Live Sound

Bonnaroo 2013: Q&A with Sean O’Connell of Music Allies

In this interview with Sean O'Connell, the CEO and founder of Music Allies and Creative Allies in Asheville, N.C., we catch up with the ongoing and expanded reach of Radio Bonnaroo, now in its 10th y 8/01/2013 5:00 AM Eastern

From left: Elijah Shaw (mix engineer), Sean O'Connell and Tom Hansen

For the 10th year running, Music Allies handled marketing for the festival and operated Radio Bonnaroo, building a broadcast center, which is overseen by Tom Hansen, for more than 30 radio stations, including local radio station Fantasy Radio 101.5 FM, WFTZ, which partners with Music Allies.

For the first time, Radio Bonnaroo partnered with iHeartRadio. "This year we partnered with iHeartRadio to increase our coverage," says Sean O'Connell, CEO and founder of Music Allies and Creative Allies in Asheville, N.C. "We've always had streaming radio but our partnership with iHeartRadio expanded our reach."

Plus, Bonnaroo 2013 saw the return of HayBale Studios, a custom built on-site recording studio adjacent to the broadcast center that records exclusive performances and interviews for Radio Bonnaroo and partner stations.

After the festival concluded Mix asked Sean O'Connell to recap Music Allies' work at Bonnaroo in 2013.

Back in 2009, you spoke with Mix editor Tom Kenny about Radio Bonnaroo (www.mixonline.com/studios/design/radio-bonnaroo-0909). Could you provide an update and overview of Radio Bonnaroo's operations for 2013?
Radio Bonnaroo is now in its 10th year. We get a lot of attention for the studios we build at Bonnaroo, but ultimately Music Allies is first and foremost a marketing company. We came up with the ideas of creating backstage studios as a way to reward our marketing partners at radio and to create a buzz that weekend that will create excitement about Bonnaroo. We also handle marketing for numerous other festivals and bands.

Our process starts in December every year as we line up radio stations that will work with Bonnaroo on promotional campaigns to promote the festival. Our promotions kick off in earnest during the announcement. During that week alone, our partner radio station delivered over 100 million impressions via their airwaves, emails and Websites. The culmination of our marketing efforts for the festival is Radio Bonnaroo.

What is the basic broadcast setup for Radio Bonnaroo?
Backstage we build a massive broadcast center for over 30 of our radio stations and our very own Radio Bonnaroo streaming station. Tom Hansen oversees our broadcasting. His team builds and engineers every broadcast for these stations. We had over 300 broadcast hours transmitted from backstage!

photo of HayBale Sessions

HayBale Sessions, June 16, 2013

What is the basic recording setup for the HayBale Sessions?
Adjacent to the broadcast center is the HayBale Studios, which is a recording studio that records exclusive performances and interviews for all of partner radio stations and Radio Bonnaroo. Elijah Shaw is the head engineer for all the musical performances. Daniel Feese is our mastering engineer who insures that our video crew and radio stations get their audio quickly. Dan Buckley is our interview engineer. Dan's been with us for the entire 10 years.

In the HayBale Studios, the console was an SSL AWS 948. We used a lot of backline from Chad Evans at Vintage King. Plus, we did some experimenting with IK Multimedia's iRig and we made sure all the VIPs attending the sessions had the best sound in their ears with CAD headphones. Bonnaroo is a huge backstage scene. We hosted over 40 bands this year.

photo of HayBale Studios

Elijah Shaw, Sean O'Connell and Tom Hansen behind the SSL AWS 948 console in HayBale Studios

What were some of the festival highlights for you?
My favorite performances were [from] Portugal. The Man, The National, and Allen Stone.

Some of the highlights for me included having Jack Johnson rehearsing and recording in the studios [on] Thursday night. Jack had been already been planning to show up as a surprise guest with ALO and they utilized our studios to rehearse. He also recorded some of his new songs and did an interview that we shared with radio Friday morning. This timed out well since the festival asked Jack to fill in for Mumford and Sons, who had to cancel due medical reasons.

I had [originally] suggested that Jack make a surprise appearance and join ALO on Thursday night. He agreed and was already planning to use our studios to surprise [the] radio [audience] with acoustic versions of songs from his new album. Plus, ALO and Jack were able to use our studios to rehearse. Obviously, the timing worked out. The festival approached Jack directly and he ended up staying a couple extra days and saving the day by headlining.

As Radio Bonnaroo matures, we've been able to utilize the content to help both the bands and the festival reach more people.

Many of the HayBale sessions can be viewed at the bonnaroo365 channel on YouTube.