When DigiTour first launched in 2011, it was billed as a live event that “brings YouTube to you.” But in the ensuing four years the social media world has gone through several generations worth of changes, and in DigiTour’s second annual SlayBells holiday show, the digital stars hitting the stage are just as likely to owe their fame to Vine, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, live streaming platforms Twitch and YouNow, or all of the above.
“A teen might spend 30 minutes on their phone scrolling through multiple platforms, and they’re always adding new ones,” says Chrisopther Rojas, who co-founded DigiTour with his wife Meridith Valiando Rojas. “We try to provide and curate a very similar experience, so they’ll see things from all the different platforms. It’s almost as if they’re scrolling through a feed. It’s very fast-paced with quick segments, so we’re constantly keeping their attention.”
Like DigiTour’s non-holiday shows, SlayBells features music, dancing, comedy skits, on-stage Facetime-ing (“Fans really seem to enjoy that,” Rojas said) and fan meet and greets, as well as a seasonal sprinkling of snow (really a soapy simulation).
In 2014, the SlayBells tour visited 14 cities in three weeks. This year, it will be hitting 34 cities in just three and half weeks, a feat made possible by the fact that it is actually two separate tours, one dubbed “Fire” (on the West Coast) and the other “Ice (on the East Coast).
The “Fire” tour features Sammy Wilk, Kenny Holland, Sam Pottorff, Alex Lee (a.k.a. AlexFromTarget), Grant Landis, Maddie Welbourn, Diego Navarrette (a.k.a. Diegosaurs) and Andrew Fontenot, while the “Ice” tour is headlined by Rebecca Black, Dylan Dauzat, Jonah Marais and 5Quad.
With this year’s edition of SlayBells, DigiTour is regularly posting videos on its YouTube page offering fans behind-the-scenes glimpses of the stars backstage and on the tour bus.
“Our fans communicate with us very often on Twitter, and they’re always asking for more content,” Rojas explained. “We post one photo and they ask, “Can we have another 50?’ And when we post a Vine video, they say, ‘Can you show us more?’ So we figured it would be great to bring them along on the ride.”
DigiTour wasn’t the ride Rojas expected to be on. He was a musician and producer who worked with such acts as Pink, Flo Rida and Big Time Rush, and his wife Meridith was a music publishing exec. Then, in 2010, something happened with a Capitol Records act they were both working with.
“The label did everything a traditional music label did at that time to try to get the act out there,” Rojas recalled. “They had Snoop Dogg on the single, they spent money at radio, they produced a really expensive music video and they paid professional songwriters and producers to work on the record, but nothing was really connecting. At one point, the label head said, ‘We need social media and we need a tour,’ and this was right when the labels were starting to recognize that there was an untapped pool of fans and influencers on this suite of platforms that they weren’t really harnessing. And we just put our heads together and thought, ‘That’s a really interesting idea — social media and a tour.’ We realized that there were people bubbling up in the social media space and none of them had actually toured or done anything to meet their fans, and a light bulb kind of went off.”
In 2015, DigiTour is on track sell in excess of 350,00 tickets for more than 140 shows. That’s up substantially from 2014, when it sold more than 120,000 tickets for 60 shows. The value of the enterprise has been reinforced by a series of investments by big media names, including Ryan Seacrest and Conde Nast’s parent company Advance Publications in 2014 and Viacom in October of this year.
Rojas hopes to use the added financial support to expand DigiTour’s non-concert media efforts, which in the past have included the tour documentaries “Jack & Jack: The Movie” (2014) and “#O2L Forver” (2015), the latter of which was produced with Fullscreen.
“We always had an eye towards building the media portion of our business, but we knew that it was going to start with that authentic connection to the fans, which we’ve developed through the live shows,” Rojas says. “Now that we really have that authentic connection, we feel that we are one of the few companies that speaks authentically to Gen Z and this teen audience. We have to think at the speed of teen, speak at the speed of teen and be booking at the speed of teen, so we’re always moving a mile a minute to stay ahead of all the various trends. It’s a lot of work, but we love it.”