Coachella: 20 Years in the Desert - Q&A with Head of AEG Studios Raymond Roker
Jordan Kelley, Content Director, Brandstorytelling.tv
As we pass the one-month marker of imposing self-isolation on ourselves as a nation, two things seem universal. We are all lamenting our inability to spend time outdoors and with one another, and we’re all upping the amount of content we consume. Fortunately for us, the latest YouTube Original documentary has arrived just in time to scratch both of those itches. Coachella: 20 Years in the Desert is a documentary feature two decades in the making. It opens up the Coachella performance vault for the very first time to present the legendary performances and behind-the-scenes stories that shaped the seminal music festival. The film provides a rare look at Coachella’s colorful beginning, presenting exclusive, never-before-seen footage, interviews, and key performances from some of the biggest names in music. It takes the right people with a specific focus and lots of experience to pull together a cohesive and entertaining doc that spans 20 years, so it should come as no surprise that the entity behind the project is AEG Studios, the in-house content division for the world’s leading sports and live entertainment company. Its leader, Raymond Roker, appears in the film and served as its executive producer. Brand Storytelling caught up with Roker to learn more about how AEG Studios led this project and about working with a partner like YouTube to present it to the world:
What was AEG’s impetus behind telling this story outside of its being fascinating?
It was simply a matter of time and timing. I believe there was always the intention of releasing archive content since the only documentary on the festival was from 2006. So much had happened in the event, festival culture in general, and in music’s evolution since then so it was obvious that someday we’d push some of the material out. What we didn’t know was when, what format, and on what platform. For the first several years of me working on the project, it took a few different shapes. But from a purely historical perspective, as a storyteller myself, I was clamoring to bring this material to a wide audience in the right way. What did the relationship between AEG Studios and Goldenvoice look like internally as it relates to the production of this documentary? Are there separate teams that come together? What were operations like?
The film is a Goldenvoice production and we also worked with an outside production company run by our director Chris Perkel. Goldenvoice happens to also be part of AEG. Within that, I look after AEG Studios, our in-house content studio focused on both brand work and originals. We have a nimble team that supports AEG Global Partnerships. But the more organic course of events sprung from the fact that my tenure at AEG started with Coachella as their first content director in 2013. So in my role as head of our studio, I also work with Goldenvoice’s marquee festivals as a key internal client. It sounds more complicated than it is, but essentially, it’s perfectly incestuous in the most productive and positive way. At what point did YouTube become involved as the distributor of the doc? YouTube has been the live stream partner for Coachella since 2011, a year before the famous Tupac Hologram which we talk about in the documentary. The platform has been central to delivering a worldwide audience to the festival as well as helping us innovate in the live broadcast space. Beyond that, their YouTube Originals team had an interest in the project and believed in the direction we and our director, Chris Perkel, wanted to take. The relationship we have with YouTube is synonymous with the festival’s growth and impact over the past decade, so it made the most sense to build on that for both parties. Raymond, you appear more than once in the film - with a couple decades’ time in-between. What’s it like to reflect on seeing yourself at both ends of this documentary - as an executive and as a young curator of culture? I always knew that I’d likely be interviewed for the film. Not only had I lived with the project since its beta inception—tasked with unearthing and caring for the archives, looking at and discussing the footage, and debating the context of various performances—but I had also witnessed much of it firsthand. I’ve been to every Coachella since 1999. And my relationship with Paul Tollett (founder of the festival) goes back to the 1990s. That said, I never envisioned playing such a central role in the narrative until Chris showed me the rough cut. It took me a minute to warm to seeing myself on screen, but my kids do get a kick out of daddy being in a movie. In terms of the topics I discuss on camera, I will say that they’re all areas I’ve been passionate about for my entire career. And being so close to the festival for two decades has been part of that cultural education, and the side stage view of watching it all play out. Matters of representation, music culture and criticism, cross-pollination, and under appreciated or misunderstood scenes are my jam. And an ability to be on record as part of both Goldenvoice and Coachella’s heritage is a privilege I don’t take lightly. I grew up going to GV shows and eventually Coachella, so this is as full a circle as there is. And I wish I still had those ‘90s overalls. What inspired the choice to release the documentary as you did (on YouTube)? What do you think are the advantages of brands distributing original content on a platform like YouTube as opposed to a theatrical release or distribution on a paid subscription service? Given what we’re going through, what a disaster a theatrical release would have been. But beyond that, we always knew the film would live on a digital platform. Our hope was also that we’d have a big premiere at a theater—which we had planned. But worldwide distribution with as little friction as possible was what we wanted for the long term. There’s no doubt that this film plays really well on a big screen, and at any other time, we’d have done a bunch of promotional screenings in theaters as part of the rollout. But there’s also something incredibly democratizing about simply sharing a link that takes you directly to a feature film at zero cost. Are you happy with the film’s release, viewership, reception, etc? I am. The weekend it came out was incredibly special. Coachella holds such a powerful place in the consciousness of its fans so we felt we had a duty to tell the story properly. When the feedback was immediately and overwhelmingly positive, as well as personal and heartfelt, I knew we’d done that. I couldn’t have predicted a better response from people after watching it and I was inundated with notes from my network and well beyond. YouTube, Susanne Daniels, Ali Rivera, Margaret Burris, and the entire team, have been so positive at every step of the way. My only regret is that the film is 104 minutes and there are so many more stories to tell.
Be sure to watch Coachella: 20 Years in The Desert on YouTube
About Raymond Roker
Raymond Leon Roker is head of AEG Studios for the Global Partnerships division of AEG, the largest sports and entertainment company in the world. Acting as an internal agency for AEG,Global Partnerships oversees worldwide sponsorship sales and activation for over135world-class platforms across five continents and numerous other assets including venues, sports franchises, events, tours, festivals and digital content among other AEG holdings.In 2017, Roker helped spearhead the launch of AEG Studios, the company’s first-ever in-house branded content division. As head of AEG Studios, Roker is directly responsible for managing the creation, production and development of innovative, original content for AEG as a whole as well as its numerous brand partners. With access to AEG’s global portfolio of assets across music, sports and facilities, Roker and his team oversee one-of-a-kind content marketing partnerships that add value and increase sponsorship outcomes for best-in-class brands around the world. As the driving creative force behind AEG Studios, Roker brings strategic insight and direction to every project the division touches, including all digital, print, video and mobile content.With a proven track record for innovative storytelling, Roker brings partners closer to the heart of live entertainment using bleeding edge virtual reality, documentary and episodic programming, 360-degree video and more. Under Roker’s leadership, AEG Studios has worked with a number of partners on successful branded-content campaigns, including Renaissance Hotels, Uber, H&M and American Express to name a few.Known for his award-winning creativity, Roker is a veteran content executive, producer, director and strategist with over 20 years of leadership and entrepreneurial experience across the industry. Prior to the launch of AEG Studios, Roker lead content strategy and development for Goldenvoice, a top festival and concert promoter and producer of the CoachellaValley Music &Arts Festival.Before joining AEG, Roker worked as a successful media CEO and entrepreneur for 19 years. He is the founder and publisher of URB magazine, an award-winning editorial and multimedia company where he played an instrumental role in innovating youth culture as well as the music space.He also launched the experiential marketing firmRebel Organization, which successfully oversaw youth and multicultural activations around the game-changing rollout of Toyota’s pioneering Scion line of cars.In addition, as a long-time content strategist and consultant, Roker worked for Red Bull Media House where he managed the U.S. launch of the 1.3 M circulationRed Bulletin magazine and digital platform.Roker’s interests as a storyteller also include work across photography, design and writing.As a passionate advocate and supporter of arts education, Roker isa longtime board member of Artworx LA, a community-based multidisciplinary arts program aimed at combating the high school dropout epidemic in Los Angeles.