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XLIVE Interview Series – James Boyle, Halifax Pop Explosion

James Boyle, Executive Director of the Halifax Pop Explosion Music Festival & Conference discusses music festival production.

We sat down with James Boyle, Executive Director of the Halifax Pop Explosion Music Festival & Conference to learn more about music festival production, the use of technology at Halifax Pop Explosion, and their B2B music conference.   This year is HPX’s 26th anniversary, and James was kind enough to share some wisdom he’s learned from the past quarter century.

How did Halifax Pop Explosion start and did you really name this event after a real Halifax explosion??

I have been with the organization since 2014 so I wasn’t there in the beginning as the festival has been around for 26 years. HPX was started as a way to support our local music community here in Halifax. In the early 90s, labels like Sub Pop were signing bands from Halifax and many people in the North American music industry were thinking Halifax could be the next Seattle. There was a real need to bring North American artists to our little corner of the continent so they started a festival to make sure bands from Halifax had a chance to play with bands from across North America.

It was supposed to be about an explosion of music and was never meant to be named after the Halifax Explosion.



In addition to the music festival, HPX holds a B2B music conference the same weekend of HPX. How did the Music Conference get its start and how has it grown over the years?

It was started almost 10 years ago as a way to help artists learn more about the music industry and how to grow their careers. In the last 3 years, the conference has grown to a nationally recognized event. Our key property is the Canadian Label Summit which brings together labels, marketing companies, artists and managers to discuss issues facing the record industry and how to better prepare for the future. Blockchain, streaming and technology in general is changing the way artists release music and we want to be on the forefront of that conversation.

We also have an educational track that focuses on diverse issues facing the music industry and this year we plan to organize a Music Publishing Summit as well.

Who can attendees of the music conference expect to meet, hear speak, and what can they expect to learn?

We have delegates and speakers from around the world. Thought leaders and experts on accessibility, gender parity and diversity within the music sector. We bring together all facets of the music industry in a real boutique way. Everyone meets everyone else, and they get to party and network all week long.

Can you tell us about some of the challenges with regards to talent booking for the music festival and what you do to overcome them?

Our issues are slightly unique as we are a tertiary market in North America. Cross Canada tours tend to end in Quebec so being in Atlantic Canada can be a challenge simply from a routing perspective. That said, our reputation as a great event for mid-size bands to showcase is really what allows us to overcome our location. The strength of the delegates at HPX also helps us attract great talent. They know there are some cool labels at the event that they want to play for.

How are you using technology to make your job easier?

We are always willing to adopt tools that make our jobs more efficient. We just started using Monday.com along with Marcato as our project management and festival management software and things are running so smoothly in the office. We have experimented with RFID and love how quickly we can get people in the door.

How are you using technology to offer a better fan experience?

Live chat has been such a great tool for customer engagement and service. It has really helped answer questions quickly and keep public complaints to a minimum online. We also love how RFID allows the customer to enter venues quickly and easily without a lot of hassle.

What can you tell us about venue selection, negotiations, and what do you look for in a venue?

Being in a city of 300,000 people with no other cities within an hour drive means we have to work closely with our community. The venues are also in the same boat so we all work together to make sure the fan experience is exceptional. For us, we operate indoors in October so we use existing venues who serve alcohol and they keep the revenue. In turn, we don’t really pay rent. It’s a good relationship. After 26 years, we have it down to a science.



Can you walk us through selecting the right sponsors for a music festival?

Again, because we are a small market, we don’t have a lot of options for sponsorship partners. Many sponsors in Canada are focused on Toronto or Montreal so many of our partners are local and/or have the same mindset as us… We all need to work together to build a strong community. We are truly looking for other companies that get that.

With regards to marketing, what tactics do you like to consistently use every year, and how is technology changing the marketing landscape for music festivals?

We are constantly changing and evolving. I would say we are always improving on our marketing plans. Really, line up is so key to selling tickets. Our number one focus right now is a combination of booking the right line up and building our brand as a discovery event and celebration of popular culture.

What are some of your favorite performances from HPX over the last 25 years?

Well before my time Arcade Fire played an 800 person venue right as they were starting to break internationally. GHOSTFACE and RAEKWON playing with BADBADNOTGOOD all together on stage. Daniel Caesar played to almost 200 people in a 100 cap room 2 years ago. It was nuts! Pup put on such a great show in 2016 and I know CupcakKe’s performance this year is going to be legendary.


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