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Festival Season 2016: From Glastonbury to Roskilde, The Privileges and Pitfalls of Live-Streaming

One of the big questions about the ever-more-hyped performances of Festival Season is - how much to televise, what to keep for the attending masses prepared to get sunburnt and/or muddy, and what to share with the rest of the world who've only made it as far as their sofa?

Festival season is truly upon us, this year marked by the welcome return to stage of record-breakers like Adele at Glastonbury, but also rewarding the longtime devotion of followers of Radiohead, New Order, LCD Soundsystem and Red Hot Chili Peppers as they travel around Europe.

One of the big questions about the ever-more-hyped performances of Festival Season is - how much to televise, what to keep for the attending masses prepared to get sunburnt and/or muddy, and what to share with the rest of the world who've only made it as far as their sofa?

Two years ago, Glastonbury had to dance a gavotte with Mick Jagger about how much headlining Stones action the BBC would be allowed to broadcast. Although a deal was belatedly struck, event organiser Michael Eavis admitted afterwards, "I think Mick Jagger wanted to play to the people here, rather than a TV show."

While not everyone can call the shots like Sir Mick, it's an ongoing debate. How much of the festival should be shared with people beyond the gate? For the Red Bull TV team in charge of broadcasting the best of Denmark's Roskilde Festival this year, the answer is a resounding, LOTS. Or as many of the acts as will agree which, this year, is around 40 of the 180 on the lineup, and all but one of the headliners.

"All the fun of the festival"

Tucked behind the six stages on the site, a team of 200+ technicians and crew have been preparing for nearly two months to bring all the fun of the festival to a global audience, via their live, pre-recorded and catch-up stream. With a live studio, a mixing booth for every stage and a NASA-esque hub compiling everything for two channels, it's as complex an operation as, say, Wimbledon. Out in front are two presenters, British Will Best and American Hannah Rad, who interview the artists, make backstage packages, but also react to the acts they've just seen. Their main job, Hannah explains, is to "give the viewer at home every aspect that a normal festival-goer would do, whether that's eating the food, camping out in the park, the activities and the games, and then the music as well on full display".

Will adds, "We're doing this because we're passionate about music. Music's our thing, we're just wildly excited to be here, watching and listening to the artists, so our reactions after a live performance are those of genuine fans."

For the world-class technicians in the hub, they're equally happy to be sharing the music with fans, many in the US, who can't get to Europe this summer. Nor, in their experience, do ticket-payers begrudge sharing the acts, in fact it's quite the reverse. One of the crew tells me, "I've heard from people who come here to enjoy their band live, then download the app, watch it again, look for themselves in the crowd, share it. For them, it's a very positive thing, not a negative."

"I can see me"

Today, the crew are chuffed with their well-oiled broadcast of Red Hot Chili Peppers the previous evening, but some bands can still keep them on the hop. One of the most challenging tasks, it transpires, is taking the raw music feeds and mixing them for broadcast. While the live audience get a different, vocally-prominent version, the man (in this case) at the mixing desk is having to adapt separately for broadcast needs.

Even with a cue sheet provided by the band, it's not a game for the weak of spirit, as I learn in a windowless bunker at the side of the main Orange stage.

"These artists have had weeks, sometimes months in the studio, getting their sound perfect. Then I have to do the same thing in three minutes," he chuckles.

"I'm not mixing it for the audience, but I do feel equally important. That live performance lives on in the memories of the audience, mine sits on the internet for all to judge."

Apparently a rookie mistake in this new era of festival streaming is for a band to put their most important song first in the running order.

"That's when I'm getting my levels sorted," the mixing man reveals. "Rock is rock, it's those quieter singer-songwriters with their tiny sounds that keep me on the hop.

"Best seat in the house"

"One time, a massive artist's manager came to me, he said 'it's their new single, they're starting with it, but it's their most important one.' Now I don't believe a band should start with their biggest song, but that's just me. However, I explained that was fine, but I couldn't guarantee it would sound exactly the way they wanted it, with my best intentions.

"That evening, the set list came back, and the new song had mysteriously moved down the list. Much better for everyone."

With so much music coming in their ears, don't these technicians and presenters ever get overwhelmed with it all, and just hanker after some peace and quiet for a change? Apparently not, it seems, even those who admit it is a bit like working in a chocolate factory. As one, presenters, crew and management all agree they've got the best jobs going for music fans. "Dry, out of the mud, and with a cup of tea - best seat in the house."

Dream stage signing...

Craig Gledhill, the live event's exec producer: "Alive, Pink Floyd. Of all time, Jimi Hendrix."

Will Best: "Wiley coming over and doing Eskimo Dance."

Hannah Rad: "Rihanna. She should be here. She should be at Glastonbury. She should do everything."

Click here for everything about Festival Season 2016

Click here to find out more about Red Bull TV's streaming events for summer 2016.

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