Image:
DekkoU Studio

Here's what we learned from putting on a virtual festival

By:
Rumneek Johal (@rumandwoke)

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed many things about our world, including the ways that we connect.

This shift in how we imagine gathering and connections, has impacted the world of music, festivals, and concerts, a common way that humans gather to exchange energy and share their creative expression.

However, the loss of this in-person connection did not have to mean the loss of connections altogether -- at least not for us here at 5X Festival.

Under normal circumstances, we put on a 10,000 person festival in-person. This year, we built an app to do it all online, to an audience of over 30,000 around the world.

Pivoting from in-person to online when the pandemic hit, and when it became clear that our “normal” would not be returning any time soon, we realized that we had to create new normal, one where we could bring together over 40 local artists to showcase their creative expression, and to learn the lessons they’ve also gleaned throughout their careers.

How did we do it?

It took a huge team to bring the festival to the thousands of people around the world who also occupy a space between East and West, that were craving this kind of content.

“It was hard,” said 5X Festival Executive Director Tarun Nayar.

“It turns out that making an app is a totally different thing than throwing an event. It took a lot of people and a lot of time to roll this thing out. At one point in time, in the heart of the lockdown, we had a team composed of people in South Korea, Bali, Mumbai, Toronto, Vancouver, and LA.”

Nayar says one of the key challenges was getting the audience on board with the idea of an online festival and what it would look like in practice. He says, audience education was key.

“The most challenging part was getting our heads around what an online festival even means, what it looks and feels like, and how to communicate that to our audience. When people hear ‘online festival’, they think ‘livestream,' so there was a lot of education required to get festival goers to the point of participation.”

5X Festival General Manager Harpo Mander says quick learning was key to the execution of the festival and getting it to the finish line.

“Putting on an online festival was such a learning curve for me,” she says.

“Things that come intuitively to you when you’re putting on a real-life festival are not so intuitive for an online festival. You really have to go the extra mile to keep attendees engaged and give them the ultimate festival experience while they’re sitting on their couch in their PJs.”


With great risk, however, comes great reward, and bringing together the community and introducing them to new artists, creators, and brands created a new kind of community that was hard to imagine at the beginning of the pandemic.

“It was incredibly motivating to be working with a motivated team based all over the world during peak pandemic, and to make something that helped artists and inspired people,” said Nayar.

“Many people were bored out of their minds watching Netflix, or were on the frontlines fighting the virus - I felt lucky to be working on a demanding and creative project in the heart of it all.”

Celebrating music, art, fashion, activism, wellness and more, the 6-week festival helped people get active and get moving, unlock new stages and exclusive content,  leading it’s way to the 5X Mainstage with some of the biggest South Asian creators and creatives on the scene right now.

The end product looked a lot different than the team had initially imagined, but forced us to get creative in how we engaged the audience.

“The shift from a physical presence to a digital one naturally changes a lot of variables involved and also changes the audience expectations,” said Dhruv SK, A&R, Snakes & Ladders.

“Integrating an app that was used to not only entertain but also engage and reward the audience helped us grow in such a short span of time and also showcased what we as an organization can achieve even under pressure.”

The journey to the end changed in a lot of ways, even as we approach our Mainstage this weekend.

“I feel like our vision is still changing, even as we approach our final weekend. We knew nothing about online festivals until a few months ago, and our journey has been one of innovation. We made stuff up as we went along based on what resonated with our audience. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t -- but we learned a ton in the process,” said Nayar.

The 5X Mainstage is just days away, featuring Avan Jogia, ALOK, Nav Banga (Browngirllifts), Sangtar, Sandy Lion, KayRay, Pallavi Sharda, BFunk, and special guests sharing some real talk about their journeys, about their creative expression, and about how they got there.

Have you ever wanted to know what it takes to level up in your creative field? We got to pick the brains of these incredible headliners, to bring you knowledge, real experience, and inspiration.

Will you be joining us?

Click here to register for the 5X Mainstage.

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