Music festivals are synonymous with summer. Just as often, they're synonymous with lineups.
While multiday festivals were once few and far between – a Mariposa Folk Festival here, a Woodstock there – cities across Canada and the world are now rife with them. So it comes as little surprise that promoters are making these events more efficient for both the companies that run them and the fans that want their music-soaked weekends to be as fun-filled as possible.
The Bud Light Digital Dreams Music Festival, which hosts its fifth edition in Toronto this Saturday and Sunday at The Flats at Ontario Place, has joined a growing number of festivals worldwide in letting attendees link credit cards to their festival wristbands.
The idea is to shrink transaction times and thus pesky lines, not to mention encourage spending. The platform will also give festival operator Live Nation Canada a flood of data to help it improve future festivals.
The technology, says Mark Russell, the festival's project manager with Live Nation Canada, "allows us to plan year over year, allows us to plan the site better, allows us to understand what our consumers are consuming."
Digital Dreams, which bills itself as Canada's largest electronic music fest, has welcomed as many as 30,000 fans a day through its gates in the past, though last year's edition was sullied by rain, forcing the promoters to cancel the first day. Headliners this year include Armin van Buuren, Bassnectar and Swedish House Mafia alumni Axwell & Ingrosso.
When concertgoers shell out hundreds of dollars for the festival experience, they have high expectations. But endless things can go wrong, with bad weather, equipment problems and endless lineups among them. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) bracelets are helping the industry assume more control of that last variable.
Digital Dreams has used RFID bracelets for a few years, Mr. Russell says, but the tech has grown with each edition of the event. Each bracelet is linked to a concertgoer, which speeds up the entrance lines and minimizes scalping and fake tickets.
The technology has quickly evolved to make it easier for staff to confirm the identity of who can go where, such as backstage or for VIP seating. It also allows users to tap their bracelets to enter contests or sponsored brand activations. Festivalgoers can also make cashless transactions with a flick of a wrist, just like tap debit- and credit-card payments.
In the past, customers usually had to preload money onto their bracelets online before the festival. But preloaded money has limits; it can disappear with a few trips to the merch booth or bar. This year, for the first time, Digital Dreams attendees will be able to preload a major credit card or Visa debit card, reducing the friction for spending even further.
Mr. Russell estimates the average cash transaction at the festival takes about 50 seconds, while the average cashless one takes 10 to 15 seconds. With 30,000 people each making an average of four transactions a day, that can lead to many, many minutes of saved wait time, though he acknowledges that not all bars and booths at the festival are cashless.
Cashless RFID transactions are becoming common among a growing number of music festivals and bracelet providers. Digital Dreams is using RFID technology from Front Gate Ticketing Solutions, which was purchased by Live Nation Entertainment subsidiary Ticketmaster last year. Other music festivals using Front Gate RFID tech include Lollapalooza in Chicago, RBC Royal Bank Bluesfest in Ottawa and Governors Ball in New York.
Maura Gibson, Front Gate's president, said in an e-mail that "creating a point-of-sale to include cashless was a no-brainer." Festivals have been able to reduce fraud by as much as 50 per cent and improve their design of festival sites. "This ensures that the vendor locations are placed in proper locations and have the proper staffing numbers to reduce lines," she said.
That's something Mr. Russell is happy for. "Those points-of-sales allow us to track the patterns of flow throughout the festival and understand how people move, or whether they move at all," he says.
Catherine Moore, a Canadian-born music-business professor at New York University, says that as companies race to enhance RFID wristbands, she's worried about data management. Some RFID bracelets connect with smartphones, and festivalgoers won't be happy if they get third-party notifications following a given festival.
"If it's then going to be used after the fact to market lots of things to you, then it can become kind of annoying," Prof. Moore says.
But, she says, going cashless is a natural development for music festivals. As long as the technology is reliable – the system doesn't crash or bill the wrong amount – she expects it to expand, which in turn can help festivals grow.
"That's what festivals count on," Prof. Moore says. "Not just people paying for entry, but also while they're onsite, really spending money."
Letting customers pay more efficiently has natural benefits for promoters, but Mr. Russell says it's just as efficient for the fan experience: "The last thing we want is people standing in line when they've paid a lot of money to be standing in front of an artist."