Big Data: The Big Trend of IMFCON 2014

posted by Laura Baker-Finch on December 12, 2014

Keith Goldberg (Vendini) and Biasha Mitchell (eventbrite) at the "Sell Out Your Festival with Big Data" Panel at IMFCON by Laura Baker-Finch

Austin, Texas -- Big Data was one of the biggest music festival trends coming out of the International Music Festival Conference (IMFCON) in Austin. Not only was it discussed in its dedicated panel, “Sell Out Your Festival with Big Data,” but in the majority of panels I attended over the course of the conference - from “From On Sale to On Site: What Festivals Must do to Develop Fan Loyalty” to “Using Social Media to Boost Sponsorships.” No matter the topic, the panelists, the moderator, or the crowd questions, Big Data came up. 

But let’s rewind, you’re probably asking yourself what is Big Data? So we’ll start there. Big Data has become a blanket term to describe the exponential growth of data, both structured and unstructured, that is growing in availability and has the ability to be mined for information. For music festivals, this data usually refers to the festivalgoer, but where it’s coming from or what it’s saying stems out from there often unmanageably. 

At IMFCON, Biasha Mitchell of eventbrite categorized Big Data of music festivals into three categories: data that can be used to predict (before the festival), to adjust (at the festival), and to reflect (after the festival). It is within these categories that the majority of Big Data uses, case studies, and best practices can be divided and understood. 


Before a festival, Big Data can be utilized to dictate marketing and booking. Festival organizers often turn to such services as Shazam and Spotify to detect which artists are popular in their events’ location and/or target market. Companies like the Next Big Sound are also useful in the predictive stage for their extensive analytic reports that promise to help you make smarter decisions based on their collection of social, sales, and marketing analytics on the music industry. 

Surveys, although often dismissed as ‘old school’ in such a highly digitized world, can also provide invaluable data points. Before a festival, a survey attached in an email to a ticket purchaser can answer questions like “what artists on the lineup drew you to the festival most?,” “why did you purchase a ticket?,” or “what do you hope will be at the festival besides the music?” While the first two can help in planning for future additions (more on that later), questions like the latter can help in that period between tickets going on sale and the event itself. Imagine if you knew what onsite activities or types of food your guaranteed attendees wanted at the event? 

Marketing benefits from Big Data before a festival are a bit more straightforward. Collecting data from social media sites, email addresses, and email newsletter open rates all create a clearer image of your festivalgoer. Not your ideal festivalgoer or your intended festivalgoer, but your actual already-purchased-a-ticket festivalgoer. Market to them. 


On-site Big Data collection is really where we get into some cool new technologies in the industry. RFID wristbands that offer access control, cashless payment systems, and iBeacons (a Bluetooth technology that tracks festivalgoers in realtime) can tell festival organizers information on festivalgoer activity that never would have been possible before and, in turn, festivalgoers reap the benefits on-site through incentives. 

RFID Cashless Payment System via DJ Master Course; iBeacons via The Verge; RFID for Access Control via id&c

RFID and cashless payment systems can aid festival organizers immediately by allowing them to see which areas are most populated and which bars/vendors are at capacity. This leads to reinforcements being sent to overcrowded vendor areas and security to overpopulated stages. Cashless payment systems, in theory, aid attendees by making payments of all kinds quick and easy. No waiting for a credit card machine to go online and no waiting for the person in front of you to count her quarters. 

iBeacon’s benefits to a festival generally come after the event itself in preparation for the following year. Its benefits for attendees, however, happen on-site. Thanks to the bluetooth connection, when a festivalgoer passes one of the deployed iBeacons strategically scattered around the festival site, a push notification can be sent to the phone directly. Messages can tell that attendee what artist is playing at the stage they just approached or even prompt him/her to check out a nearby activity. This technology is also a great benefit to a festival’s sponsors as they can utilize the direct to attendee messaging system to make more festivalgoers aware of their onsite promotions and activations. 

Festivals can, and should, also collect Big Data for use on-site by assigning someone to monitor social media activity. At the conference, Sean O’Connell, Festival Director of Hangout Festival, shared an anecdote in which a problem was fixed quickly thanks to a member of the Hangout team noticing multiple attendees  complaining about the same thing. One of the festival’s stages, apparently, had poor sound and was difficult to hear from certain areas in the audience. Through Twitter, the festival organizers found out and quickly adjusted the sound, after which no further complaints came through.

Biasha Mitchell (eventbrite) and Sean O'Connell (Hangout Festival) at IMFCON 2014 by Laura Baker-Finch


Post-festival is arguably the most beneficial time to look at collected Big Data, whether it be from monitoring social media activity or reviewing the data points collected on-site from RFID, cashless systems, and iBeacons, as it can direct planning for the following year of the festival. Through looking at what stages had the most traffic, and at what times, a festival’s talent buyer can better adjust the list of potential artists for the following year.

Cashless payment systems provide more accurate data from on-site purchases than would have come from individual vendors counting out money collected throughout the day. This not only holds vendors more accountable, but influencers which vendors will return the following year, how many will return, and where they will be located. 

Both iBeacon and RFID (depending on how used) help festival organizers create a heat map of the festival, allowing them to streamline the event in future editions. They can discover things like what stage was most popular, how people moved around the festival grounds , how many people entered the VIP area, and what sponsor activations or other on-site activities were most popular. Basically, everything the organizers needs to know to improve their festival the following year on all levels. 

It’s clear now why Big Data was such a Big Topic at IMFCON, right? All of the knowledge festivals can glean from Big Data goes right back to benefiting each individual festivalgoer; the more organizers know, the better the festival itself becomes. 

Follow @laurajbf on Twitter

See Also:

Chip Conley at IMFCON: The Festival Comeback
40 Music Festival Presales Going on Now
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