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Rock Band Incubus Creates Multimedia Event to Connect with Fans

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From Facebook to Twitter, blogs to Kickstarter, the internet has given music artists no shortage of engagement tools to connect with their fans, but those same tools can keep fans at a virtual arm’s length, with higher levels of engagement limited to the high-ticket VIP deals that garner a hurried meet-and-greet backstage. Multiplatinum rock band Incubus decided to ratchet that kind of connection up more than a few levels. For the week leading up to the release of its first new studio album in 5 years, the band and its crew turned a warehouse space in Los Angeles into a high-tech agora, where hundreds of aficionados chosen from its fan clubs converged to meet the band members, watch them rehearse and perform, participate with them on art projects using six large white canvases placed in the room and on instrument clinics, and just do an extended hang with their heroes. Using a range of streaming and internet platforms and technologies, Incubus was able to project that experience to an estimated 2 million additional fans around the world, making Incubus HQ Live a multifaceted multimedia experience.

What director Marc Scarpa describes as a “real-time documentary and participatory media event” had its roots in an otherwise quotidian encounter between Incubus lead singer Brandon Boyd and band manager Steve Rennie at Boyd’s girlfriend’s retail boutique in Venice, Calif. They realized that the constant circulation of people and ideas through the shop was the perfect metaphor for reconnecting the band to its audience: a stage for a web broadcast that would allow hundreds of fans to be there live and be joined by hundreds of thousands more via the internet, all interacting via live streaming media and Facebook back-and-forths. They searched the Los Angeles area for a venue, finding a 4,500-square-foot building shell on La Brea Boulevard, part of a new retail and restaurant development whose developer was, serendipitously, an Incubus fan. They rented the space for 6 weeks, spending the first 3 weeks rehearsing for the upcoming U.S. tour to support the new album, If Not Now, When?, even as the front of the space was built out to engage attendees with things such as hanging six huge canvases that fans could paint or draw on and scattering couches and rugs that created a loftlike vibe.

Marc ScarpaDuring the week of Incubus HQ Live, which started on June 30, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day the space saw an ebb and flow over the course of the day of between 200 and 300 fans who had signed up for a 1-hour slot via the band’s website. Each of them entered a day-long raffle to be picked to return for that night’s performance. During the day, they could hang out, talk to the musicians and crew, ask questions about musical instruments and gear, and perhaps pick up a T-shirt or two. (Rennie says that while the retail metaphor was purely conceptual, they still sold about $24,000 worth of merchandise in that 6-day period.) From 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. the band rehearsed privately, and 100 or so raffle winners were let back in after 6 p.m. for a live set that ran from 7:30 p.m. until almost 9 p.m.

“It was incredible — the fans were sitting all around the band, as close [as] three feet from Brandon,” Rennie remembers. “It was the kind of experience you never get.”

The Three-Channel Streams

But translating that intimacy and that constant engagement would be the challenge for the web broadcast. The band partnered with Livestream to produce streaming broadcasts of the event all week long, after a small club gig in Berlin several months earlier that served as a practice run for the larger event. The band hired Scarpa, whom Rennie had worked with once before for a live webcast per- formance by Celine Dion. Scarpa, who seems to like technology marathons — his credits include a 72-hour live participatory online broadcast for the 2010 GRAMMY Awards and 64 hours streaming from Woodstock 99 — sought to balance interaction between the band and the fans in attendance with some structure—the guitar clinics, the performances, the ongoing artwork, and arranging the performances to chronicle the band’s history, starting with its first record from 1998 and culminating in a performance of If Not Now, When? on the final night — and flexibility that would allow a narrative to emerge spontaneously, combined with the mandate to take all of these various conversations online in a way that also engaged the wider virtual audience.

“We wanted it to be immersive, and not just a matter of leaving cameras on randomly,” Scarpa explains. “Some things were planned out ahead of time; we had a run of show. But other things — [the band] had guest artists stop by and join them, for instance — they just didn’t tell us about. So we had to be ready for anything, all the time.”

The organizational format they chose was unique. Using the title of the new LP as a divisional rubric, three channels were created and served to help parse what would become an enormous amount of content. Channel 1, dubbed “If Not,” was the “documentary experience,” says Scarpa — a single Teradek wireless camera and microphone rig would roam the space all day long, interacting with attendees and band and crew members. “The camera became a character in the broadcast, talking to the kids, watching what was going on,” says Scarpa. Other documentary channel cameras were a Sony PMW-F3 Cinealta digital camera, two Sony XDCAM PDWF 800 cameras used to capture rehearsals and live performances, a Sony HXR-MC1 HD “lipstick” camera focusing on the drum kit, and several GoPro wearable cameras. The live content was inter- spersed with archival footage of performances and personal moments that had been assembled from an array of sources on formats ranging from Beta SP to VHS to 3/4" tape, as well as surveillance cameras set up around the room, all directed in a line cut by Scarpa. It was also the channel dedicated to the streaming of each evening’s live performance, from which MTV also took a daylong feed. 

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