Our In the Clear(ance) series continues with Peter McGaughrin, Artist and Producer Manager at Red Light Management and co-owner of Chess Club Records.
McGaughrin, who previously worked as an intellectual property lawyer and in various creative positions at Universal and Sony, talks us through the challenges of creating a virtual music festival as part of Alfie Templeman’s debut album campaign.
Can you give us a high-level overview of the project/ who was involved?
In the build-up to Alfie Templeman’s debut album ‘Mellow Moon’, we wanted to build an interactive, intergalactic world to immerse new fans in the record in a unique and exciting way. Myself, as Alfie’s manager and co-owner of his label Chess Club Records, and our label partner AWAL (captained by our marketing lead Tom Prideaux) collaborated with Amazon Music (lead by Mitch Page and Ross Watson of the Label Relations Team) to create the Mellow Moon Festival by Alfie & Friends, a virtual music festival in space, built entirely within Minecraft.
Minecraft was the ideal choice as Alfie had been playing it for years and interacting with his fans in-game, and Minecraft at the time had over 126M active players with the largest 15-21 demographic – our primary target – so it seemed like a very authentic and powerful world for this.
Alfie wanted his favourite bands to play at the festival, so I reached out with a personal invite from Alfie to acclaimed artists such as Everything Everything, The Vaccines, Thomas Headon, Japanese artist SIRUP, Rock N Roll Hall of Famer Todd Rundgren, Phoebe Green, Matilda Mann, L’objectif and Coach Party. Fortunately, all of them were enthusiastic about signing up.
The idea was for each artist to perform “live” with specially designed Minecraft avatars, on a psychedelic stage set in a rocky moon crater.
“The idea was for each artist to perform “live” with specially designed Minecraft avatars, on a psychedelic stage set in a rocky moon crater.”
Can you talk us through how the festival works?
We meticulously skinned each artist’s avatars to reflect their likeness, from Alfie’s flannel shirts to Everything Everything’s boiler suits and Matilda Mann’s cherry earrings.
Alfie’s performance was the audio taken from his Shepherd’s Bush headline show the month prior, and each supporting artist delivered one live track. All audio was manually scheduled and programmed into the world by Varuna Builds, our chosen Minecraft design studio partner.
To bring Alfie’s Mellow Moon world to life AWAL, Amazon and us worked closely with Varuna to design the landscape features: an amusement park with several carnival rides, moon buggies, alien desert themed flora and fauna, flying spaceships, giant ‘3D Feelings’ emojis floating in the sky and more.
To party in true festival style, fans were challenged to complete a 13-stage scavenger hunt which unlocked a spaceship containing 13 individually themed floors (one for each album track) to hear exclusive snippets pre-release and enter to win prizes including Amazon Echo Studio speakers, Vans shoes, merch bundles and more.
Fans were able explore a fully 3-dimensional virtual store to pre-order the album with a discount and purchase exclusive items from the Amazon store. We built free, redeemable in-game items to encourage fan to fan interaction, including throwable fireworks, rocket launchers, shooting stars, and an ‘I LOVE ALFIE’ shield.
To amplify reach, we collaborated with top Twitch streamer Leahviathan to explore the world with Alfie in real-time before, during and after the performance on the day. The live stream was broadcast on Amazon Music’s Twitch channel and pinned to their homepage in the UK and Mexico. Each artist also joined the server on the festival day as their Minecraft-selves to play and chat alongside fans, sparking further excitement between each fanbase.
What was the clearance process for the Mellow Moon Virtual Festival – were you involved in clearing all the songs featured from all artists/ acts in the festival?
The first step was talking to the artists themselves – I knew, as an artist manager and label owner, that if the artists and their teams were enthusiastic about being involved, could see the overall benefit and knew it would be a fun and potentially ground-breaking activation to be part of, then the clearance process would be much more streamlined.
“I knew, as an artist manager and label owner, that if the artists and their teams were enthusiastic about being involved … then the clearance process would be much more streamlined.”
One concern I had was that all the artists might ask for expensive festival style fees, which would have blown our budget out of the water!
Fortunately, all the artists and management got the project immediately and understood it was a “free festival” for fans and that as it was a virtual performance they wouldn’t have the usual costs of travel, crew, production etc. like a normal festival. So we then worked with each artist to build their bespoke Minecraft avatar, approve their likeness and use of their name and image. Once we achieved that, we could then approach clearing the music.
Each artist was asked to submit a live recording, to make it natural for a festival performance, which meant we didn’t have to clear a master studio recording. We asked each artist to make sure their label was OK with these live recordings being used in the festival. Most artists had a live recording already on a hard drive somewhere, or recorded from the sound desk from a recent gig or festival, so it was a relatively easy lift for the artists and the labels saw the promotional benefit for the artist being involved, just like a normal IRL festival. Then as a final step we cleared the publishing usage with the various publishers and writers involved in the underlying compositions of the live recordings.
What were the terms of the deal and the payment structures?
The artists approved the usage of their performances, likenesses and image on a promotional basis as they saw the festival as an easy, fun, innovative, cool thing to do and they loved being part of the line-up along with other forward-thinking artists. The “live” master recordings were again licensed on a promotional basis. The use of the underlying compositions were cleared on a negotiated basis with the rightsholders.
Did any aspect of the clearance process mean you had to pivot on the project?
We did at one point consider having the rocket ship adorned with the Amazon logo and blast up into space, but famously a certain founder of Amazon was involved in his own space missions and the internal corporate communications conversations might have been extensive, so we had a rethink!
Is there anything that can be done in the industry to improve clearance for a project like this?
Conversely, I think this sort of project is a standard-bearer for the more traditional forms of clearance. If you can present an innovative, exciting, creative activation which has artists and their work at the front and centre, get the artist buy-in at the first hurdle and then use their passion for being involved as momentum to work collaboratively with all the stakeholders, then you can achieve something ground-breaking for everyone to benefit from in a short space of time with a relatively modest budget.
Do you see the future of festivals becoming more virtual in the metaverse?
Yes and no, depending partly on if and how the technology and adoption of the metaverse evolves to become a mainstream part of our lives.
“There will always be the human need for a real-life live gig or festival experience and nothing in the virtual world can take the place of that.”
But maybe with advances in virtual and audio technology, that fan in Lagos or São Paulo who can’t travel to Glastonbury or Primavera will benefit from being able to plug in from their home and experience something incredible – and that artist who can’t travel to those far-flung places outside their home country has a chance of connecting with a new fan of their music in a powerful way. Here’s hoping anyway!