With SXSW Canceled, The Fader Takes a Mainstay Music Experience Digital

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The Fader was one of many brands to drop out of SXSW days before the host city of Austin, Texas canceled the event due to public health concerns over COVID-19.

The decision was heartbreaking for the music magazine, which had to scrap plans for Fader Fort, its annual multi-day concert experience showcasing local and emerging artists, which has been a mainstay of SXSW since originating at the festival in 2002.

With a physical Fader Fort no longer an option, the brand has decided to take the experience digital to a global audience for the first time.

The Fader will stream a daylong broadcast of Fader Fort on March 31, featuring more than 40 exclusive, curated performances from emerging and well-known musicians. The nine-hour broadcast, running from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. ET on The Fader’s website, will raise funds for numerous charities chosen by the magazine and participating artists. The charities are focused on helping the people and city of Austin, as well as musicians and the entertainment industry as a whole.

Jon Cohen, co-founder and co-CEO of The Fader, said once SXSW was canceled and his team began to see the impact of coronavirus unfold, the company started brainstorming ways to help those in the music industry—from production and sound workers to stagehands and tour managers—who rely on Fader Fort and SXSW in general for income.

The Fader landed on the concept of a charitable, digital music festival to also bring together emerging acts slated to play Fader Fort this year, alongside artists who have performed at past editions.

“The most heartbreaking thing is that Fader Fort, for 17 years, has had such a community in Austin that supports it and works on it,” Cohen said. “After we made the decision [to drop out], our first thought was: How do we do good and bring attention to people that will be affected on a local level? We wanted to do something with Fader Fort to create a global platform to raise awareness for people that will get really hurt by this.”

Fader Fort is typically an invite-only “concert within a concert” that serves as a music discovery outlet, which the company kept in mind when curating content for the digital fest. The broadcast will offer a mix of live and pre-recorded performances, interviews and at-home content. Since most of the videos are exclusive, the concert will only be available to view for 24 hours after the broadcast; Cohen said the show won’t be archived, which gives people an incentive to tune in.

So far, the announced lineup includes pop star Kesha, who will premiere a never-before-seen cut of the intro to her My Crazy Beautiful Life documentary; rapper Guapdad 4000, who will give fans a cooking demo; an at-home performance by singer Ashnikko, who was slated to perform a surprise after-hours set at Fader Fort this year; and a performance by Giveon, an emerging R&B singer and Drake collaborator.

“Fader Fort’s DNA has always been about the emerging and developing artists. We wanted to make sure this digital platform stayed true to that,” Cohen said. “Young and emerging acts can use our platform to get the word out on their music and what they’re doing, and then, in typical Fort fashion, we’re sprinkling in some surprises and superstars.”

Producing the first digital Fader Fort hasn’t been without challenges for the magazine’s team and in-house creative agency, Cornerstone. Cohen said there are limitations, with employees all working remotely due to COVID-19, not having access to all the appropriate gear and equipment, and the fact that the artists are all scattered.

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