Tell us about Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival
Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival (EJBF) is the largest subsidised music Festival in Scotland, and one of the ten largest jazz & blues festivals in Europe. Originally a series of free events, the festival has grown over the last 40 years. In 2019, 150 concerts, 2 major free events, a conference and two Summer Schools were presented over ten days.
The 43rd Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival was due to take place from 17 – 26 July 2020 but was postponed in April due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
What were the key reasons for creating a digital event?
After making the difficult decision to cancel the festival, and the 9th edition of the Edinburgh Festival Carnival, we wanted to mark the dates of the festival with a digital event. We know that nothing can replace the experience of a live event, but we wanted to offer audiences something to lift them in difficult times and give the musicians (whose livelihoods have been put on hold) something to work towards. We are fortunate that our funders allowed us to re-purpose funding, so we wanted to pass that benefit along to audiences whilst supporting the livelihoods of Scottish musicians.
We wanted to reinforce EJBF’s reputation as Scotland’s largest jazz and blues festival, and maintain our visibility with local and international audiences, with the potential to extend our reach by presenting a digital output.
The digital festival also allowed us to continue developing our knowledge of digital technologies and refine how they can be used to best service our audiences. The July festival marked a significant increase in our capabilities since the online blues festival we ran in April 2020.
Tell us about your digital event
Taking place over four days, EJBF Online included a mix of new sets made under lockdown conditions, solo home videos, a selection of content from our extensive video archive, a host of talks, late-night DJ sets and even a quiz! We covered a variety of different styles of jazz – from trad to modern – and presented two of our ever-popular Blues Afternoons. We also presented two shows just for kids, and partnered with Wide Days, Scotland’s music convention, to showcase the musicians at the forefront of jazz and technology. The online festival allowed to strengthen our relationships with our international partners in Belgium, Italy and US.
Did you come across any challenges?
Half of the EJBF team were furloughed, and those of us at work had to make important decisions in an ever-changing environment. While we are all very experienced in putting on gigs in live venues, discussions around which digital platform to use, free content vs monetised content, and live streams vs recorded footage, were all new to us. How rich should the content be? How often would people engage? How long did they engage for? How could they navigate around the content?
At the heart of our decision-making process was a desire to present a professional festival that represented the live experience, engaged our audiences and supported the sector.
We curated a wide range of content, targeted at a wide range of audiences, for the four-days, including gigs recorded for the festival (whether at home or adhering to social distancing rules) and popular concerts from our archive. The digital festival also allowed us to reflect on over 40 years of EJBF. The wonderful Norrie Thomson, local discophile and stalwart of the Edinburgh jazz scene, showcased his extensive collection of live recordings made across the 40+ years of the festival’s rich history in four editions of ‘Norrie’s Jazz Hour’ - one of the most popular pieces of content in the festival.
We decided to stream on our website, through an embedded YouTube stream, and via Facebook. We also hosted a Zoom quiz for jazz fans, and invited Dutch band Tin Men and the Telephone to present their innovative and interactive show to audiences via Zoom.
With the exception of Tin Men and the Telephone, which had a small charge, everything presented across the festival was free. We wanted to offer something inclusive and celebratory, and test our abilities to successfully stream content. Having recently launched a new Patron scheme, audiences were encouraged to donate online to help us produce more work like this in the future.
The event was promoted to our own audiences through email and social media campaigns, and to wider audiences through paid social media.
Across the four-day festival, a total reach of 372,000 and total engagements of 76,000. 15% of respondents to our survey had never attended an EJBF gig before. Engagements continue to grow as the content remains available on our Facebook and YouTube channels.
We engaged 159 musicians, and we received lots of positive comments from audiences thanking us for putting on something positive in these difficult times.
We consider the festival to be a huge success, offering both the industry and audiences something to feel positive about. We also learned a huge amount about how to create and put on a digital festival, and we managed to mark the days of the festival in an appropriately positive way.
We learned a lot about the amount of work that needs to go into putting on a digital festival. This will inform conversations about processes and activity going forwards.
The feedback we received commended us on the work we did, but many expressed a wish for live performance to return as soon as it was safe to do so. As impressed as audiences were with the digital output, and the convenience of watching at home, there is no replacement for the experience of watching live in a venue with an atmosphere and an audience. However, there were several comments from audience members who hoped we continued some digital activity even when we are allowed to return to live performances.