Entering its sixth year this August, Summer In The City’s founder Tom Burns talk to TenEighty about the event and the challenges he’s faced.
In 2008, it was the biggest gathering the UK YouTube community had seen. A weekend spread across London’s famous parks, live music at the modestly sized Luminaire in Kilburn and cheap deals on rooms at Palmers Lodge.
Now it’s even bigger than anyone anticipated. Held at Alexandra Palace and boasting an attendance of 8,000, Summer in the City has become the staple of every British YouTuber’s calendar, and shares the international spotlight with VidCon and Playlist Live.
Since the beginning the event has been run by a group of friends – Tom Burns, Dave Bullas, Jazza John and Liam Dryden with Luke Cutforth joining last year. How does a small team manage this enormous event?
“We delegate tasks between all five of us,” says Tom. “But the amount of hours Dave and I are putting into this year is ridiculous. I’ve been organising it outside of work. So for the past three weeks most of my evenings (6-11pm) have been spent on Summer in the City.
“Outside of the main organisation team, there’s the events management team, which deal with venue hire, contracts, negotiations, ticketing and manage the stage during the weekend,” he explains. “There’s also a team at Alexandra Palace who prep the venue and make sure everything goes smoothly.
“Then there’s security,” he continues. “That has become a massive part of Summer in the City. And on top of that we have volunteers, who handle a mix bag of jobs.”
Tom explains that although the event has grown far bigger than he ever anticipated, he has learned how to manage along the way, with Summer in the City 2013 in particular serving as a good guide. “There’s a lot of learning,” he says. “Being in the same venue as last year is great – it gives us the advantage of knowing what worked and didn’t.
“The Saturday last year was an easing-in period. We got a lot of things right, but also a lot of things wrong. Then Saturday night we had a long chat with the security and, as a result, Sunday became a much better day.”
Tom reveals one of the biggest issues last year was how the meet and greets were managed. “We’ve changed the system completely this year,” he says. “They’re going to be held in the main hall to avoid getting to capacity quickly.”
“The stage will be in the very middle, on one side we’re going to have the merchandise and food and on the other the meet and greets,” continues Tom. “The idea is that the main hall can take the full capacity of the whole venue at any one time.
He explains that last year there was a lot of queue jumping, and even when they counted people and cut the lines people still queued up anyway. “So this year we’ll be handing out tickets on a first come first serve basis for select meet and greets,” he reveals.
“We had people queuing for Tyler Oakley from 12 noon last year when he was on at 4. So this year we’re only going to open certain queues half an hour beforehand,” he says. “That and the ticket system in place means everyone at the event gets a fair chance.”
Managing the attendees isn’t the only thing that can be difficult though – the talent can be just as tough. “It used to be very much the case that I would contact my friends and ask them to come,” says Tom. “Now, as many people are separating their social lives from their professional lives, we find that we have to deal with management a lot more.”
Summer in the City started charging for tickets last year, and because of this Tom feels that some YouTubers expect more from him. “I think some content creators make a lot of comparisons to other conventions in their mind,” he says.
“They think: ‘It’s like VidCon, you should be paying for our flights and time.’ I’d love to do that but I can’t because we have no money. The only way I could physically pay for flights and time is out of my own money, which I work a day job to earn.”
On the whole, however, Tom maintains that most YouTubers are friendly and more than willing to help, and that sets Summer in the City apart from Vidcon and Playlist Live. “We maintain the community aspect,” asserts Tom. “A massive company doesn’t run it and we don’t have the high ticket prices that the others have. Even with our Creator Day coming in, it’s a lot cheaper than the professional days at other events.
“If VidCon didn’t make money it could be absorbed into DFTBA, if Playlist Live didn’t it could be absorbed into District Lines,” he says. “We’re just five guys who met through YouTube and decided to make an event with the community at its heart.”
This year Summer in the City has introduced a code of conduct, which will be upheld across the event. “With many of the things that have been happening in the community recently, I think we need it. But it’s not just that,” he says. “As the event grows it needs more safety. We want everyone to feel comfortable.”
Due to the recent climate within the YouTube community, there are many that are apprehensive about the role gatherings have played. “If someone is being creepy at an event, there’s only so much you can do,” says Tom. “We always try and be vigilant and encourage people to come to us if they have problems. We have always actively encouraged that.”
It’s clear how seriously Tom takes Summer in the City. While it isn’t an easy job for him, he does it year after year and often out of his own pocket. Ticket revenue is put directly back into the event. “Last year, there was a bit on the Saturday where someone had to take my phone off me for the rest of the evening,” he says.
“We were at the Saturday night drinks, and I spent the whole time scrolling through my phone reading all the negative posts,” continues Tom. “Every single person who is upset with the event gets to me. I genuinely feel bad for them. But on that night it got to the point where the weight of all of it was on top of me. Someone just grabbed my phone and was like ‘yep, not anymore!’”
Despite the stress, Tom acknowledges it as an important learning curve and views Summer in the City 2013 as his personal highlight. “It was the one that I cared about the most and it’s also the one I’m most proud of,” he says. “To get to Alexandra Palace from where we were before… it really was the one that showed us all how far it had come.”
Taking Summer in the City back to Alexandra Palace means Tom has a handy head start. Hopefully he can relax and enjoy this years event more. “I hope to find that good balance: where I’m really organised, I’m running the event but I can also take a step back to enjoy parts of it,” he says.
“Sometimes at Summer in the City I forget that I’m a YouTuber and I have my own YouTube channel as well,” he laughs. “So hopefully I can finally meet some of my audience too!”