St. Vincent talks live music: ‘People want transcendence’


This year’s Cannes Lions conference has featured a succession of artists talking about their creative processes and the wider culture. After earlier sessions featuring Vic Mensa and Jax Jones, this afternoon’s program closed with Annie Clark – aka St. Vincent – on a panel about live music hosted by Live Nation.

Live Nation’s global president of media and sponsorship Russell Wallach also spoke, as did Cisco’s chief marketing officer Karen Walker, in a session moderated by Vox Media’s chief commercial officer Lindsay Nelson.

Wallach talked about Live Nation’s latest research on what the live-music experience feels like for fans. “More people are going to more shows, all over the world. It’s good for all of us, and our industry. We wanted to see if there were any insights that we could gather on why that’s happening,” he said.

He talked about research showing that isolation and information overload, across multiple generations, are making people feel miserable – but that live music may be a counteraction.

“I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what people want when they go to see a live show… And I think people want transcendence. hey want to transcend their nine-to-five, they want to transcend all the stress that’s going on in their lives. So your job as an artist is ‘we’re going to gather round the communal campfire that is music, and we’re going to go somewhere else’,” said Clark.

“I’m not exactly sure what happiness means. But when you’re talking about the range of human emotions that happen when you’re seeing a live show: the great thing about art is you’re able to go and explore the range of human emotion and the depths of humanity, in a really safe place. You can go to that precipice and stare into the abyss, but you’re safe too.”

Walker talked about why a business-to-business company like Cisco wants to be part of these experiences. “A buyer of our technology is more emotionally connected to a brand than a consumer would be,” she said. “If I make a technology decision for my company and I get it wrong, I could sincerely do it damage, I could ruin my career and lose my job. So the emotion is actually fear. And what our job is, is to emotionally connect with that customer and make them feel safe, in the same way that we’ve been describing.”

That’s the rationale for Cisco working with live-music events, then, including the joint study with Live Nation. “We want to go deeper on understanding how brands can play a role in the experience in an authentic way,” said Wallach. “There’s a challenge today for a lot of brands… it’s way easier today to connect to people, but way way harder to connect with them. So how do you connect with them? We believe it’s around cultural experiences, right? That’s what we do, and the data helped us prove that… and brands can add so much value to that experience.”

He noted that brands shouldn’t be trying to insert themselves into the relationship between artists and fans, though. Clark was asked about technology: does she mind if an audience are all on their phones, for example, as some artists have spoken out against?

“At first I did a record that came out a few years ago that was self-titled where I was really obsessed with the idea o social media and the way in which we performed identify… and the ways in which technology can get in the way of an actual experience.I would encourage people to put their phones away!” she said.

“But what I found was: I think that the antithesis of connecting with people is to be didactic or to be prescriptive. So now, I don’t make any ‘please don’t use your phones’ [requests]. I don’t say anything like that. I just try to go ‘people are going to experience this however they’re going to experience it’ and people especially from the younger generation who never knew the experience of going to a live show without a device. This is just how they enjoy life. This is the mediator of their experience.”

“It’s not a fight that I’m willing to fight, or that I even feel it’s necessary to fight. But the great thing is I have noticed fewer and fewer people at the shows with phones in their hands. I don’t know if it’s coming back around or I just made a better, more interesting show. A bit of both maybe!”

She cited seeing concerts by Iggy Pop and Patti Smith, when she was so mesmerised by their performances, she didn’t want to break the spell to take a photo.

“People want to be connected. They want to be there. They want that human touch next to them. They want to be all nodding heads together,” added Wallach. “The more we can understand why, maybe we can help them do more of it.”

Clark was asked about how she plans the creative elements of a tour. “If you first move into a house, well you imagine that you will need a couch here, and this will go here, and this is how I will live. But once you actually live in it… When I’m playing shows for people, there’s this alchemical thing that happens… when you start to really feel how the flow should be, you just lock in to this groove that people more or less have told you what that groove is. And you’re ‘okay, here we go – this is how the show is now,” she said.

“There’s a freedom in structure. The last show I did… it’s a very structured show. It’s like a theatre piece. Here’s the first act, it’s in chronological order. Every conceivable detail was thought about before actually showing it to people. But then actually having people interact with it… Shows range in energy from country to country, from city to city, from time of year to time of year. It’s so alive, so the great thing about it is you get to experience it with people, and react accordingly to their energy.”

Wallach talked about more findings from Live Nation’s research, on how fans feel concerts could be a better experience. One of them: fans have expectations for before and after a show, not just the two-hour performance, and brands can play a role there (and thus keeping out of the main action). Live Nation is planning to put ideas together for brands on this front.

“The absolute best brand managers in the world are artists. They understand social media better than almost any brand, they know how to connect to their audience better, and they have that opportunity to have their audience there with them [live],” he said.

Clark agreed. “You’re just trying to make a cohesive vision from start to finish, and really, truly think about the experience of the audience and the fans at every turn. Just because we’re all music fans… We want great experiences. We just do. And we need them in this world, especially right now.”

Wallach said that true collaboration is key for any artist and brand partnership: and that what they create has to enhance the live experience for fans. Cisco’s Walker, meanwhile, agreed that the opportunity is “before and after” rather than inserting a brand into the performance itself.

Clark was asked how she’d like marketers to enhance the live experience for fans. “You’ve mentioned making things easier for people. People have enough headaches day-to-day, in life. I’d also say the kind of technological innovation – the things that don’t even exist yet. People can go to a show and have an augmented-reality experience, or ‘I’ve never seen anything like that before’. You want people to love the show, but even possibly more than that, you want to make an experience that people will not forget.”


Stuart Dredge

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