Minecraft Festival Founder Explains How The Largest Online Festival Ever Came To Be [INTERVIEW]

Electric Blockaloo, or as it’s now known, Rave Family Block Fest, was scheduled to happen this weekend but has been pushed back two weeks due to a Minecraft update. The festival is the largest known online festival during quarantine or otherwise, with over 800 artists and 65 stages set to appear. In fact, due to the delay, the festival is taking the time to add even more artists, features, and promotions. More information is available via the festival’s Discord server.

The festival hasn’t been without its share of criticism, however. With so many artists and stages brings many questions surrounding payment, server strain, timing, travel between stages (even digitally), and more. There were even some people online calling this the Fyre Festival of online events.

So what is there to ensure the festival runs smoothly? How did this all get organized in the first place? We caught up with festival founder and Rave Family operator Jackie McGuire to ask these questions and figure out how this massive undertaking came to be and how it’s going to go down.

Tickets to the event are available through individual artist access codes which ensure the money you’re paying goes to the artist you want to see the most. All codes are available here, and tickets can be purchased here.

Rave Family Block Fest is absolutely the most ambitious event we’ve seen in quarantine, by any definition of the word. How did the idea first come about and what were your first steps in both creating a virtual space for the event and reaching out to so many artists?

The venue itself started as an exercise in catharsis. After spending several weeks sick between February and March and then quarantine starting, I realized Electric Forest wasn’t going to happen. Forest is one of the only times we see our friends who are scattered about the globe, a lot of whom are musicians. I had seen previous music festivals in Minecraft and I saw an opportunity to do something a little bit different.

While most of the other events I’d seen focused on visuals and a large stage, I thought it would be more interesting to build a whole festival venue, full of both real and imaginary settings that would make the ultimate fantasy festival. Red Rocks was the first, then the office building and the big shark stage.

Rave Family isn’t a brand that many people are familiar with, with less than 2,000 followers across social media channels. Did you face any hurdles approaching labels and stage curators when you proposed this idea?

I started with friends and colleagues who I’d worked with previously. I’ve done a handful of things in music and media, including talent management, stage management, etc. I just happened to be lucky enough that a few of the artists I reached out to initially to play also had extensive networks in music. Zach Britt (Supertaste / Hundreds Thousands) and Devon James, who in addition to being incredibly talented artists, are now the other ⅔ of my booking and artist relations team, helped quite a bit.

One of the main issues we’ve seen people bring up about the event is server usage — with over 800 artists and 65 unique stages, that’s a lot of computing power. Will there be an attendance cap for each stage or will there be extra resources provided to ensure stability on the program?

It absolutely is, you should see my AWS bill!

We do have an attendance cap for each instance of each stage. The great thing about cloud servers is that most are set up to auto-scale, that is, to monitor themselves and generate new copies as the server gets full. There will be several copies of each server.

In your interview with Forbes, the publication writes, “McGuire notes that not everyone can attend music festivals due to restrictions such as the cost of tickets, social anxiety or the inability to be in crowds.” The cost for Rave Family Block Fest is certainly cheaper at just $10, but how do you account for people who don’t have Minecraft to join? At only $27-30 (depending on the version), it’s not a particularly expensive game, but it still presents another barrier to those wanting to attend.

I think the price point you’re referring to is the desktop version of the game, and I agree that $30 could be outside some fan’s budgets. One of our earliest engineering hurdles was to ensure that the event was available on Minecraft’s Pocket Edition mobile version, which is $6.99. I’m happy to say that we’ve accomplished that. At $17 for both game and cover charge (still lower than most club covers or a single drink in Vegas or NY!), for exclusive mixes and custom-designed worlds and stages from hundreds of the most well-known artists in music, we are confident that the value we are offering is unmatched.

Rave Family Block Fest is taking a 60/40 split to make sure artists get paid. But with necessary costs for music rights and the many charitable initiatives the event has listed, the breakdown seems a bit more muddled.

For each $10 ticket, the breakdown is: $3 to Mixcloud for rights clearance and hosting the music, then the remaining $7 is split 60/40 between the artists and ourselves. On our end, 15% of our profits are allocated to charities, with 5% each earmarked for Project Zero, The Bail Project, and ByeBye Plastic.

When I sent over my questions initially, the festival website was down and tickets still weren’t on sale. People were beginning to call this the Fyre Festival of online festivals. Now, the festival has been pushed back two weeks and the name has changed. What would you say to these people to assure them the event will run smoothly?

There’s a lot to unpack with this question, so bear with me. First, to address reddit, it turns out the person who posted the Fyre festival post was part of a group of 10 or so people from a fan Discord server for an artist who wasn’t on the lineup. They, for reasons we still aren’t clear on, decided to coordinate a trolling campaign of the festival (you’ll notice the usernames are the same).

In addition to the Reddit post, they also joined our Discord server and began posting racist, homophobic and otherwise horrible things. It took days to get them out and find the source, and unfortunately, a lot of damage was done to people’s impression of the festival in the meantime. This is really disappointing given that this person is a moderator for r/electronicmusic, one of the largest subreddits in our community.

The website crash was interesting, to say the least. Many of the large festivals crash their ticketing servers. It happened to Coachella last year, I can’t remember a year it hasn’t happened to Burning Man, but ours was a little bit of a different animal. The Monday we were to launch, there was a very strange internet outage that impacted virtually all cell carriers, Fortnite, Instagram, Chase Bank, and a whole host of other companies. Unfortunately, it took T-mobile nearly 6 hours to confirm that they may have been the source of the issue (though I don’t know how they could have impacted Fortnite and the others) and we were convinced it was our website and someone (me) most likely broke it while trying to fix it.

I think, as with any event of this size and scale, it would be impossible to assure people that everything will be perfect. We are charting new territory, with new technology, at a massive scale, and we have been honest with artists and fans about that. That said, we’ve taken many steps to make sure that everyone has a great musical experience.

One of the things we’ve done to ensure that include hosting the event for four weekends in a row, so whatever bugs we may run into game-wise the first weekend we can work out and ensure everyone gets to enjoy the festival. Additionally, by partnering with Mixcloud and having the music as a stream independent of the game, we’ve ensured that if those issues arise, fans can still listen to the amaaaaaaazing mixes that our artists have created for them. Lastly, recruited some of the best cloud developers and builders in the community, all of whom have been working around the clock to make the event a success.

At the end of the day, sharing music we care about is why we all got into this business in the first place. What are your plans for the future and how do you hope to continue to share your love of music to thousands of others?

What Rave Family aims to be is the go-to platform for artists who want to throw digital events and parties for their fans. We’re actively talking to a few other gaming companies and also working on some proprietary technology in the AR/VR space that will be an absolute game changer.