European artist showcase festival and conference ESNS (Eurosonic Noorderslag) kicks off this week (19-22 January). Forced to switch to digital-only activity at short notice due concerns around the omicron variant, its organisers have been unable to stage the usual real-world multi-venue conference and showcase festival that attracts music and industry talent from around the world.

Access caught up with ESNS head of programme Robert Meijerink to discuss the challenges involved in going online and what the impact on the event is likely to be.

How challenging was it switching to a digital-only event and how did that impact the content?

It was challenging to switch from a physical to an online only event as the restrictions, lockdown, were announced in early December. Luckily, we were preparing a digital event already but we were not expecting to organise ESNS2022 digital only.

Is there concern that delivering the event online for two consecutive years will impact attendance figures in the future?

The whole live industry is suffering from the pandemic, so we’re all facing the same challenges. We need to build back on this together and this will take time.

I’m confident that we will get back on track. The primary objective of the ESNS conference and festivals are to connect people, to network, to discuss issues and to put a spotlight on and to promote new and emerging acts from Europe.

What streaming platform are you using for the virtual event and has the available technology  improved since the onset of the pandemic?

We use the Let’s Get Digital platform for the conference. Same as last year, we will have the virtual lobby called the Newsroom to welcome our delegates/audience.

Apart from that we present our festival and digital showcases via our website. Again, we collaborated with Dutch broadcasters NTR, NPO 3FM and Euradio to present and promote this platform.

What were the key learnings in delivering the event digitally last year and what are you doing differently this year?

We were positively surprised by the high numbers of viewers and positive feedback for both the conference and the festival. We did not change many things but we

kindly asked our confirmed artists to record footage, audio and video, of no longer than 10 minutes. Last year it was 15 minutes maximum. Apart from that, we incorporated the successful elements of ESNS 2021: the Networking Carousel, the Newsroom and the one-on-one networking.

The live music industry is facing challenging times – how important are conferences such as ESNS?

It’s very important to connect, to network, to inspire and to help each other in these challenging times besides enjoying and discovering new music. The prime role of ESNS is to connect, to network, to discover and to promote new and emerging acts, whether it happens in a physical or a digital space.

How many acts are involved in the festival, and what has the reaction been like from artists to it being delivered digitally?

There are around 230 confirmed acts for the digital festival from Wednesday to Saturday. The majority of the acts were very happy that we continued as a digital event. This is, of course, much better than cancelling the event. This way we’re still able to put a spotlight on new music from Europe and to present the artists involved.