Let’s Get Phygital: international networking in times of pandemic



Last week the Compass Music team discussed virtual concerts and touring, its pros and cons and the possible impact they could have on music export (catch up here). Much to our surprise and relief, the topic filled us with more hope for the future than dread and longing for the past. This was coupled with the news that following the great effort of the Music Venue Trust with their #SaveOurVenues campaign, last week’s #LetTheMusicPlay open letter, and the commendable and exemplary rallying of the entire British music industry on all levels, the UK government announced on the 5th July its decision to allocate a £1.5 billion emergency fund for the arts sector. While that is by no means the solution to all the problems the live music industry faces, and there’s a great need for further clarification and support of who this fund will benefit exactly, that is still a very welcomed, unprecedented first step.


The new topic of conversation dominating our slack and google meet conversations this past week is still centered around live streaming technology in the music industry, but this time with a focus on showcase festivals and music conferences. It started with us compiling a list of showcase events we’re looking forward to, and researching those who are still open for artist applications (subscribe to our newsletter for more info on that), and ended with us trying to figure out whether we were excited or wary of the digitalisation of international showcase events, with many events offering either a full digital edition, or a “phygital” one, i.e. a mix of online and virtual activities. After much debate and thought, here’s our take on whether or not phygital events are the future of international networking.


In the past 4 months we have signed up and virtually attended a number of networking events who were brave enough to lead the charge in testing the digital networking waters in these trying times. Some of our experiences were surprisingly fruitful while others were anxiety inducing. For the Bureau Export’s “Escape From Home” — the French music export office’s answer to the unfortunate cancellation of the Brighton showcase and the very first one we attended — event organisers offered a virtual showcase followed by a speed meeting round, where handpicked attendees got matched and had short one on one interactions with each other in a way that most closely resembled the experience of being in a room with each other. It was early on and technically a bit glitchy, but everyone was tolerant, spirits were high and a great time was had by all. It was a fruitful event too, with concrete business opportunities for artists coming out of these meetings. On the other side of that same coin, our CEO and founder Geraldine Zanaska attended a live stream networking event that was basically just a 150 people Zoom call. It was a nice turn up, valiant effort from everyone’s part, and even somewhat informative, but it was just not conducive to any productive discussions or encounters.


None of these events will ever replace the thrilling experience of stumbling upon infinitely interesting people while hoping from stage to stage to the sound of the music industry’s future hits, and neither should they really. But for digital events to have any positive long term impact on music, they have to be memorable. Event organisers have to put a lot of emphasis on creating lasting experiences that could make attendees feel like they’re a part of the process of creating and supporting cultural production, and developing meaningful connections. That will require very careful curating and conscientious matchmaking to be able to grab and keep people’s attention. So if we’re going to have to trade mingling in the sweaty crowd and draft beers for 2D double chins and tepid homebrewed coffees with spice racks backgrounds on virtual calls, it has to be worth it.


So are phygital — a mix of physical and digital — showcases the future of international networking? Well, sure, it might be, but we don’t really think that’s the most pertinent question to ask. We should be wondering instead what phygital showcases can add to international networking in the future?


Well the first and most obvious answer to that is that it increases the accessibility of existing international showcases. It does so geographically of course, as the digital events of showcase programs can be streamed anywhere in the world with internet access that organisers want to target. In that sense it levels the playing field, as African showcases become just as accessible as, say, Eurosonic. It also increases accessibility in terms of ticket costs. Putting on digital events is less costly than putting on physical events, which in turn means lower ticket costs, so a wider pool of people with varying revenue can access them. That was the case of the Midem this year, the Cannes conference deciding to switch to digital and forego its usual €900–1250 ticket price, instead opening the event up to audiences free of charge (collecting a nice collection of your data instead). Of course, not all organisers agree on that or can afford to go free, and certain such as US Indie Music Week decided to keep a hefty price tag to attend their digital event.


The second impact the rise of phygital events can have is stimulating the creation of new showcases in emerging markets. As is the case with any DIY, open-source technological innovation, it has the ability to disproportionately impact independent non mainstream stakeholders and fringe markets, who will be experiencing an exponential increase in growth opportunities (theoretically speaking of course). Event organisers would have previously been held back by the lack of support from their governments, not being able to bear the cost of inviting international delegates for example. But lack of budget does not equate to lack of talent or hustle skills, and live streaming provides a viable solution to their limited budget, creating very exciting opportunities for international networking and music export, if they can make their event exciting and unique enough to attract already over-solicited delegates.


Last but by no means least, it will also allow for more eco-friendly and sustainable exchange between industry professionals around the world. If concerts and conferences can be attended straight from home or the office (is there really a difference these days?), international travel could be greatly reduced as we wouldn’t need to book 20 flights a year anymore to spend 48hrs in a foreign country each time (#flygskam). Stakeholders across the industry have been pushing for a conscious effort towards decreasing the ecological footprint of music events, and going digital is a practical and applicable first step (pun definitely intended).


It seems very likely that going forward there is now always going to be a digital element to industry events, and there are many reasons why that can be a good thing. But similarly to when the rise of home studios and streaming platforms meant any artist could record and release music worldwide, having a laptop, a camera and a mic doesn’t necessarily mean you should nor that you would be good at hosting an online event just because you can. Just as we saw live streams going from blurry bedrooms to proper professionals recording in the last few months, event organisers who wish to do digital or phygital versions of their events should make sure to create quality content adapted to the digital format, and geared towards people creating valuable moments and memories together despite the physical distance.


Sal Benryane, Communication, Social Media & Marketing, Compass Music.

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