Recently I had the chance to fire off some questions to Brendan Becker, better known as Mr. MAGFest for his organizing and running of the Music and Gaming Festival, more affectionately known as MAGFest (magfest.org). The event is coming upon it's seventh year and is looking bigger and better than ever before! Read on to find out what this convention is all about, how it all came together, and even where it is going in the future. Not to mention finding out all the reasons you shouldn't miss the soon to come MAGFest VII in January!
Why did you start this convention?
This may come as a surprise to some, but I didn't! I *did* have the idea long ago for something much like what it has become, but when I was wandering around in a dealer room at another convention, I was lured by the sounds of video games and music to a booth... "Mid-Atlantic Gaming Festival? Hmm, wonder what that's about...?" And then they handed me a flyer with the wordon it, and I was sold. I had always wanted to hear them, and a 4-hour trip in the car was nothing compared to having to drive/fly to Arizona.
Anyhow, to make a long story extremely short, the chair people of the first MAGFest had a lot going on and couldn't continue running it, and when I found out (via the website) I almost instantly called up the original founder and asked him for his blessing to continue the event. I ended up driving out to his place and buying all of the rights and assets, and it's been mine for the last six years.
What is the biggest difference between this year and the first MAGFest?
Well, I guess the most obvious answer would be "the size". MAGFest started out reasonably small in a bunch of meeting rooms at a Holiday Inn in a relatively unknown part of Virginia. Now it's now four times the size, covering the entire bottom floor convention area of a five star Hilton near DC.
What are you most excited to see this year?
I could pick a guest out of a hat, but it will be so much fun to hang out with all of them that I should really say I'm looking forward to seeing this year's planning pay off. We've gotten a lot of MAGFest plugs in new places and to new people, and I really want to show them what we're about.
How did you come to decide on this years performers?
It's a secret! Okay, actually, it's not, but it IS a long, drawn-out, not-very-interesting process that involves seeing if last year's acts are willing to give their spot to others, who's in line, etc. We try to keep MAGFest's concerts as fresh as possible. New acts yearly, but just as importantly, new material from the acts that stay. Never the same experience means it never gets old.
When did you change the name from "Mid-Atlantic Gaming Festival" to "Music and Games Festival"? Why did you decide the name change was necessary?
Just about everyone likes the relaxed atmosphere of MAGFest, but it became that event I wanted to start long before I had ever heard of MAGFest even more quickly than expected. Because of my long-standing interest in game music and because (by M3) the concert was already more than twice the size of the first, I knew we would need to express that we weren't just a place to play games. I mean, game music is obviously game-related, but we needed to set ourselves apart somehow. The new name was born.
Was making this the center for VGRock and VG Remixing intended? How did it come about?
Much like I said before, I've always been a big fan of game music. But one thing I failed to realise before MAGFest was how much of a community following game music had, and how talented its members are. Seeing everyone congregate in one place is nothing short of awesome, and that is of course only the beginning. After seeing the many possibilities I strive to make sure that everyone will have a place to gather each year. It's one of my primary driving forces to continue running the event.
Are there any specific goals you hope to meet this year or in the future for MAGFest? Any you have already met?
We've met a lot of goals in the past, some of them small and some of them hefty. The one thing I'd like to do this year is meet our attendance goals. Granted, we've met them before, and every year I hope we have enough staff to handle the event, but if we can do that, we can start re-investing some of the money we get (as it is, we float a bit of money from our paychecks at
times to make things happen) into the event, making it even better than before.
How many people does it take to make MAGFest a reality?
Staff-wise? We probably have a couple dozen core staff, but if you include their teams and volunteers and everyone, easily ten times that (so, 150~200 range). That said, we always make do with what we have and a number of people (you know who you are) step up to the plate when needed. To give you an idea, we're currently at about half of what we need. As you can imagine
we're encouraging everyone to sign up and volunteer as much as possible.
By the way, http://courtwright.org/magfest/staffing/signup - no, I'm not being blatant at all about this.
What sets this convention apart from others?
I think the main point where we diverge from the mainstream convention-type event -- to the point where we don't like the word "convention", really -- is that most video game events, conventions, whatever, have a very "expo" or "trade-showy" type feel to them. Don't get me wrong, these events are great! I myself love to go and pick up old games or see new things on the horizon, but in that vein there is a very "business is business" feel where you don't feel the need to stay after you've seen what you came for.
Our goal is to change that outlook. We want to make sure there is *always* something to do at our event. You shouldn't necessarily feel forced, but rather you feel like you're at a video game-themed party at your friend's place, and there's just tons of things to do with anyone you want to do them with, where-ever you want to do them, combined with the opportunity to meet
new and interesting people. We want to constantly feed you new tasty morsels of gaming goodness. Even if you did almost everything you could possibly do at MAGFest, you will come back wanting more. And at this, we succeed.
What are some of your favorite moments from past MAGFests?
One ironic thing about MAGFest is how the worst of times can become laughing matters in a matter of a day. Certain people will never live down that they were wheeled away in a stretcher -- but still managed to sing Katamari and throw up the horns -- with alcohol poisoning. He was back the next day, playing games. I've also been knocked over by fake gunfire in concert,
watched the Minibosses play their own songs in my own DDR clone, seen virt and djpretzel enjoying a drink in a time where people thought it would be impossible, and been able to meet people from overseas.
Who have been some of your favorite performances?
I really like so many of the performances it would be wrong to show any kind of favoritism whatsoever, but I will give you another fun tidbit...Last year, The Smash Brothers made bacon for all to consume during their set.
I mean, seriously. Bacon.
What events will there be at MAGFest this year?
The same as usual, with added unknown hijinks. Major goings-on include a trivia and separate name-that-tune contest, screenings of the most recent work from our film guests, exclusive concerts from our musical guests (of which there will be several artists performing each night including Wednesday for preregistrants), a costume contest that's more of a roast, 24 hour gaming in multiple rooms, meet ups with the big game music community sites (ocremix, vgmix, thasauce), and I think virt just snuck in with a "write a song in an hour" panel (a la "Kwakfest live"). There's so much more going on that I can't even list it all.
http://magfest.org/guests - don't forget, those things that say music film etc are clickable tabs.
Any new events you want to mention?
The one that pops into my mind is that we are currently working with a guy to organize a world record championship for the old school arcade snake game, Nibbler. We're going to have two really awesome players playing for probably two or three days straight, in an effort to break a record set in like 1984. Should be crazy! There will be dudes documenting it as it happens (think King of Kong here) and we're also going to have some video magic going on so you can watch their respective screens up on a projector screen.
Tell us about Jampsace. How does it work, and how did the idea take shape?
Quite simply, we have way too many people that want to play musical acts at MAGFest, and there's really no way we can possibly put them all on the main stage. JamSpace is just an extension of that with a twist. At MAGFest 5, I tried to get together impromptu music jams in our second events area, and it didn't work out so well without being in a manned area. Last year, Dom Cerquetti stepped up to the plate ahead of time and got things organized, and it was a huge success. Now we have a place that can schedule more music acts, both ahead of time and impromptu, without giving my main stage sound guys (led by Norg) a heart attack.
Any questions you'd like to answer that I failed to ask? Anything else you would like to add?
Man, I think you covered a pretty broad range of stuff! The one thing we can't stress enough is that people should stay at the hotel where the event is held. The hotel block claims to have expired, but you can still reserve at the Hilton for a slightly higher price, and every once in awhile someone will cancel their room and you can get the low rate again. So, even though we've oversold our block, there's a good chance at getting a room cheap.
Also, lots of people say "I don't have anyone to stay with" or "I don't have a ride". Fear not! On the left side of our site, you can hit "share rooms" or "share rides" and see a list of people just dying to split some costs with you. You can just click on them to contact, or create a forum account and when you're editing your profile type in your own sharing information there.
I hope to see everyone at MAGFest!
-- Brendan Becker, CEO
Music and Gaming Festival
Huge thanks to Brendan "Mr. MAGFest" Becker for taking the time to answer all my questions I sent his way. Be sure to check out MAGFest, the largest gathering of VG Inspired Musicians on the globe. Next year's festival takes place January 1st through 4th in Alexandria, VA. Check out magfest.org for exact details, pricing, and everything else about the show!
Also hit the link to check out some footage from last years show.