On March 7 and 8, 2020, this team had just wrapped livestreaming San Diego’s CRSSD Festival, one of the last festivals to happen before the barrage of COVID-19 related cancellations. By the time the team’s flight back to Berlin had landed, they had formulated the idea of doing a streaming event to reach fans suddenly stuck at home.
“People can still dance. You can dance anywhere; you can dance alone; you can dance in groups -- but dancing is going to make you feel better,” Beatport’s CEO Robb McDaniels says while working from home, his 2-year-old daughter audible in the background. “As the house party concept developed, we had to connect DJs from their living room to [other] people’s living rooms.”
McDaniels says the Beatport team felt obligated to help, and thus started reaching out to various DJs, a process that snowballed when everyone said yes. With ReConnect calendared for just days later, the team faced a tight production deadline.
“Robb McDaniels reached out to me only about four to five days before,” says BBC Radio 1 DJ and dance world tastemaker Pete Tong. “I immediately said yes.” Tong then acquired the necessary technology to livestream from his home studio, a feat he had never before attempted.
In a short time, 24 acts including Duke Dumont, Bonobo, Rüfüs du Sol, La Fleur, Blond:ish and Umek joined the lineup. In fact so many artists said yes that Beatport added a 10-hour after-party to accommodate nine more acts.
In the days leading up to the event, Beatport’s Creative Services Director Ed Hill and his team made sure all the DJs would be able to upload their performances. Beatport provided a step-by-step guide, hosted 38 separate WhatsApp chats and juggled phone calls and tech rehearsals. In the few instances where an artist’s home internet connection limited their ability to stream live, DJs provided a set recorded the day prior to their stream.
“Because the landscape and the lockdown structure was changing on a daily basis, each decision we made was changing every day,” says Hill. “We were able to send kits or order from Amazon, then Amazon closed, or the stores have shut down, so an artist can’t go out and buy a cable or a capture card. We had to think on our feet to see how we would do the solution.”
Beatport also turned ReConnect into a fundraiser benefiting those suffering from the effects of COVID-19, through the World Health Organization and The AFEM Members Hardship Fund launched by Association for Electronic Music (AFEM) to help workers in the electronic music business.
“The [fund's] guiding principle," says Greg Marshall, AFEM’s general manager, "is to help our industry by making funds available to lower-earning individuals who have lost their jobs from AFEM member companies due to the COVID-19 crisis and to member companies who can demonstrate how donations would allow them to retain certain employees that they would otherwise not be able to.”
Beatport gave the artists freedom to present their livestreams as they wished, with the only creative guidance being for artists to start their sets 10 to 15 minutes before their allotted time and end 10-15 minutes after, in case Beatport needed to cut over early in case of technical issues. Once live, Beatport’s teams in Berlin, London, Mexico and Los Angeles managed the AV master mix and delivered it to Twitch, YouTube and Facebook Live platforms. Beatport’s partnership with Twitch proved fruitful, allowing for running live track identification so viewers could link to Beatport and purchase a song while the DJ played it.
Rüfüs Du Sol kicked off the stream at 1:00 p.m. on March 27 from a space with a nice view of downtown Los Angeles. From then onward, the stream’s traffic fluctuated between 15,000 and 60,000 people for the duration of the event, ultimately reaching 8.5 million people in over 150 countries.
“By accident almost, we’ve come up with something that connects -- it’s almost like radio,” Tong says of the livestream phenomenon that’s emerged during the quarantine. “I was always taught by mentors when I was a kid [to] think of radio as if you’re talking to an audience of one. There’s something about what just happened that’s connected to that, seeing people at home on their own, not necessarily dressed up. It’s very honest.”