For Jackie McGuire, CEO and founder of production company Rave Family, music has always felt like more than a hobby. But with a burgeoning career in finance, McGuire settled for attending any EDM festival she could to blow off steam – until an opportunity fell into her lap during the inaugural year of Camp EDC in 2018.
As she hopped from festival to festival in a 40-foot-long school bus she’d bought with her husband, McGuire grew increasingly concerned about the accessibility of these events. Tickets were incredibly expensive, most of them weren’t wheelchair-friendly and even camping had its barriers. What started with emailing a list of harm-reduction services to Camp EDC’s organizers turned into manufacturing thousands of sleeping bags and pillows for the festival’s general store — and Rave Family was born.
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Flash forward to 2020, and Rave Family is preparing to throw one of the largest – and most accessible – music festivals to date, with over 900 artists and 85 stages — entirely within the video game Minecraft. Rave Family Block Fest takes place this weekend (July 9-13).
After a tough spring — McGuire was laid off from her job as a data scientist at a cyber security company and contracted COVID-19 along with her three children — the idea for a virtual EDM festival began to incubate. When her kids introduced her to Minecraft, McGuire contacted friends with connections to DJs and a few more who happen to be Minecraft developers, creating a snowball effect that has just kept rolling.
“I just loved the thought of a virtual music festival that could be really accessible to everyone around the world, but also to artists,” McGuire tells Variety. “There are almost 1,000 artists on this lineup, and it’s because we let the artists book other artists. We said, ‘If you feel like you have a lot of creative direction and know people that you would like to book that maybe wouldn’t normally get booked to play a festival, then we would love for you to curate a lineup of your own.'”
The result is a roster that is diverse in every way: popularity level, gender, race and sub-genre. Big names like A-Trak, MK, Maya Jane Coles, Rudimental, Khruangbin, Gryffin, Steve Aoki and Paris Hilton have been reduced to the same font size on the event’s poster, which is listed in alphabetical order. There are no headliners.
“When you don’t gate-keep and let numbers drive who you book, you end up with a significantly more representative lineup of the community,” McGuire says. “We have two full stages of female artists and I think every other stage has at least one or two female artists on it. I’ve also seen so many more Black artists, because it’s not really a secret that EDM is not the most diverse genre.”
Not only is the festival accessible to artists, but it’s paying them, too. With general admission tickets going at $10 each, McGuire and her team developed a revenue model to make sure that both DJs – and the rights-holders of the music they’re mixing – are properly compensated.
“When we set out to do this, there were two big imperatives for me. One was to pay for the rights for the music because I think it is unconscionable to make millions of dollars in revenue streaming music and not pay the people that made the music that you’re streaming,” McGuire says. “So 30% of ticket profits go toward rights holders and the technology that makes the music stream. Then we split the remaining seven dollars: 60% goes to the artists and 40% goes to us.”
Although Rave Family Block Fest is set to make history, it hasn’t been a smooth ride. The festival was originally called Electric Blockaloo and was meant to take place the weekend of June 25, but an internal rift and a massive Minecraft update scheduled for June 23 caused an unexpected postponement. However, the extra two weeks gave Rave Family the opportunity to add even more artists and build more stages, including a tribute to Red Rocks, a space station, a giant alligator with the stage inside its mouth and a sloth-themed stage.
But this is just the beginning for Rave Family and McGuire, who hopes to continue holding virtual festivals as frequently as possible in order to make music more accessible to all, even post-pandemic.
“It’s the ability to reach all of your fans, not just the ones who can afford expensive festival and club tickets,” McGuire says. “I think people forget that some people don’t like to be in crowds or that most music festivals are not wheelchair-friendly, so there’s just a lot of people for whom a regular music festival is never going to be an option.
“I think once you’ve provided an income stream for artists – especially a very fair one where everybody’s getting paid for their music and for what they’re doing,” she concludes. “I don’t foresee anyone walking away from that.”
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