The Inside Scoop: Osheaga Music and Arts Festival

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One of the hottest tickets in Montreal each summer, Osheaga draws huge crowds year after year! We chatted with evenko‘s Senior Marketing Manager Pat Sandrin about his journey with the festival, and why he thinks it stands out.

What led you to your role with evenko/Osheaga? I’ve worked in the music business for 8 or 9 years now. I started working on the management/label side of things as an intern before getting hired by the concert promotion division of the company that I was at. It was a smaller company working on big outdoor shows and cross country tours so I had the opportunity to see and assist on almost every facet of an event from production to ticketing to PR and marketing. At some point I saw an opportunity to take the plunge into marketing and, in doing so, I carved out a place for myself at that same company. Before I knew it, I was promoting massive shows like the U2 360 World Tour Finale in Moncton, NB and 10 to 20 market national tours for artists like John Mellencamp, Roger Hodgson and Chris DeBurgh along with other types of entertainment like popular children’s show Yo Gabba Gabba and So You think You Can Dance Canada. Eventually, I heard through a friend that there was an opening at evenko and I essentially already did the type of work they needed to hire for, so it worked out well for us both. I’ve been at evenko now for almost 5 years…I started working on out-of-province concerts and events since I already had a lot of experience and contacts in the Maritimes and regional Quebec, and I eventually gravitated towards managing the marketing for our own event and festival brands, including Osheaga.

How has Osheaga grown over the years? I’ve only really known Osheaga since I arrived at evenko towards the end of 2012 so I never witnessed the “pre-Eminem” Osheaga that most people refer to as being the catalyst that put Osheaga on the mainstream map. That being said, it’s not hard to see the roots of the festival in the way that the entire team approaches their work on it. Even in my first year at the helm of marketing it in 2013, I kept a respectful distance from it and wanted to watch people operate before putting any of my own influence into the mix.  Since then, we’ve definitely seen a continued growth in popularity and demand which is nice. On my end, I feel like our approach to creating playful and interactive marketing experiences and other dynamic content for our campaigns has been well received by the public and has even influenced the approach of some of our competitors. But I think overall, the biggest growth can be seen in our festival experience, whether that’s in the marketing and communications, the production of the event, site logistics, all of the technology we’re using, our sponsor activations on site and even food and beverage options. The entire team is always focused on the festivalgoer and their festival experience so when you actually get on site, there’s magic in the air.

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What do you think makes Osheaga so popular? I don’t think there’s anything quite like it anywhere near us. Sure there are festivals with big talent but our focus is to deliver an incredible festival experience, beyond just standing in a field and watching an artist play a set between trips to the concessions stands. It’s really a place to call home for one weekend of the year and to just have a blast with your friends and make new ones. Since I’ve known it, the vibe at the festival has always been excellent. Just very relaxed and comfortable. It’s sometimes frustrating to be working at it because I’ve never really gotten to enjoy it as a festivalgoer and I’ve been seeing less and less music with each year. But that comes from a place of wanting to be working as hard as possible throughout the weekend to ensure that our festivalgoers have the best experience possible. It’s this living, breathing thing (with so many moving parts) that needs to be constantly observed and maintained. Something as simple as stepping on a jagged rock could ruin somebody’s day, so if I see that suspect rock I want to get it off the path. In some way, all of that attention to detail is what hopefully adds up and results in the best possible experience. We want people thinking “They thought of everything!” and we certainly try to.

How does Osheaga set itself apart from other music festivals? For one, our programming is always stellar. I always feel like our booking team is a year ahead of everyone else. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword because we’ve slipped into the mainstream as a festival and mainstream music lovers might not actually be “there yet” when it comes to most the emerging talent on our lineup. But if you’re a music-lover, it’s definitely a place to discover your next favourite band or artist. The undercard always runs very deep and we’ve never been that “top heavy” when it comes to the billing. I think that the music festivalgoer is inherently trained to look at a festival’s headliners before assessing the value of the price of admission but even our poster artwork suggests to look at all of the goodness below.

Second, I think our festival site is a big differentiator. We’re not a camping festival or one that’s hours away from a city, but we still get to benefit from having an incredibly beautiful and natural festival site with Parc Jean-Drapeau.  There are so many awesome features and little nooks and crannies just waiting to be discovered and we’re a music and arts festival that is virtually downtown (10-15 mins by public transit) in one of the most amazing cities in the world. Summers in Montreal are a giant party to begin with and Osheaga weekend is, arguably, the peak.

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How do guests react to using RFID at Osheaga? I think people love it. There’s genuine excitement when the bracelets arrive in the mail and of course we’ve developed really fun packaging to kick start the festival experience for people. They are comfortable to wear, they look great and they beat carrying around a soggy ticket. On-site, we’ve got a ton of fun marketing activities for festivalgoers to enjoy by using them. Off-site, it’s something that bonds people as well, like if you see someone in the streets or in a bar with a bracelet on during the festival weekend, you guys both know what’s up.

Has brand engagement changed at all since incorporating RFID at Osheaga? I think we’ve been able to generate a lot of marketing with our RFID deployment, Osheaga Play. It’s evolved significantly over the years from having 5 photo kiosks on site to now a 33,000 square foot activation footprint called the Osheaga Play Zone with one-of-a-kind rides and activities that generate fun and engaging souvenir and social content for festivalgoers. We’re at a point right now with Osheaga Play where we’re trying not to limit ourselves solely to using our RFID technology to generate content, but to let it serve as the foundation for something bigger and overarching, allowing festivalgoers to create and curate content in more ways throughout the entire weekend and beyond.

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What are you most excited about for Osheaga 2017? We have a brand new site to work with this year, given that our usual site is undergoing renovations over the next two years. I think for some, including the festivalgoer, that might be a scary prospect but I think the entire team is looking at it with wide eyes and excitement. It’s a blank canvas for us to play with and try new things. The goal is to absolutely dazzle our festivalgoers from start to finish. We want them to leave feeling like that was the greatest weekend of their lives…until Osheaga 2018 of course.

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