YouTube is, as Susan Wojcicki says in our feature story, its own medium. YouTubers create this remarkable connection between themselves and their fans, but the relationship takes place on screen with the YouTuber talking to a camera and responding to comments. That’s what makes DigiTour, an L.A.-based social media and music event company, so fascinating, because it’s moving that relationship from the screen to IRL.
“We were interested in these emerging artists who already had an immense following online,” says Meridith Valiando Rojas, cofounder of DigiTour Media along with her husband, Chris Rojas. She previously worked at major record labels like Capitol Records and Columbia Records, where she supervised everything from talent scouting to artist development during production.
DigiTour started in 2011 with music. The Rojases organized the first YouTube music tour with popular artists such as Christina Grimmie (who now has 2.7 million subscribers) and Dave Days (1.6 million subscribers).
Musicians can sing in concert much like they do in their videos. DigiTour got really interesting once it realized that it could create a live experience for other YouTubers, as well as Vine and Instagram personalities. “We wanted to elevate what they had created on their platforms and turn it into a live performance,” says Meridith, “but also didn’t want it to be too scripted, because these fans wanted to see their stars in an authentic way.”
Meridith admits, “A lot of people were wondering what ‘vloggers’ would do on stage.” Frankly, for a lot of the audience, it’s enough to just see their favorite stars live. The challenge was to take it one step further. DigiTour works to identify each performer’s strong suit–whether it’s beauty, advice, comedy, or music–and collaborate with them to create a performance. “We enlisted top-tier improv coaches,” Meridith says, “put them in choreography classes.”
The result? A “set list” like no other. Multiple vloggers gather onstage to play improv games “Who’s Line Is It Anyway?” style and do audience Q&As. Some style YouTubers do a makeup challenge where fans and other vloggers join them on stage to get a makeover. “We even had a ‘Dancing with the Stars: O2L Edition’ where we brought fans on stage,” Meridith says. “I think that got the most screams.” A big-screen Twitt-o-meter ensured fan interaction stayed at a high with superlative questions like, “who’s got the best hair?”
Although Vine is consumed in six-second loops, DigiTour has found a way to translate micro-vlogging artists’ talents on stage far beyond that. Musically inclined Viners like Shawn Mendes (2.9 million followers) and Austin Mahone (905,000 followers) give full-fledged concert performances, while others like the comedic duo Jack & Jack (4.2 million followers) do a mix of live challenges, fan interaction, and comedic segments focused around popular characters they’ve introduced in their Vines. DigiTour events now feature about 40% of their talent from Vine.
This flexible definition of who can be a “performer” has been a boon to DigiTour’s growth. Its flagship event, a full-day affair called DigiFest, features about 70 to 80 performers spread across three stages. The festival charges a $35 general admission and $100 for VIP access (about 10% of the tickets), which gets them a pre-show meet-and-greet, early entry, and a commemorative poster. The most recent one, in New York City in early June, attracted an audience of 12,500 shrieking teens.
Then there’s the DigiTour itself, which runs for about three to four weeks and sees 20,000 to 60,000 fans in total. These are typically anchored around a single headlining act and a few direct supporting acts. “We use the festival as a testing ground for those 70-80 performers,” says Ms. Rojas, “and put our resources behind the real breakout stars for a full headlining tour.” Jack & Jack will kick off a tour starting August 17.
DigiTour’s specific demographic–girls between 14 and 17–is particularly attractive to brands such as Hasbro, Intel, and Sony. They get involved through organized pop-ups and hotspots. At DigiFest NYC this past June, Instagram hosted a prom center with a DJ, lounge-y furniture, photo booths, and occasional surprise visits from the talent. There was also an Invisalign-sponsored kissing booth that generated a daylong queue.
With audiences that have grown up as digital natives, a selfie of a kiss on the cheek from their favorite YouTube or Vine star is worth a lot more than $35. “For a lot of these girls, it’s their first concert ever,” Meridith says. “We had to give earplugs to the parents.”