercise in catharsis for some plans that weren’t going to happen. A decent chunk of the first stages few were silly ideas. My good friend Mark Martinez has a 9am-5pm streaming thing where he streams for the whole workday. He thought it would be cool if he could do an office-style thing. I thought we could do an office or we could do The Office.
What we do is pull up a photo of whatever it is, and Minecraft is the coolest version of legos that exists. You can make things look as close as you can in a weird 8-bit block style. The first handful of venues were ones that artists thought were cool. We had artists come in and build their own stuff. Mushroom Cloud came in and built this huge pirate ship out of boredom. He’s a huge Minecraft builder. We have a handful of artists who build out their own stages. You have these artists stuck in quarantine with built-up creative energy. [In Minecraft] Physics don’t apply. Things can hang in the air and be turned upside. The kind of ideas artists came up with was insane. I built a bunch of stuff myself too. We have a team of 15-20 builders who are volunteers. They are also fans of artists.
For example, Dirtybird Campout, we had a fan reach out and say I love Dirtybird, I love Minecraft, I’d love to help build that stage. He spent the better part of one-month building it. It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. That’s the appeal for artists. You can decide what you want and your fans can help create.
(SFS) Is there a maximum capacity for the event?
(JM) There is no maximum capacity thanks to Amazon Cloud Server technology. There is a capacity per server. We have a server for the main festival and every DJ world lives on its own server. The capacity for each server varies. You can fit up to 1,000 people on a server, but sometimes servers crash. If you put 200-500 people on the server, you would make people less upset. That’s what we did right out the gate. Amazon has a thing called autoscaling. It keeps an eye on the server and whenever it hits a certain percentage full, it creates a copy of itself.
How much are tickets?
If you don’t own Minecraft, that’s your first cost. It costs $7 for your cellphone or $27 for the desktop. We sell tickets for the event. They start at $10 for general admission.
(SFS) How will the event also support charitable initiatives?
(JM) We are donating 5% of our proceeds to The Bail Project, Black Lives Matter, and ByeByePlastic, the latter of which was started by one of our artists Blondish. Their goal is to eliminate single-use plastics at festivals by 2025. This is the best time to do it because all the supply chains are broken right now. Event organizers buy that stuff months and months in advance. Now is the time to educate people on how bad single-use plastic is for the environment. The pandemic good opportunity for things to change permanently.
Music rights is [another cause we’re championing]. This will be the first streaming festival that’s paying for the rights to the music we’re using. Twitch doesn’t pay. Most of the live stream platforms don’t. YouTube will monetize it or take it down. In my opinion, it’s not sufficient. Music Rights based on a 1970s model to dig through a file cabinet to figure out who is the rights holder. I don’t think that one is going to be as easy as single-use plastics.
As I’m working through this festival, I’m asking a lot of powerful people about music rights and streaming rights. I liken it to iTunes in the early 2000s. Everybody was pirating music, not because they couldn’t afford to buy an mp3 but there was no good place to buy reliable music at a specific price. When iTunes came out with $0.99 mp3s, they were able to help the whole music industry. They made up in the volume of people pirating music from people starting paying to $0.99.
There are four different performer rights organizations. You can figure out which PROs (Performing Rights Organization) you’re supposed to pay. For music rights, there are 30 different rights holders for a single track. Now, it’s up to the license holder, the festival owner, to figure out who those rights holders are and pay them. The records companies know that stuff. I shouldn’t have to know that stuff. PROs are hurting really bad because nobody is performing and they aren’t getting fees. Anything would be better than nothing.
In any horrible situation, there is something positive that can come from it. For me, it’s the Minecraft Music Festival. I’m always someone that’s going to go big or go home. That’s why I had to get out of corporate America. I always worked in sales jobs. I was a financial advisor and in venture capital. Getting people to listen to me and building authority in what I was doing was important. I realized pretty early on in the process to create a revenue plan and make money from live streaming. People are actually listening to me. There’s an opportunity to take in real change. These things are interconnected, it’s like dominoes. Once one thing is successful. If I have a platform. If I crash all the servers and its a disaster. I’m pretty confident.