Voodoo founder Stephen Rehage likes to tinker. Over the years, the Voodoo Music Experience has been exploring the possibilities of mixing technology with the temporary community of a rock festival. He has introduced interactive games, online features and ongoing film projects into the Voodoo cauldron, aimed at enhancing and tweaking the overall experience. This year, he's changed direction. With Voodoo's biggest new-media effort so far the Artist Revolution Web store and promo hub launched Oct. 17, which calls itself a 'digital merch table" the festival is directing efforts not at the fans, but the artists. 'The premise is that an artist can record a song in their bathroom if they want to, and upload it and have it on sale in 15 minutes," Rehage says, likening Artist Revolution to a combination of Myspace and iTunes, which he expects artists will use as a back-end record store for their own Web sites. With Bolshevik graphics and a dark red-and-black palette, the site suggests a 'revolutionary" stance, at least visually. The real hint that Rehage's money is where his mouth is, though, is in the artists featured on the front page. Except for a couple, I have no idea who these bands are. Artist Revolution will offer live recordings of Voodoo headliners for sale, but the focus of the site will, he says, be on unsigned artists promoting themselves. As the festival's locals-heavy booking this year would suggest, he's thinking primarily about New Orleans bands.
'One of the things you learn when you grow up in New Orleans is that local artists are incredible and this and that, and they give them all these accolades, but they've never really cashed in commercially the way the Seattle movement happened, or some of the other movements around the country," he says. He hopes that using Voodoo's brand recognition " its Web site gets more than a million hits a day between September and November " will help give underdogs a leg up.
'If you're sitting in New Orleans like Rotary Downs, who's as good as any band out there right now, you're playing on an antiquated model. How do I get to New York, how do I get to L.A., how do I get some asshole in a suit to agree that I'm good," he says, pointing out that a digital-only, pay what-you-wish album like the one recently released by Radiohead is well and good for an act of that stature, but the Rotary Downs of the world might need a little help. The site will also be a meritocracy, he says. The featured artist space on the front page " usually purchased by major labels " will feature acts that are driving the most traffic on their own.
'If you're driving sales and click-throughs on the site, you bump up to the featured artist spot," he says. 'It's not a novel idea, but the time is right for it."
In previous years, Voodoo has experimented with interactive tricks and treats as part of the festival. Probably one of the most memorable was last year's text-message game, which let fans text message secret codes for a chance at winning prizes like dinner with Duran Duran. (This year, because the two biggest headliners " Rage Against The Machine and Smashing Pumpkins, reunion bands on somewhat shaky interpersonal ground " declined to participate, they won't be repeating the game.) The interactive map, which let users post and read stories about New Orleans music history by clicking on a map of the city, is still viewable on Billboard.com. This year, Voodoo is overseeing the filming of two documentaries at the show: one on the history of the Congo Square drumbeat and one on the underground rock scene in the Bywater.
Rehage draws a parallel between Voodoo and other festivals less than 10 years old, which he considers still in their infancy, like Coachella and Bonnaroo, who he said are all using new media to define themselves for an audience that expects it.
'From my office's side, they'd probably like to set up the stages and do the festival and then go away," he said. 'From my side, it's a way to make it interesting, tie a bunch of concepts together and see what works and what doesn't work. It's not about getting a picture or a T-shirt from a festival anymore. It's about going home and downloading it and sharing it with your community, virtually."