It’s almost time to get out the tent, the wellies and the RFID wristbands, as festival season is soon to kick-off, and it’s clear from having attended ILMC 27 (the 27th International Live Music Conference), in London, that there are some challenges and changes ahead for festivals across UK and Europe.
When I was a little younger than I am now, there only ever seemed to be a choice between Glastonbury and Reading, but now there seems to be hundreds of pages listing different festivals on sites like Virtual festivals.
How do they all survive? Surely everyone isn't going to everything…
But it’s not just competition for audiences that is bothering the festival industry, it’s also increased competition for music talent – there just isn't the number of big festival headliners around these days. The UK has developed relatively few artists capable of headlining festivals in recent years, and with the US festival scene growing, fewer US bands need to play UK festivals.
In fact, if you went to any a major festival in the last four years, there is a pretty good chance you would have seen one of the following at 10pm on the main stage; Kasabian, Arctic Monkeys, The Killers or even Mumford and Sons, and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll see at least one of them again this summer and maybe at more than one festival.
What does this really mean for festivals and audiences?
For festivals, chasing headline talent, it means increased costs due to a limited supply of headline quality talent (especially when you are also paying for broader and longer exclusivity clauses to prevent them playing elsewhere – a trend that may see such artists blocked from playing arena/ stadium venues earlier and later in the year too).
For audiences, it means that unless festivals offer more than the chance to see the same acts they saw last year the decision as to which festival to choose is even harder.
So how is this playing out?
There is a school of thought that you can just create a headliner by putting them on in the headline slot (unless it is completely ridiculous, I don’t think we are quite there with Wolf Alice yet). But few festival promoters are quite ready to take that risk on tickets.
Instead, festivals are looking at strengthen the line-up further down the bill, focusing on stronger artists throughout the day, rather than just last thing at night and this makes sense for an audience demanding to be entertained at 2pm as well as 10pm.
ILMC27 discussions seemed to suggest that there is also a desire from festivals to differentiate themselves with greater non-music content, whether that be through more comedy, literature, theater, dance, fun fairs, space age toilets or pro-celebrity naked horse whispering. Of course, this also has the added value for festival organisers in helping manage their costs better; these new areas more available, more diverse and importantly, cheaper. Will we see the bigger players adopt more of the boutique festival model out of necessity?
A festival means more than just headliners (so brands shouldn't focus on headline talent alone, when looking at sponsorship), festivals are now, and will become even more, social occasions, not just music events. The real beauty of festivals is in seeing people share real world live experiences together, whether that’s a band or Noel Gallagher’s’ High Flying Birds (oh hold on… that is a band… you know what I mean though).
These people might be kids who have friends hundreds of miles away and only speak through a PlayStation until they meet-up at Reading or parents who have moved away and only get together with old friends once year at Latitude to relive their past festival days. It’s this that is truly interesting now.
But if all festivals take this approach, then we are all back in the same space, doing the same thing. This time just not at 10pm on the Pyramid Stage, The Main Stage or The Obelisk Stage…
This is the new challenge, but also the new opportunity. Festivals want stuff at their festival that will give them something different, something that sets them apart, something that adds to the overall experience whether through entertainment, ultimately something that doesn't mean attracting an audience simply by writing a massive cheque to an artist. This is where creative partners and brands can help. Not only will the festival then open their arms to you, the audience will too.
So expect to see more entertainment from brands along the lines of Ray-Ban’s The Order of Never Hide to be added to more festival line-ups soon.
See you at the front for field mouse gymnastics…