LAS VEGAS Rehan Choudhry founded the Life Is Beautiful festival in 2013 as a gathering aimed at building community and revitalizing Downtown Las Vegas—and, of course, as a place where attendees could have fun right in the middle of town. Beyond the scale of a traditional music festival, the event included food, art, and TED-style learning sessions—and the festival was an immediate success, growing quickly year over year.
In 2016, Choudhry broke with the festival he dreamed up. And recently, his team announced a new music conference slated to take place in Las Vegas from November 16 to 18. The Emerge Music & Impact Conference will feature 100 musicians and more than 30 speakers. But much more than a straightforward conference for music-industry insiders, Choudhry envisions the event as a gathering that builds and even improves upon some of the lofty goals he imagined when he launched Life Is Beautiful.
Choudhry told BizBash what he’s planning, how it’s different from his previous endeavor, and what other conference planners might learn from it.
How did you wrap up your relationship with the Life Is Beautiful Festival?
I founded Life is Beautiful in 2013 with the goal of creating a large-scale community festival in the heart of Downtown Las Vegas. With that event, I wanted to prove two things. The first was that a festival could have a greater impact if it was hosted in the heart of the city’s urban core, as opposed to a park somewhere outside of the city, and the second was that a festival could have a mission and purpose that extended beyond the party. I wanted to create a brand that both made a positive impact on the world and created a fun and unexpected experience. We were incredibly successful with the latter, but not so much with the first part. I left in early 2016 to continue to explore whether or not the social impact portion of my original goal could still be achieved via live experiences. That is when [new media company concept] A Beautiful Perspective was born.
How did you choose what sort of event you wanted to launch next?
It actually started from a different place: I believe that for media—news, culture, et cetera—to be truly effective in informing and activating people to get engaged with the world, it needs to start fully integrating live experiences. We are inundated with a barrage of information from digital news sources of all types (large, niche, TV, streaming, social, liberal, conservative), but our engagement is limited to likes and retweets. I believed that fixing the news system from a live experience perspective was the opportunity.
So I created A Beautiful Perspective, a new form of a media company—one that distributes information on what’s happening in the world, but does so via both digital content (videos, articles) and live experiences (festivals, conferences). Our first event is the Emerge Music & Impact Conference, which serves as the case study for our events moving forward—we want to produce events that are not only parties, but also forums for communities of people to come together to consume and discuss meaningful information.
Which philosophies and strategies from the festival did you prioritize as part of this new event?
The biggest thing that I learned from Life Is Beautiful (beyond the tactical production and operations learnings) was that there was, in fact, a consumer interest in learning programs at festivals. We launched Life Is Beautiful with a speaker series that hosted thought leaders like Pussy Riot, Lizzy Velasquez, Tony Hsieh, and more, and people really enjoyed it. It was inspiring to walk through the crowd and hear people from 15 to 45 years old talking about human rights violations in Russia while waiting for The Weeknd to hit the stage.
Emerge is even more focused on blending learning and entertainment. We are hosting 100 of the most important musical talents on the planet and having them perform in some really incredible concert venues in Vegas, such as Brooklyn Bowl, the Joint, and Drais. Why are they the most important? Because these are the bands who are truly our next big headliners. We’ve created a booking model that pairs the insights from industry leaders (Tom Windish, Kirk Somer, Peter Shapiro, Rob Cavallo, Corrie Christopher) with the deep data insights Spotify holds via their incredible platform. Using our booking model, we’ve identified the artists that are truly on the cusp—from Billie Eilish and K.Flay to Malcom London and Mondo Cozmo, these are the artists who are going to make a huge impact.
From there, we curated a lineup of more than 30 speakers who are actively changing the world in ways that are equally as progressive as the soundtrack they will shape the world to. Speakers like Madame Gandhi, who has become an advocate for women’s rights, and Jill Sobule, who will tackle to role religion plays in shaping our biases and political perspectives.
We’ve created the nerdiest event on the planet: It's for people who pride themselves on being in the know with music, along with those who like to get inspired from people who you don’t know and haven’t heard of yet.
“I believe that for media to be effective in informing and activating people to get engaged with the world, it needs to start fully integrating live experiences.”
How will you facilitate authentic community-building into the new conference?
With Emerge, we are looking to expand our scope of impact nationally and globally. We are looking to bring people to Las Vegas from around the world to experience the future of social impact and emerging music. Armed with new relationships and insights, we hope they will carry what they’ve learned into the world with them.
My biggest frustration with conferences today is they have become forums for the financially elite to speak to the financially elite about the poor. There is not much diversity—and honestly, with tickets typically starting at $1,500 per person, how can there be any real diversity? So we started with a more accessible event platform. This event should cost $2,000 to attend, but we’ve priced it at $195. Why? Because we want a diverse audience to come together to explore our culture and discuss real issues together.
At the actual event, we are going to be all about connecting people. We want our attendees to create meaningful connections and carry those beyond the actual event weekend. We’re building the experience to facilitate those types of connections. For example, all industry ticket holders will have direct access to all talent on the lineup to request meetings. Both groups will also have access to an industry working lounge designed to let attendees conduct actual business at the event.
What are the biggest challenges in incorporating these ideas (and ideals) into a conference format?
The challenge with all of this was whether or not to call it an actual conference. It’s definitely not a festival as it doesn’t take place in an open field, but it’s also not a conference in the traditional sense. It’s a true hybrid of the two, which is why we believe the event will appeal to festival and industry fans like. Beyond that, we wanted to showcase a truly unique experience that sets Emerge apart from other events.
Overall, what’s the biggest mistake conferences make—and what do traditional conferences stand to learn from successful festivals?
Most conferences offer two unique experiences: the speaking program and the entertainment. The former is usually hosted in conference spaces while the latter typically takes place in after-party venues. This type of format forces attendees to pick between the two (music or learning). We are eliminating that pain point by introducing blended showcases that incorporate both live musical performances and speeches under central themes. It’s a totally unique way to experience a music event.
Update: Due to the shooting in Las Vegas on October 1, the Emerge Impact & Music Conference has been postponed. The inaugural event will now take place April 6 to 8, 2018, while the original November event will become a one-day concert in partnership with Brooklyn Bowl. Proceeds will benefit victims of the shooting and their families.
“Like many of our neighbors and partners, the recent tragedy and loss experienced in our hometown of Las Vegas has had us soul searching,” said Choudhry in press release. “After some consideration, we decided that the inaugural Emerge will be stronger and more impactful if we make being good neighbors our priority in this moment, and then present our full program in the spring. Sparking conversation and change through music and culture is at the heart of Emerge, and we look forward to bringing that spirit to our city.”