When Diplo approached Andrew McInnis and said he wanted to start a new festival, the artist manager told his superstar EDM client he was crazy. 


Pollstar Live! 2016

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“He pulled a $50 permit and literally had a block party,” McInnes said of the first Mad Decent Block Party. “Everything he has ever done has been DIY. This will be the ninth year and will sell 160,000 tickets, and all of them have been in non-traditional spaces. It’s been a great avenue for us to build new careers.”

Diplo is just one of several disruptors that are building their careers by following their own creative desires.

Tyler, the Creator of the Odd Future collective may be the ultimate example of an artist who does everything his own way – no matter what.

“These kids grew up on Fairfax [Ave. in Los Angeles] and they were going to have a parking lot party for a record release,” explained manager Christian Clancy of 4 Strikes Management. “It worked out, and the first Camp Flog Gnaw was in a parking lot across the street from the Staples Center. Everything about it is curated by Tyler, right down to the ATMs.”

Leslie Olenik of Goldenvoice said it was initially a challenge to find a home for Camp Flog Gnaw.

“We tried to do it at the Santa Monica Pier and they said ‘no thanks’ to it. We asked Lee Zeidman at the Staples Center if we could do a show at the parking lot and set up a carnival, games, and so on. He said yes. Eventually it moved into Club Nokia and we sold it out. We moved it then to the L.A. Sports Arena and sold that out.”

WME’s Kevin Shivers reminded Olenik that not only did it sell out, ticket sales had to be cut off at 30,000. “We didn't have the space for more and we wanted the customer experience to be good so we cut it off at 30,000. I was like yeah, we want do a carnival, and we didn't even really know how to pull it off.” Another such event is Festival Supreme, a comedy and music fest curated by actor/musicians Jack Black and Kyle Gass of Tenacious D. It also started out at Santa Monica Pier – they found a “loophole” – but has since moved to the grounds of L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium.

Michele Fleischli of Like Management said Black came to her and asked, “Why isn’t there a monster comedy block?” And she said, “Sure, let’s do it. We have played with Spinal Tap before. Why don’t we get the best of those parts together? We got a license for name and found a loophole with the Pier. They tried to shut us down a million times!”

Black already has a successful acting and comedy career, and it might not seem clear why he’d want to add a festival to his resume. “He really enjoys bringing these different faces together. He's like the adult kid whisperer. He wants us to bring out your inner kid.”

While it might sound like each of these festivals have an element of “hey, kids, let’s put on a show,” these artist-curated events do build brand identity and important connections between stars and fans. Sam Hunt of the The Windish Agency represents Diplo, and says that while Mad Decent Block Party is Diplo’s party, it’s no longer necessary that he perform at it.

“The biggest benefit of Mad Decent Block Party is to build the brand and fortify it. Even if you're not making a lot of money, that day you are giving the fans that experience and they stick with you no matter what you do. Diplo doesn't make it a goal that he has to play it every time. He might not do it, but he's built a brand and his fans will come,” Hunt said.

Moderator Skip Paige of Goldenvoice asked if that’s viable for all artists. “If Tyler isn’t at Flog Gnaw, does it work? You’ve had Snoop Dogg and Pharrell headline, but the festival is really all about Tyler. Do you get concerned with him moving? If Jack Black didn’t turn up for Festival Supreme, it might not work. Does that concern you?" In the case of Camp Flog Gnaw, though, Tyler the Creator is the ringmaster of his own three-ring circus

“Tyler is making a statement,” Shivers said.

“I think he loves it,” Clancy added. “He’s a kid that was sleeping on his grandmothers' couch four years ago. Tyler's the least money-oriented guy I've ever met. That could change, but I don't think he will. He's like a kid in the candy store when he's there. Tyler is bigger than his music. He's a symbol; he represents possibility to a lot of kids. He would turn down Staples Center to go make nothing at his festival.”

Panelists agreed that it can be a bit awkward for agents, managers and promoters to mind the business of what might be seen as an artist’s personal party.

“When I’m managing the budget, I want them to have the best experience and execute their vision,” Olenik said. “Somebody has to be the bad guy. I say, ‘No, no, no” and then they call Skip and then get it,” she added to laughter from the audience.

“If you ask Tyler, he'd probably just say he wants to throw a fuckin’ party,” Clancy said. “The end game will probably dictate itself. Tyler would probably say he didn't want to be too big. Sponsorships are weird because there’s a huge disconnect of the effect of sponsorships on festivals like this. Tyler is super into not feeling like he's walking into a corporate landscape. It would wipe out what he's doing. Tyler has a creative company. He could work with that in that context."

Shivers said the artists were open to the idea. “I don't think Axe would work. The reason Tyler is where he is, is they are fans of him as a human being. It would be tampering with more than the festival. It would be this iconic thing that he's becoming.

“Tyler is the nicest guy I've ever met in my life. There are many things we would be OK with that people would never think of in a million years,” Shivers said. “Maybe something with Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal. He eats that shit all day.”