The interdisciplinary-minded NXNE co-founder Andy McLean on the pitch.
Since its start 18 years ago in Toronto, North By Northeast (NXNE) has developed into a fully-integrated music, film and interactive conference that works as a platform for the different disciplines to work together and learn from each other.Taking place June 11-17, the confab will feature 80 interactive sessions, along with a festival component of 780 bands and 40 films.
In addition to a vinyl record show, a charity soccer match (musicians vs media), and free yoga workshops, this year's NXNE highlights, include: a free outdoor headlining shows by Bad Religion and The Flaming Lips; smaller, more low-key showcases by bands like Gus & Scout (Gus Wenner and Scout Willis's cool country outfit) and 2010 UK "X Factor" winner Matt Cardle, who has sold over 2 million records (according to his label). Panel-wise, Rocket Hub's Brian Meece presents "Crowdfunding Fuels Big Change;" Coalition Entertainment's Liam Killeen leads "Undercover: How Covering a Hit Song and Using YouTube Can Help You Find Success!" and performer Lori Kufner handles "Never Ask Permission: 7 Years of Playing in the Street."
Billboard spoke with NXNE co-founder Andy McLean about lessons learned, his vision for this year and the importance of having a good entrance.
Billboard.biz: How soon after 2011 NXNE ended did you start analyzing how it went?
Andy McLean: We started the Monday after the last show ended on the Sunday night. The process is ongoing, but in terms of reflecting, we do it while it's fresh. We start the surveying right after NXNE and try to get feedback from delegates, from wristband holders, from people at [outdoor stage] Dundas Square again while it's all really fresh, and try and get a sense of things that worked, the things that didn't, recommendations, and how to make improvements.
That said, what worked?
For Dundas Square for example, we put giant video screens in the square because people wanted better sightlines and we thought that was a great idea too. It's a pretty expensive investment, but, in the end we finally got all the components working. People responded well to the street closure and people could still hear. We upgraded the sound system so that we weren't pushing it quite so much. So for that particular component, the big free outdoor side of NXNE, we delivered something that met our expectations and the response from the public was great.
We also closely watched the way the door worked. The entrance system was pretty good - the badge, the wristband and single admissions. Going to various events around the world, it's always important to compare your initial interaction with the front of the club when you get there. If there's a huge lineup and it's complete chaos, and nobody seems to be directing anybody, I'm more likely to turn around and walk away. So we worked hard to make sure people were out front - "Are you a badge holder? a wristband holder? Here's where you should go." And then getting people through and into the club as fast as possible in relation to their priority level access.
What did members of the music industry say they want to see this year in terms of panels, speakers or things that can benefit their businesses?
We took suggestions online as we were building the festival and conference. We started this three years ago with trying to respond to the way the music business was changing with the daytime sessions - integrating interactive, film and music all into one - so we're bringing technology and development and new tech together with as much creative areas of music and film and gaming because it's all converging. So unlike South By [SXSW] that does have a definite differentiation between the interactive conference, we had the luxury to be able to integrate from the beginning as we made those changes. That's what the industry was looking for and that's what we've really tried to deliver this year.
What are you most proud of in terms of speakers and artists you were able to secure for NXNE 2012?
Specifically, on the music front, Yonge-Dundas square will be spectacular as The Flaming Lips perform a free show. We're closing Yonge Street and expect a huge crowd and lots of confetti. I'm also excited for tons of bands - Bad Religion, Raekwon & Ghostface Killah, Purity Ring, Bleached, Killermike, Sonic Titan, Plants & Animals, The Black Belles, Doldrums, all those.
We also have got Damian Abraham from Fucked Up on a panel ["Punk: A Not So Unbiased Take On How it Shaped All Modern Music With Damian Abraham"] and we're hosting a chat with [True North Records founder/author] Bernie Finkelstein. Also there is some very practical advice to musicians from [producer/writer] Greig Nori's panel, Earning a Living in the Online Music Environment.
I'm also excited to attend the "How To Win at You Tube" panel featuring the Epic Meal Time guy Harley Morenstein who has over 14 million views on YouTube. They are also shooting an EMT episode at NXNE. And on the film front we're thrilled to have Irvine Welsh in attendance for a Q&A after the screening of his movie "Ecstasy" at our Film Festival opening on June 14. Our comedy festival is really hitting its stride this year with four nights of standup with over 70 performers, featuring such big names as Scott Thompson (Kids in the Hall) and Debra Digiovanni.