For Chuck Snyder and Brandon Heins a Tuesday in early 2014 started out simply. It turns out that when you’re a campus ambassador for Rockstar Energy one phone call can turn everything inside out and possibly change the trajectory of your life completely.
The phone rings, it’s Chuck’s boss at Rockstar
‘You might want to sit down. I have something tell you. Don’t sh*t your pants because its not 100% confirmed yet, but Datsik wants to throw a house party in La Crosse”
“Wait, what, you said f***ing Datsik?… How long do I have to figure this out”
“You have an hour…and it would be tomorrow night”
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Bewilderment Turned Madness
Scrambling for a game plan Chuck quickly hit his friend Brandon who had already been involved with the DJ scene. They pinged their social media accounts, hunting for a college pad to host one of the most successful and established Dubstep producers/DJ’s in the world. A 4-story frat house, some flexing, and $350 of alcohol later, the plans were in the works for establishing one of the most electric and talked about events to ever see a remote college campus. In retrospect, a tipping point had been reached to launch an ambitious start up that would finally deliver consistent and high-quality EDM (Electronic-Dance-Music) to a city of less than 50,000 people.
Lets Put This Into Perspective
For a DJ who regularly is booked for events with capacity that would rival the size of the city of La Crosse, WI playing a house party is an anomaly. For the average EDM enthusiast it’s a once in a lifetime experience. It’s a moment in time that brings an artist whom would usually be standing on a multimillion-dollar stage amid a sea of concertgoers, into arms reach. Preparing for something resembling the real life Project X, they utilized the fourth floor as a green room, and enlisted private security. The next night, in rolled Datsik’s full size tour bus, and a Penske truck packed with sound. I’ll let the video below paint the full picture: (start at 2:20)
Fast Forward to The Present
In the aftermath, all Chuck and Brandon could wonder was how they could do this again, and again, and again. It’s been a over a year and as an established L.L.C., owners Chuck Snyder and Brandon Heins have moved from house parties to a handful of consistently successful and sold-out events throughout the Midwest. In less than 48HRS ELV8D Entertainment’s entire pre-sale for Manic Focus, Beak Nasty, Megan Hamilton, and Warf is entirely sold out. (With 50 tickets still available at the door). The journey for ELV8D hasn’t been as simple as “build it and they will come”. Sitting down with Chuck and Brandon provided Indie Hustle an analogue perspective into ELV8D’s digital playground. For most concertgoers their experience with an event is temporal. Buy the ticket, take the ride, and dip out. If everything is going smoothly, that is exactly what any event planner is hoping for: an illusion of seamlessness that masks months of groundwork into a fluid and cohesive presentation. What goes unseen is the immense amount of productive teamwork necessary to execute from planning to clean up. Creating live events not only forces, creators to build the service or product, but also the environment in which it is delivered and experienced. For ELV8D, building a following has been just as much a strategic game of chess as it was capitalizing on opportunity. Foremost, creating partnerships and building allies has been critical to winning in the EDM world.
It’s not easy for two 20-somethings with minimal experience and a scratch list of contacts to create valuable and trusted symbiotic partnerships. For ELV8D, these partnerships with regional event production teams have been critical link in their evolution from minimal sound and spot lighting to premium sound staging and state of the art projection mapping. Bringing the treble and bass is Impact Entertainment, ELV8D’s primary source of staging, lighting, and sound with additional support from Tri State Sound and Light. Adding a visceral and visually directed atmosphere ELV8D partnered with Antics Studios, an Eau Claire based production company catering services ranging from lighting, stage design, consulting, and 3D projection mapping. Antics Studios has consistently been enlisted to illuminate stages throughout the Midwest for some of the most prominent artists and festivals in the EDM touring circuit. For those of you seeing Manic Focus May 1st, Antics will be implementing their newest and most elaborate stage design yet. ELV8D also wanted to throw a shout out to Megan Hamilton for designing an incredible poster for the Manic Focus event, and IM Designs for assisting in their graphic design and branding. ELV8D has managed to build the environment they imagined, with the only question left to answer being, “Will They Come?”.
Selling The Dream
Providing nightlight entertainment for both 18+ and 21+ segments presents unique challenges, and La Crosse, WI isn’t your typical battleground. It hosts the most densely concentrated jungle of bars to a single street in the Nation. Chuck’s attention to detail in capturing market share is both a part of his methodical approach to consumer price points as a marketing student, and placing himself in the position of his event goers.
“The difference between $15 and $20 is a huge difference. There’s no cover for bars. I’d pay $40 dollars to go to a show over the bars any night…any night…but many people wouldn’t. By having a pre-sale we can offer price savings for people who want to get their tickets early. We’ve also used things like donation fundraisers to offer discounted tickets while being able to give back to the community.”
Having a pre-sale is critical to creating early exposure, and getting tickets into the the hands of those who want them the most. It can also provide some extra pre-production capital to cover unexpected costs. At a 25% discount, the $15 tier for their latest event sold 150 tickets in less than 12 hours. It goes to show how much of an impact an early discount can have on the ramen-built budgets of college students.
Winning On The Digital Playground: The Battle Against Cute Kittens
Having a digital strategy and online presence is a critical piece to fueling discovery and reaching an audience. In many cases ones digital strategy is the business strategy. As a running joke, nothing garners attention on the internet like a cute kitten. ELV8D needed an engaging and creative strategy to capture attention and claim ground normally dominated by the furry and precious. Beyond creating picture albums for people to follow online, Chuck and Brandon credit much of their social media reach to being heavily interactive with their audience. At events you’ll constantly find them on the move snapping pictures, getting to know people on a personal level, and letting people know how to find them on social media. The importance of personal interaction in world that moves so fast can sometimes be left at the wayside, but at ELV8D this is a critical piece of making each person feel welcome and appreciated.
A Commitment to Community
ELV8D has shown passion for creating sustainable community and giving back when they can to both their attendees and the community as a whole. Over the years, EDM has taken its fair share of criticism for creating environments that operate on the fringe and taking a blind eye to destructive behavior. For Chuck and Brandon, this stigma is something they are progressively working to reverse. Maintaining a professional presentation, environment, and actively engaging community leaders is fundamental to being held in high regard by both peers and the community at large. One of their most proactive strategies is informing police ahead of time when they are having events, and welcoming officers to come check out establishment. Not only does this breakdown the barriers and stigmas related to large scaled EDM events, but it also creates a position of understanding and communication on a positive level. Life in the entertainment business is fast paced, and full of distractions. What makes it entertainment is that you never know what you’re going to see next.
Organization and execution of large scale event production is a full time job. ELV8D co-owner Brandon Heins holds many of responsibilities for communication with booking agents and the artists’ management team. With years of experience in the DJ realm, (Rekd) Brandon has seen his fair share of crowds and situations. Managing a herd of young people in full swing requires awareness for rogue ravers, and the ability to address problems with fairness and understanding. He stressed the importance of finding the balance between standing ground on critical rules of the venue, while also remembering that human beings respond best when being treated with respect. Unanimously ELV8D lives by one simple principle:
Show Love, Spread Love
By expressing their gratitude and being personally available, ELV8D has created something closer to family than a gathering of strangers. Creating a personal connection with their event goers is something that fuels their business and creates lifelong relationships through shared experience. It’s apparent that for Chuck and Brandon this isn’t about the short term, and their focus is to continue creating an experience that offers entertainment and value. For this, Indie Hustle salutes.
The Road Ahead
The ride over the past year for ELV8D is comparable in scope to any other start ups. Success never happens without turbulence and hiccups, but it’s those challenges that make a win so satisfying. For these two commissioners of the loud and rowdy, Chuck Snyder and Brandon Heins showed an introspective and mature strategy, which places needs of their attendees in front of their own. A humble foresight reminds them that this isn’t about the money, or hitting big in the global dominance of EDM. It’s about creating valuable growth for the EDM community as a whole, and continuing to expand in a way that stays true to the ELV8D experience. They have already began lining up talent for their fall events and are looking forward to announcing a host of upcoming acts very soon. For the latest, catch updates on their Facebook page and ELV8Dentertainment.com.